Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Cold Winter Looming in Syracuse

As the long-awaited college hoops season dawns in upstate New York, it's the much-maligned football program that is posting the big headlines in the local Post-Standard today.

Athletic Director Darryl Gross has finally made the announcement that everyone was expecting, and possibly even hoping for. Head coach Greg Robinson has been relieved of his duties, effective at the conclusion of this, his fourth season at the helm. In Gross' words, he "made the decision to move our football program in a new direction." It's really irrelevant, but the announcement comes following the Saturday loss to Connecticut on Senior Day, the last home game of the season. It's irrelevant because there was nothing noteworthy about that game in particular; it was just another poor performance in a long line of poor performances for this team. That latest loss puts Robinson's record at a laughable 9-36 in his three-plus years with the Orange, which actually sounds respectable when you consider the 3-24 record he has tallied in the Big East. I shudder when I see that he was also responsible for the only two 10-loss seasons in Syracuse history. That's since 1889, boys and girls.

To be fair to G-Rob, the collapse of the football program over the past decade is about 10% his fault. The lion's share of the blame has to go to former coach Paul Pasqualoni, who ran the once-proud program into the ground prior to his departure. At least A.D. Gross isn't making the same mistakes as his predecessor. The A.D. spot was long-held by the old codger, Jake Crouthamel, and it was his decision to leave Pasqualoni in power until 2005 -- about five years too long in the minds of the Orange nation. Let's go back there for a second, because the story of Coach P. is where this whole novel begins. When Pasqualoni first took office in 1991, he initially found good success, piggybacking on the respect and recruiting expertise of the legendary Dick MacPherson, whom he replaced. But once that recruiting cow had given all her milk, Pasqualoni had nothing left to fall back on, and we all watched as he spiraled our beloved team into misery. He was in tight with Crouthamel though, and even the outcry of fury from the fans wasn't enough to get Pasqualoni a pink slip until 2005, when Gross took over.

Enter Greg Robinson five years too late, and he inherited a coaching situation that was impossible to overcome. In the physical universe we occupy, there is no human being who could have come into the Dome and turned things around in five years post-Pasqualoni. And Robinson gave a hell of an effort. There were times -- rare times, but times -- when Syracuse has actually looked like a Division I football team this year. Try as they might though, they just have yet to escape the clutches of Pasqualoni Syndrome.

"We've been very fair to coach Robinson," Gross said. "Everyone wanted the guy's head last year. I said I didn't want Syracuse to become one of those three-years-and-out schools. I said, 'Let's calm down and we'll get the first pick of the draft (of coaching candidates) next year.' That's where we are."

When asked his thoughts on the comments, Robinson didn't mince words: "Quite frankly, there hasn't been the progress there needs to be."

The recent downturn in success has had a big impact on the University and the community as a whole. In his first 21 home games at the Dome, the building averaged more than 10,000 empty seats per game. In 2006, the football team lost money for the first time since 1995. Average attendance the following year fell to a 21-year low, punctuated by a measly crowd of less than 28,000 that turned up for the September 2007 contest with Pittsburgh -- the smallest Carrier Dome crowd since I was two years old.

Now more than ever, the Syracuse football program finds itself at a crossroads. When Robinson came in, he brought with him an offensive scheme that was unfamiliar to the players and fans. For as long as I can remember, the 'Cuse has run an option offense, anchored by mobile quarterbacks (Marvin Graves, Donovan McNabb), and strong-blocking, soft-handed fullbacks (Daryl Johnston, Rob Konrad). Robinson erased that scheme and installed a spread, west-coast style of offense. He recruited pocket passers and nifty running backs, and he looked to create a wide-open, quick striking attack. It was a noble idea that may have worked better if not for the state of the union when he took over.

Now it's back to the drawing board though, as the search is on for a candidate whose offensive scheme will mesh with both the traditions and the present state of Syracuse football. The three names that seem to be atop the list are Connecticut's Randy Edsall, East Carolina's Skip Holtz, and former Oakland Raiders top guy Lane Kiffen. Of those, Edsall seems to make the most sense. He is a graduate of Syracuse, where he played quarterback back in the glory days of the Orangemen. After he graduated, he was a long-time assistant coach under Dick MacPherson and Frank Maloney before him. Edsall says he is "very interested" in the opportunity to coach his alma mater, and my money says that he will be the next Syracuse football head coach. We can only hope that the next guy, whoever he is, understands the proud traditions of Orange football, and will find some success in restoring greatness to our once-lofty program.

There is a fantastic summation of Robinson's career in audio slideshow form here. And you can see his poorly-filmed press conference below, if you're still interested:

SU head football coach Greg Robinson dismissal press conference

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Unexpected Change of Plans

This is the most won-der-ful time of the year. Last night, I finally donned my sacred Rod Brind'Amour jersey and headed out the door for my first Hurricanes game of the season. I've been traveling a bunch lately, and last night was the first night that both the 'Canes and myself were at home in this young season, so I decided I was well overdue for a BBQ sandwich, a hockey game, and of course the Storm Squad.

I stopped at Chris' house first, since he lives comparatively close to the RBC Center. I managed to keep his maniacal dogs from ripping my jersey to shreds long enough to pound a beer and head out the door just about an hour before game time. The best thing about driving to 'Canes games is listening to the pregame show on 99.9 and getting pumped up. Mike Maniscalco was joined by the television voice of the Hurricanes, the esteemed John Forslund, and they were talking X's and O's, going on about how the team really needs to come out with a passionate effort tonight to get back on the winning track. The home team was playing the rival Washington Capitals, and last night figured to be payback for a tough loss they handed us up in D.C. last week.

That damn green Camry is pulling out, isn't it? What the hell is he (slam on brakes) thinking, right in the middle of the road? I don't think I -- !!!WHAM!!!

Just that quick, I had come to an abrubt unscheduled stop amidst a cloud of tire and engine smoke, and I was now staring out my front winshield at the remnants of what used to be my Civic's front end. Some of it was now neatly crammed into the left-front corner of the aforementioned Camry. It wasn't my fault.

I had been driving down Lynn Road in Raleigh, going about my business in the left straight lane. There was a car directly on my right side, and he or she was slowing to make a right turn at the upcoming side street. Our villain was on the side street to my right, trying to pull out and make a left on Lynn. Unfortunately, he only saw the turning car and failed to notice that I was in the next lane over, buzzing along merrily at 50 MPH. So he just pulled on out and then inexplicably came to a stop directly in front of me. I left about 75 feet of skid marks, but it was to no avail as I slammed into his front end at somewhere between 25-30 MPH. I can kind of understand the situation he was in, because it is a tricky one. But, that's the spot where I would think a competent driver would exercise even more caution and awareness. Like me... I will never cause an accident like that, because I know enough to be aware for that kind of shit. I know enough to take care on the other side too, to watch for people pulling out in that spot. I was completely alert, and as soon as he entered my field of vision, I was hard on the brakes immediately.

So there I sat, waiting patiently for the police to show up. And waiting. When I hit the guy, I was immediately calm, but admittedly a little shaken up. I did a quick damage assessment to make sure all of my extremities were still attached and functional, and got out to check on the other guy calmly. As the minutes ticked by though, the shake-up wore off, and I started to steam pretty good. I just wanted the cops to get there so I could go home. The ironic thing is that we were in an area that is normally teeming with law enforcement night and day, and it's a spot where I always watch my speed. Now though, when I needed one, the cops were nowhere to be found. In the middle of Raleigh.

I know time always goes slower in these situations, but it was at least 35 minutes of standing precariously in the road before anyone showed up. My car would start, but the transmission fluid was all over the pavement, so I couldn't move it. From what I understand, transmission fluid works best when it's actually inside the transmission. Finally, a set of blue lights came around the corner, and Officer Friendly had arrived to save the day. Or something like that. He ended up giving the other driver a ticket for "Failure to See," and sent him on his way with what will certainly be a $25 fine. And of course, his car was almost unscathed (see photo). I watched him drive away while a big-ass wrecker was winching my poor car up onto the flatbed.

I'm not sure if my ride is going to be totaled or not. My '01 Civic was worth about $7,000, and I think the damage will come pretty close to that number. It needs more than body work; there's a good bit of damage to the engine too. Honestly, it would probably be best if it were totaled. Which means I may never see that car again.

I loved that car.

P.S. I made it back to Chris' at 7:08pm, right as they were dropping the puck at the RBC Center. The 'Canes got routed 5-1 by the Caps, so it was apparently set up to be a disappointing night for me, whether I made it to the game or not. I'm still steaming.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

LAPT San Jose

Today's blog comes to you from somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, live from the sixth row of a shiny new Continental Airlines 737-800. I am on my way back home from San Jose, Costa Rica, this week's host for the Latin American Poker Tour. It was the first event of LAPT Season 2, and the second trip the series has made to San Jose.

With a buyin of $3,500, Day 1 saw a field of 219 runners vying for the title, and play progressed at an astoundingly fast pace. The structure was nice and slow for the players, giving them 10,000 starting chips with 60-minute levels, starting at 25/50. By the end of Level 10 though, just 38 players remained to come back for Day 2. Among the notables who fell victim to Day 1 were Victor Ramdin, Alex and Humberto Brenes, Alexandre Gomes, Andre Akkari, Maria “Maridu” Mayrinck, Eddy Sabat, and Liv Boeree.

Rob Woodcock was the overnight chip leader, bagging up more than 181,000 at the conclusion of play. Both he and the second-place stack of Ryan Fee would make it to the final table. The story I was following most closely, though, was that of Carter Gill (right). Gill was struggling to start the day, down to his last 2,800 chips early on with the blinds at 150/300. There was a 10-minute break approaching, and Gill was trying to donate his chips so he didn't have to come back after break. He failed in that effort though, managing to rally back just shy of 70,000 by night's end, a slightly-above-average stack.

Day 2 dawned with those 38 players battling it out at a good clip once again. It took just about eight hours of play to whittle the field down to the final eight, with play slowing noticeably for the last three hours or so. Jon “apestyles” Van Fleet was one of the in-the-money finishers, notching a 17th place cash. Carter Gill busted out in 14th spot, and he was pretty dejected as he walked straight through the door without bothering to stop by the payout desk on his way out of the room.

Another great story I was keeping an eye on during Day 2 was that of the Sterns – Costa Rica's own Max and Maria. The two of them are an adorable older couple, and they are accomplished poker players as well. In 1997, they both managed to win WSOP bracelets, making them one of only two husband-wife duos who both have the gold hardware (the other being Harry and Jeri Thomas). The Sterns have done a great deal for poker in Latin America during the last decade, and the fruits of their efforts are evident with the recent growth of the game in their part of the world. Maria is referred to as the “Godmother of Latin American Poker,” and she is universally adored and respected in those parts. Hubby Max would finish up just short of the money, while Maria would take her chips all the way to the final table.

After working down to our final eight, play concluded for the night. This time, it was young gun Ryan Fee who racked up the most chips, dumping 481,000 of them into the barely-big-enough thick plastic bag. Fee is a twenty-year-old high-stakes heads-up cash player, but he showed he is no slouch in tournament play either. He was second in chips to start Day 2, and he found himself on top of the heap going into the final table. Fee is consistently the most-talkative person at his table, and he was even playing to the crowd with his boisterous sense of hunor during the final two days. On his bio sheet, he lists his occupation as “Baller”, if that tells you anything. Either way, there's no denying his skill on the felt. With Fee in the lead, here's the way the final table set up:

Clockwise, from top-left:
Andrew Chen – 313,000
Jeff Petronack – 122,500
Jesus Bertoli – 265,500
Joel Micka – 336,500
Maria Stern – 151,500
Claus Rasmussen – 254,000
Ryan Fee – 481,000
Brent Sheirbon – 186,500

Before the final table began, there was a press conference with the remaining eight players, covering topics from the development of poker in Latin America to the election in the United States. The Q&A lasted about 45 minutes, and then it was game on. Play progressed pretty deliberately for the first hour, as the players tried to get a feel for each other and the table in general. In fact, there wasn't a flop for about the first 20 minutes of the day. "Just so you guys know," said Tournament Director Mike Ward to the table, "We still play this game with community cards..."

Moving into the second level of play, it was Maria Stern (left) who began to get things rolling. She was working with a short stack, and she had shipped it all in a few times without getting action, just managing to keep her head above water. Finally, with 116,000 chips, she moved in once again, this time holding {Kh} {Jh}. The two players to her left folded, but Jeff Petronack looked down at his cards, smiled, and quickly turned them face-up with a confident, “I call.” Petronack tabled {Qc} {Qh}, and Stern could not improve. The crowd favorite made her exit in 8th place, drawing a heartfelt standing ovation from the spectators and media. She is absolutely adorable.

As if someone had flipped a switch, the pace of the tournament picked up dramatically following her elimination. The average stack was still more than 40 big blinds, but play progressed as if everyone was getting short. Chips began flying around the table, and it would be just about two hours from this point until the tournament ended. Next to exit was Claus Rasmussen, who also picked a spot to make a move with the short stack. He pushed in with {Qd} {7d}, only to run into the {Kh} {Ks} of Joel Micka. Good game, Claus.

The most dramatic hand of the tournament came with six players left. After a preflop raising war, Jeff Petronack ended up all in for 297,000, and he was called down by Ryan Fee, who had his man well covered. The hands were turned up with Petronack showing {Ad} {Kh}, and Fee tabling {As} {Ks}. The two men shook hands and complimented each other's cards, seemingly poised for a chop.

It was not meant to be for Petronack though, as the miracle flop rolled out {Js} {8s} {Ts}, giving Fee the ace-high flush right off the bat. It wasn't over yet, though; the money card, the {Qs} hit the turn, giving Fee the spade Royal Flush! Maybe even more incredibly, the {9s} filled out the community cards, putting a straight flush on board while giving Fee the immortal nuts with the top seven cards in the deck! Despite making that straight flush, Jeff Petronack was eliminated in 6th place.

It was at that moment that everyone knew Ryan Fee simply could not lose. Andrew Chen became his next victim when Chen moved in with {Qc} {Qh}. Fee put him to the test, making the call with {8c} {8h}. The flop was {4h} {5c} {6c}, and Chen backed away from the table, shaking his head. He and everybody in the room knew what was coming. Sure enough, the {7d} peeled off on fourth street, giving Fee his straight. The {6s} on the river was the end of Chen, and he exited in 5th place. As if he weren't running good enough, Fee next targeted Jesus Bertoli, another local crowd favorite. Bertoli made his stand with {Ad} {3s}, and Fee quickly called with {Ks} {Qs} for only a fraction of his stack. The flop was {8d} {Kd} {Qh}, and Chen could do nothing to slow down Fee, making his exit in 4th place. Down to the final three, the chip counts looked like this:

Ryan Fee – 1,428,000
Joel Micka – 582,000
Brent Sheirbon – 122,000

Sheirbon was out in 3rd place when his {Qd} {Td} lost a race to Micka's {2h} {2c}, and it was quickly heads up for the title. The players talked business for a few minutes, orchestrating a near-even chop. Both Fee and Micka (left) consider themselves heads-up specialists, and they played quickly and decisively. There wasn't a single flop for about the first 20 hands of heads-up play, with the two men trading raises and reraises. Micka, who plays online as "JMPRODIGY", had managed to climb back nearly even before getting involved in the first (and last) big confrontation of heads-up play. He and Fee raised each other until all of the chips were in the middle preflop, Fee holding {As} {Th} and Micka racing with {4s} {4c}. The first four cards off the deck were pretty safe for the underpair, coming out {Ks} {7c} {Qc} {8h}. Once again though, nobody was shocked when the {Ah} ripped off on the river, giving the massive pot and the title to Ryan Fee. With a shiny glass trophy in his possession, Fee was handed the obligitory oversized check for more than a quarter-million dollars.

At the risk of blaspheming my beloved UltimateBet, PokerStars puts on fantastic events all over the world, and this one was no exception. The LAPT staff, led by TD Mike Ward, is friendly and knowledgeable, if a little casual on the floor. There were elaborate, open-bar parties to open and close the event, and the entire hotel was decked out in PokerStars regalia. It was torture for a UB guy like myself, but I must admit, PokerStars knows how to put on a tournament. If you spend any time playing on that site, I would highly recommend that you try to satellite into some of the major tournaments that they run. Among them are the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and this LAPT which is in its second season.

Latin America as a whole is an area that is primed for major tournament poker. The first season of the LAPT was a great success last year, capped off by a fantastic finale in Punta del Este, Uruguay. There were three events in the first season which will double to six this time around. Unfortunately, the 219 players who played in San Jose this past week represents a sharp decline from the 397 who entered last year, but that doesn't necessarily correlate to the level of interest poker is drawing in Central and South America. Throughout the event, there was an enthusiastic and energetic contingent of railbirds, and the tournament was dominated by local and semi-local players.

The drop-off in numbers may be due to a saturation in major tournaments at this moment. Two big series at the Bellagio and the latest installment of the Venetian DSE are joining the WSOP Main Event final table as big draws to Las Vegas. Add to that an EPT event in Budapest that just finished, and the APPT stops in Manila and Sydney that are upcoming, and there may just be too many events for any of them to draw impressive numbers right now. Not to mention the economic situation in the USA and the rising cost of travel, which create the recipe for an unimpressive turnout. That being said, poker is alive and well in Latin America, and I fully expect the LAPT to have continued success for a long time coming.

You can check out my full live update blog from this event right here on PokerNews, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Do You Know the Way?

Houston, Texas is where I find myself this morning, en route once again to Latin America. This time I stop short in San Jose, Costa Rica, a comparative cakewalk of an international flight. My mission on this trip is the same as it was the last time I flew in this direction. I'm covering a LAPT event, as the new season kicks off in Central America. The crowd in Uruguay was fantastic to close out last season, and all signs indicate this year will be even more successful and wider-reaching in its efforts. I expect to see a lot of Stars' own pros, and a number of other recognizable faces in the field this week.

They just announced that all passengers on this flight have to check in and show their boarding documents at the airline counter right next to the gate before boarding. Unusual. You should see the line. I think I'll keep grinding the cash tables for a few more minutes, taking full advantage of this lovely free wi-fi, courtesy of the Bush Intercontinental Airport.

See you on the ground in San Jose.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting Behind

Son of a monkey, I'm so behind on this bloggage. Yes, that's really more than THREE weeks without a post.

Keeping a daily blog with any hint of meaningful content is more difficult than I could have imagined. Especially when I spend 90% of my time either out of the country or at the bar.

I will fix this. Recaps of Auckland and Melbourne forthcoming.

The problem is I am leaving for Costa Rica in two days. And I just found out yesterday. Shit.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Great Luggage Caper

Miss Cleo, go fuck yourself.

As I so adeptly predicted, my airline decided that my luggage wasn't quite ready for New Zealand yet. I landed on Tuesday, cleared passport control, and waited at the big black conveyor belt for my big black luggage. And waited.

After watching the same few bags float by about 15 times, I headed to the Qantas counter to make them aware of their incompetence. The lady was very nice, and I figured it didn't do a bit of good to get angry about the whole ordeal. It's not like I didn't know this was coming. So I laughed and joked my way through the paperwork process, though it took a ridiculously long time. They couldn't locate my bags in their "system", but they took all of my information, just in case they happened to stumble across them. Obviously, they have a great "system" of bag location. And I love how they call it "delayed luggage" when they have absolutely no idea which hemisphere my bags are in.

I didn't even bother harassing them or pushing for any compensation. Part of that was because I was just too tired to argue. And the other part was they hooked me up with a flippin' sweet Qantas T-shirt and a pair of Qantas boxers. Ship it crucial! Also, with the foresight of an oracle, I bought myself an annoyingly bright green and yellow "Australia" jumper in Sydney, and it looks like I get to wear that until the rest of my gear turns up. I did, however, neglect to understand that there is some good-natured rivalry and tension between Australia and New Zealand, similar to the relationship between the USA and Canada, but maybe a tad more insulting and hostile. They like each other, they just don't ... "like" each other. So now I'm the jackass wearing the bright yellow Australia get-up in Kiwi country. Good work, Eric.

Anyways, dodging the sideways looks from the locals, I made it to my hotel, the SkyCity Grand... and it is wonderful. SkyCity is a massive complex of hotels, shops, restaurants, bars, and casinos, and it is home to the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. The SkyTower stands 1,076 feet (328 meters) above Auckland, and it is a beautiful and photogenic building. I haven't explored much yet, but the rest of SkyCity looks very nice as well. Modern, clean, and upscale. Can't wait to check it out a little more. The best part of living under the tallest building in half the Earth is that it's damn near impossible to get lost when wandering around the city.

And the staff at the hotel is absolutely top-notch. At least I thought so until I was awakened by a loud knock on my door at 7:30am this morning, after just a few hours of sleep. I snapped awake and was immediately pissed off for just a second, until I realized that I was indeed waiting for that knock on my door. I jumped out of bed and opened the door to find a gentleman in a crisp white shirt holding my beloved luggage. I thanked him, grabbed my shit, and went straight back to bed for another few hours.

I love you, luggage. Welcome home to daddy.

A New Place

I am indeed in Auckland, New Zealand now, and it is gorgeous. The way the harbour cuts its way in and out of the landmass is something I've never seen before in a major city. The weather is off the chain though -- alternating between brilliant sunshine, torrential rain, and driving winds here in the early part of Spring. Cold at night and in the morning, and comfortably warm during the day.

I know I have a bit of catching up to do for you, but it's going to have to wait. Today was Day 1a of the APPT Auckland, and despite the fact that we played just seven levels, I am beat. I am still a little travel weary, and I'm can't think of anything except how sweet it's going to be to climb into the very comfortable king-size bed behind me. Perhaps the front desk won't feel the need to call my room at 7:30 tomorrow morning, as they did today. Although, it was for a good reason. More on that later though.

Fair warning that there will be no "Musings on the NFL" this weekend. In fact, there won't even been any NFL watching for me (insert frowny face here). Rugby is king in this place. I love that game; it's like an organized version of "Kill the Carrier" that we all played on the middle school playground. We also called it "Smear the Queer", and I never found that odd until just this very minute.

Anyways, I'll catch you up tomorrow on the rest of my travel ordeal, and I'll try to get a few words in about the APPT as well. Until then!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cowboys, Wallabies, and Kiwis


I am finally aboard the last leg of the flight to my final destination for this here little voyage: Auckland, New Zealand. This trip began for me at 2:40pm on October 5th in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it is now 4:18pm local time on October 7th... and I am still on an airplane. No, I didn't fly for two straight days, although it does feel like it a bit. Something even stranger and more frustrating happened.

I lost October 6th completely. Just gone. *POOF* I hope I didn't have anything important going on that day.

Anyway, the first three legs of my trip were on American Airlines, who partners with Qantas to fly these routes to Australasia. Raleigh/Durham to Dallas, smooth as a baby's bottom on that MD-S80. I lounged around in the massive DFW airport for a couple of hours, waiting to catch my connection to the left coast. I was scheduled into LAX and then direct to Auckland (AKL). Window seat next to some giggly gay guy who was going to L.A. for "a conference". Fine.

So we fly on for a while... I'm not really sure how long, or what our total time en route was supposed to be. But we were flying for a while. Long enough for me to be thinking that we must be nearly to California by now. As I was looking down reading my magazine, the shadows suddenly changed, and a line of silhouettes paraded across the pages in front of me. I glanced out the window to find us making a big, sweeping left turn towards, well, Mexico. As far as I knew, there were no big, sweeping left turns towards Mexico in the flight from Dallas to L.A. Sure enough, a minute or two later, the Captain's voice came booming over the P.A. System:

"Uhhhhh folks, this is your Captain once again from the flight deck. Unfortunately, our First Officer has become ill, and we're going to be diverting to El Paso. He is fine for the time being, but he just doesn't feel 'right', so we're going to get down and get him some treatment."

Son of bitch, you have to be kidding me. This is only the second time I've been diverted in my life -- the other time was weather-related. I see the whole scene unfolding in my mind. I picture us landing on some dirt field in El Paso with a bunch of vaqueros on bareback shouting and firing guns into the air. Tumbleweeds roll down the landing strip as we touch down, running over rattlesnakes and armadillos with those giant airplane tires as a cloud of dust envelops the aircraft. It wasn't quite that bad, but it was indeed a tiny little airport in the middle of nowhere. It was the middle of the evening, yet the cafes and shops inside the so-called "terminal" were all closed. Welcome to El Paso.

As I sat there shaking my head, I ran through the whole scenario in my brain. The FAA requires that all commercial flights be overseen by two capable pilots, so we couldn't just go on with the Captain only. If we had been able to make it to a hub city -- like Phoenix -- it's likely we would have been down and back up in the air in very short order. But when something like this happens in the boondocks, they have to find another First Officer who is available somewhere in the country and then fly him in before he can get to work. To complicate things further, the flight crew is only permitted by law to work a certain number of hours in a day. This being the last leg of their workday, all of them were drawing dangerously close to the cutoff for getting airborne. If we couldn't get our First Officer in time, the flight would be grounded for the night.

Finally, after almost four hours, our man arrived, and we had our full flight crew ready to go. Time to do some math. It was about 8:30pm local time when we got the wheels up from border-town, making it 7:30pm in L.A. My connection to Auckland left at 9:05pm, giving me 1:35 to make it there. Total flight time for this leg: 1:55. That's not good. So I crossed my fingers and willed the pilot to shove those throttles forward right to the stops.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally descended towards L.A., with me checking my watch every minute or so. It was 9:35 by the time we hit the ground. I noticed a beautiful Qantas 747 being pushed back from the gate as we approached the one adjacent, and I couldn't help but wonder if that was my New Zealand flight rolling out of reach. I bolted off the plane and grabbed the first airline rep I saw.

"Did New Zealand leave yet?!"

"Yes, that flight's just gone."

Son of bitch, again. I knew that was going to happen. In fact, I knew it was going to happen so surely that I had already been in touch with the airline while I was sitting in the El Paso International Shanty/Airport. I already had a flight lined up in case I missed the connection. It was less than ideal though. The next flight direct to Auckland was 24 hours away, the same flight I had missed today. They were able to get me to Auckland only 12 hours late, but I had to fly over New Zealand to Sydney, Australia first. Then, after a three-hour layover, I had to grab another three-hour flight to Auckland.

In total, it's going to end up costing me and extra 12 hours of travel time, seven of which are spent on a plane. Joy.

Finally though, we are descending over the Tasman Sea and should be arriving in Auckland shortly. If the weather holds out, that is. Shit looks nasty up in front of us, and we're bouncing around like the sky is made of rubber.

I bet you a week's paycheck that my luggage is not on this plane with me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Musings on the NFL: Week 4

The aftermath of Week 4 leaves two troubled head coaches finally without a job. Oakland's Lane Kiffin and St. Louis' Scott Linehan both got the axe early this week, one of them by phone. More on that Oakland debacle later. For the Rams, it was another blown halftime lead and the resulting 0-4 start that sealed their coach's fate. It's going to be interesting to see where these two guys land next in the coaching world. Kiffin especially is a guy who would seem desirable to a top-notch college program. He's young and driven and he has football royalty in his blood -- with his father, defensive guru Monte still employed by the Bucs.

Another story I've been interested in is over in Baltimore, where the Ravens dropped a tough one in overtime to the always-infuriating Pittsburgh Steelers. I wouldn't normally have an interest in Baltimore football, but I am a big Joe Flacco guy. And that's where he happened to end up in the draft.

I watched Flacco intently in college leading up to an appearance in the FCS Championship Game against my Appalachian State Mountaineers last year. The Fightin' Blue Hens of Delaware fell to the mighty Mountaineers, but Flacco was the stud of the game. t1_flaccoHe impressed me as a guy who had the total package for the position. He has a cannon for an arm, but the feel to put some air under the ball when he needs to. He is tall enough to stand in the pocket and see the field, but he has delicate, quick feet when he needs to escape. In that Championship Game in Chattanooga, Flacco was 23-48 for 334 yards and one touchdown. For the season, he threw for more than 4,200 yards and 23 touchdowns with only five picks. He also ran for four more TD's.

Some Flacco highlights from 2007:

In Sunday's game in the big leagues, Joe was 16-31 for 192 yards, closely paralleling Ben Roethlisberger's numbers on the other side of the ball. The rookie did have one big fumble on the first play of a drive though, and it was returned for a touchdown by LaMarr Woodley, giving the Steelers two scores in 14 seconds. With just that one gaff to his demerit, the team spoke highly of Flacco.

"He didn't get rattled," said wide receiver Derrick Mason. "He showed poise out there and that's all you can ask your young quarterback to do. That second half, they were throwing a lot of stuff at him. Through it all, he showed the poise of a veteran."

The QB summed things up nicely himself in his post-game interview: "I'm proud of the way we came back and tied the game up," said Flacco. "I thought we did a good job of weathering what they threw at us. But I've got to take care of the ball."

Joe Flacco will be a top five QB within the next three years, mark it down.

Another rookie that is making the Baltimore story more intriguing is their head coach, Jim Harbaugh. The ex-QB has his team playing rock solid football -- mostly because Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still around. Those guys have barely lost a step in the last five years, and they have to be among the hardest-playing players in the league, game-in and game-out. Despite losing the lead and the game to the Steelers, the Ravens are off to a 2-1 start on the year on the backs of their defense. With Cleveland and Cincinnati in disrepair, it looks like it's going to be a two-horse race between Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the AFC North title. The Ravens will get a chance to avenge the loss on December 14th, at home in Baltimore.


  • Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Houston are all still looking for their first win this season. Somehow, my Miami Dolphins have already won one!
  • Former Broncos running back Travis Henry was arrested this week, accused of distributing cocaine. The charges stem from a bad day in Montana on September 16th, where Henry and his buddy were pulled over with six pounds of ganja and three kilos of coke in the trunk. Oops. During his career, Henry was busted for smoking trees three times by NFL drug tests.
  • Yesterday, Vince Young practiced for the first time since Septmber 7th, putting the Titans depth chart in question. Veteran Kerry Collins has the team off to the best start in franchise history, and Young may well be third right now behind Collins and Chris Simms.
  • Perennial underachiever Joey Harrington was signed by the Saints on September 19th. Then released last week. Then re-acquired by the Saints yesterday. I'm sure he feels like a valued member of the organization. Of course... his perceived value does closely match his perceived contribution.
  • Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin has a fractured sinus membrane as a result of the helmet-to-helmet hit from Jets' safety Eric Smith. Holy friggin' ouch. According to eMedicine, a high-impact sports injury is the second leading cause of this fracture. The first is a high-speed automobile accident. No concussion for Boldin though, and he's meeting with doctors to determine how long he'll take to heal.
  • Brett Favre saved my life in fantasy football this week. His numbers: 24-34, 289 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT -- netting me 46.45 whopping points. Many thanks to Glenn for trading him to me midweek.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


On Monday, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission released another preliminary statement regarding the UltimateBet superuser situation. In it, they mandate a number of sanctions against the online poker site, including a $1.5 million fine to be paid directly to the KGC. That amount comes in addition to the $6.1 million in reimbursements that UB has already shelled out to the players who were adversely affected.

Also named specifically in the statement is UB founder and former Main Event Chapmion, Russ Hamilton. Things do not look so good for Hamilton here in the early going. The KGC cited "clear and convincing evidence" against him, adding that he was "the main person responsible for and benefiting from the multiple cheating incidents." Oops. And said they are in contact with the "appropriate law-enforcement agencies" regarding the prosecution of several key members, the foremost of which would be Russ Hamilton.

Below is the full text of the most recent statement from the KGC. This is another preliminary report, and we expect a full assessment at a future date:

(MOHAWK TERRITORY OF KAHNAWAKE – September 29, 2008) Kahnawa:ke Gaming Commission ("KGC") Chairman Dean Montour today announced the initial findings of the audit conducted on licensee Ultimate Bet, as well as the sanctions to be imposed.

According to KGC Chairman Montour, the Commission has reviewed the information provided to it over the past months from Frank Catania of Catania Gaming Consultants of New Jersey; Gaming Associates, an Australian game testing company; and the permit holder. Chairman Montour said, "The Commissioners have made several findings of fact with regard to the cheating that occurred on the Ultimate Bet web site that included the identification of some of the individuals responsible for these incidents as well other significant violations of the Kahnawa:ke Interactive Gaming Regulations."

The Commission found clear and convincing evidence to support the conclusion that between the approximate dates of May 2004 to January 2008, Russell Hamilton, an individual associated with Ultimate Bet's affiliate program, was the main person responsible for and benefiting from the multiple cheating incidents. Furthermore, the KGC is currently in contact with the appropriate law enforcement agencies and intends to fully cooperate in the prosecution of all individuals involved in the UB cheating incidents.

Mr. Catania states, "My intention is to provide further information as it is uncovered, although the information already submitted to the KGC relating to Ultimate Bet warrants the KGC taking the actions it has today. Any further evidence uncovered with regard to cheating, withholding or destroying records in our continuing investigation will be reported to the KGC and the proper agency for appropriate action."

As a result of the KGC's findings of fact, the Commission called a special meeting, at which time it was unanimously decided to impose the following sanctions against Ultimate Bet:

1. Ultimate Bet is directed that by November 3, 2008 it shall, under the close supervision of the KGC, its employees and agents, commence refunding all players accounts found to have been adversely affected by the cheating of individuals under the control and supervision of the licensee. It is estimated that Ultimate Bet has to date reimbursed $6.1 million USD to players' accounts found to have been adversely impacted by the cheating activity

2. Ultimate Bet is directed that by November 3, 2008 it is to remove any and all persons deemed as "unsuitable" by the KGC from all involvement with the company, which shall include all levels of ownership, management and operation. Ultimate Bet during that time period until November 3, 2008 is required to continue to provide complete details of all day-to-day operations of the company. These shall include financial as well as daily gaming records to Frank Catania and or his assigns. It is anticipated that this action will provide full disclosure and prevent any further improprieties or wrongdoing from occurring while ensuring that the public is being offered fair and honest games and all player monies will be protected.

3. Ultimate Bet's control system as defined in section 9 of the Kahnawa:ke Interactive Gaming Regulations has been modified to prevent any further incidents of cheating or related improprieties.

4. Ultimate Bet will not delete or modify any logs including but not limited to web logs and game logs as required by the Kahnawa:ke Interactive Gaming Regulations and will continue to have those logs immediately available for inspection by the KGC or its agents.

5. Ultimate Bet shall immediately pay a fine of $1.5 Million USD to the KGC for its failure to implement and enforce measures to prohibit and detect fraudulent activities.

6. Ultimate Bet's failure to comply fully with these measures will result in the immediate revocation of its KGC gaming permit.

Murray Marshall
Senior Advisor
Kahnawa:ke Gaming Commission

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fannie Mae Cause Problems in the Future

My buddy Chris stumbled across an interesting little tidbit from the New York Times, dated nine years ago today -- September 30, 1999. It's an article that was published regarding the relaxation of credit requirements for companies like Fannie Mae to purchase loans. And it very eerily foreshadows the state of affairs today:

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.'

The full article can be found here, and it's quite an interesting (and short) read.

Let's Go (Home,) Mets!

You're a Mets fan. For the second straight year, your underachieving team was eliminated from postseason contention on the final day of the season. At home. Against the Marlins. Again. Now, for the next six months, you'll watch as the media hammers down on your players and manager, interrogating the team chemistry, the leadership in the clubhouse, the starting rotation and bullpen, and how a team of talented players can blow a division lead in two straight years.

The collapse wasn't as bad for the Metropolitans this year as last though. Last year's fall was the stuff of storybooks and eulogies. This year, they were bitten by the injury bug. And everyone knew the bullpen was going to stink. Especially when closer Billy Wagner went down with the injury. Even manager Jerry Manuel said that the bullpen was a "roll of the dice" every time he went to it.

"We knew [the bullpen] wasn't quite something that was going to hit on all cylinders," Manuel said. "When you don't have people in established roles in this time [of the year], you're gambling."

In fact, it really is the relievers who need to take the blame for this early ending in New York. They have been miserable all year, somehow managing to be only the tenth-worst pen in the NL. Even in the last game, the fate of the team was put into the hands of Scott Schoenweis and Luis Ayala with the score tied at two apiece. Just for fun, the two men gave up back-to-back solo homers in the eighth inning to seal their fate. The first one was a gift to pinch hitter Wes Helms. Ouch.

After the game, third baseman David Wright spoke about the second straight season of disappointment. "It's always going to be grouped together. Last year, for lack of a better word, we collapsed. This year, I think we hit a little rut in the wrong time to hit a rut."

Being that it was the last game in historic Shea Stadium, the Mets had scheduled a ceremony after the game to honor 45 of their former players, some of whom had won championships for their city. The fans wanted none of it though, filing out the doors of Shea for the last time as soon as the final pitch was delivered. With the spectators bailing out so quickly, all that was left to greet those former Met greats was the booming echoes of GM Omar Minaya's voice as it reverberated through the now-vacant expanse of the stadium.

Carlos Beltran summed it up simply in the clubhouse after the game. "It is what it is, guys," he said. "I have no more words."

So, what do you do when you're at a boring baseball game watching your team choke away another playoff berth down the stretch run of a long season? Why, you turn your attention to the drunk fans, of course. I stumbled on this video of Mets fans keeping themselves entertained during another drubbing. Enjoy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Marketing the November Nine

PokerNews' own Martin Harris wrote a good piece today about the status of the November Nine. The article can be found here, and it's worth a read if you've wondered about the marketing aspects of delaying the final table.

Appalachian is Cold, Cold, Cold

I'm back in business after a damn good weekend in Boone. Chugging back up the mountain towards my old home, there are still familiar sights and sounds that jog my memory and take me back to another time. Everything is so recognizable. The hazy blue horizon out over the Blue Ridge Parkway, the sound of my 4-cylinder engine struggling up the hill, the smell of the foliage in the breeze; it was really quite pleasant to be back in such a comfortable and familiar place. As I got farther and farther up the hill, the leaves started to get darker and darker green, until they finally started to give way to a tinge of brown by the time I reach the 3,333-foot mark, where Boone resides. It is most certainly fall up there, complete with the chill in the air and the smell of autumn all around.

And autumn means one thing to me: football. And my Appalachian State Mountaineers had a home game under the lights on Saturday, facing the holy might of Presbyterian University, -- backed by God, I'm assuming. Saturday morning, I shook myself from a deep sleep somewhere around 2:00pm, in time to catch some of the afternoon action on TV before tailgate time. We headed out to our spot in Greenwood a bit later on, grilled some burgers and some dogs, and imbibed copious amounts of beer and liquor. It was raining coldly off and on, even further proof that it is indeed football season in the mountains.

The contest was hard fought for the first half, but even God himself failed to help the visiting team overcome the stifling defense of the Mountaineers. We win 48-14. Bad news though: QB Armanti Edwards went down with a leg injury in the 3rd Quarter, and unfortunately, it appears to be somewhat serious. Best of luck to Edwards as he tries to recover in short order.

Backup QB DeAndre Presley diving towards the endzone

I'm back home now and back to the "grind" -- even though it's really no grind whatsoever. I'm supposed to meet Mareshah in Raleigh for dinner or something tonight. I haven't seen her since before the summer started, and that is simply unacceptable. I don't have much time for her though; I have a bunch of shit to get in order this week. Dentist appointment, new contacts, vaccinations: round two at the doctor's, boat loads of laundry, a little shopping, maybe a haircut, and everwhat else I can cram into the next six days. Then it's off on a jet plane again. More on that trip to follow.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jason Shows No Mercier

Another story developing at the WSOPE as we speak centers around Jason Mercier. I met Jason for the first time in Uruguay when I was covering him in the LAPT event. He only lasted a couple hours in the tournament, but he and I hung around the same places for the better part of a week. I bumped into him again in Cannes, France just a couple weeks ago where he was playing in the Partouche Poker Tour main event. Once again, he lasted only a short time before being relegated to the rail.

So, Jason leaves Cannes and heads next door to Barcelona, Spain for the EPT event there a couple days later. He proceeds to cut a swath through the field, racking up a sixth place finish and pocketing a cool €227,000. I'm sure he was disappointed by the result, but making it through a field of 619 players to be among the final six is still impressive.

Move it forward just a week or so, and Mercier is up to his old tricks again. At this moment, they are on break in Event #3 of the WSOPE, which is a £5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament. With 23 players remaining, Jason is the commanding chip leader, sitting on a stack of more than 425,000 chips. The next man closest to him is Shaun Deeb with about 260,000.

Jason was just moved to another table -- Shaun Deeb's table, in fact -- requiring him to rack up, carry, and then un-rack all 425,000 of those chips. "Now I gotta redo this whole thing," he complained with a sigh, as he started rebuilding his chip fortress.

"What a problem to have..." muttered his new neighbor, Deeb.

Jason Mericer rebuilding