shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ It's been quite a while since I posted a River Street retrospective, so I decided to write one last night before bed, since I got home from work too late to play any poker. ]

That's him, I'm telling you, I said to Nick. We were standing, waiting for a seat, at one of the tiny two-table poker clubs in Boston a few weeks ago. That's not him. It can't be him; he's not acting anything like him, Nick insisted. I retorted: But, his wedding ring; it looks just like the one he had, and I remember it from when he got married while we were still playing at River Street. Remember, that girlfriend of his that he married? Remember how he left her at home with the fire alarm running while we were playing poker. She couldn't even reach the thing with the step ladder to turn it off, and was calling every ten minutes for an hour to beg for him to come home to take care of it. Then, he'd hang up and say ‘just one more hand, then I'm leaving’?

Nick was still sure it wasn't the same guy. I offered to settle it the way all poker players do: Ok, I'll make a $50 even money prop bet with you that it's him. No? $10, then. C'mon, I know it's him. Nick's doubt eventually had me doubting myself. Could I have misremembered him that completely? After all, this guy seemed pretty calm, and hadn't been stacked the whole time we'd been watching the game.

I tried to think of what he looked like in those days, but the memory that came back was how I got his name wrong at first. A number of people at the River Street game knew him from outside the game; apparently he'd come from the same undergraduate program as some of the other MIT regulars. They had always called him by his last name, which my poor hearing had picked up as “Troy”. I remembered vividly referring to him that way one night in his absence, asking Where's Troy tonight?. No one seemed to know who I was talking about.

Someone finally realized what I was saying, and argued: You think a Chinese guy is named Troy?. Well, I answered, why couldn't he be? By his accent, this “Troy” sounded like he was born and raised somewhere on the east coast. He's as much Chinese culturally as I am Polish — at least a generation or so removed.

This was an academic consideration, of course. As it turned out, all along, they'd been calling Michael (which was his first name, I'd suddenly learned) by his last name — a common Chinese surname that rhymed with Troy. (As a footnote, another River Street regular eventually showed up a few months later carrying from Canada the actual name, Troy. But he's a profile for another time.) I decided that from that point on, I was avoiding the confusion and just calling this guy, “Michael”.

Michael was probably the most excitable player ever to visit River Street. There was no question, frankly, that poker was gambling to him. He played lots of pots; he moved in with nearly every draw. I distinctly remember the first time in NL HE that I ever got bottom set (222) all-in against the nut flush draw. It was heads-up against Michael in Greg's kitchen, sitting in one of the comfy kitchen chairs I'd arrived early to reserve. A good tenth of my bankroll at the time was in that pot. I learned the meaning of “action player”, “gamble”, “redraw” and “EV” in the seconds it took Greg to deal the turn (a flush-making heart) and the river (a board-pairing 8).

But the nut flush draw was just a mild gamble for Michael. He'd play bottom pair to the river in limit HE without thinking twice. In the right mood, he'd push in with just about any ace-high if he had less than half the buy-in. Sometimes, he'd even just have king-high; that is, if it was his favorite hand — his beloved “Ko-jack”. For a number of weeks in that winter and spring of 2004, he was the action of River Street.

Then, he'd go broke. Greg would let him deal, and we'd tip him well. After all, as soon as he'd put together $50 or so, he'd buy in short with his tips, and then go broke. He'd go to the ATM, come back, and go broke. He'd win on Tuesday, take a stake of $20 bills home, bring them back on Thursday and go broke.

That spring, Michael joined a big group of River Street players who went off to Foxwoods for a long weekend. The stories that returned that Tuesday were nearly unbelievable. Michael, so that Tuesday crew was told, had discovered craps. He'd went on an amazing run. He'd been tossing dealers green chips as tokes. He was betting blacks on the pass line on ever new shooter.

Not to disappoint, Michael showed up that Thursday with a pair of red dice. In between poker hands, he'd point at someone across the table and say: You be the house; I'm the new shooter. I don't recall that anyone actually took him up on his offer to bankroll his intra-poker-hand floating craps game, but his excitement for the gamble carried over into every aspect of both games. Invariably, as he'd receive his cards, he'd move those dice from the table to his face, wedging them between his glasses and his eyes. His eyes now closed and covered, he'd squint to hold the dice in place. His head now high, he'd look back across the table, and in a robotic voice, slowly chant: What number am I? … What number am I?

In these days, I had just started learning NL HE cash play and I would often forgo the $1/$2, no max buy-in NL game in the kitchen (particularly when the field seemed tough) and continue with the $3/$6 limit game in the living room after the NL HE game “broke out” from the kitchen's $5/$10 game. It was on one of these occasions that the most unforgettable Michael incident occurred.

It was an average River Street night. We were used to shouts from the kitchen during major all-ins or other surprises in large pots. The NL HE game had been going for a while when we heard an unusually loud screech — enough to freeze up the action in the limit game. Michael came storming down the hallway, caught somewhere between shouting and muttering.

As he approached the front door, which was directly adjacent to the living room, he started to stumble. He had stepped into the mass of removed shoes — a kindness to Greg's neighbors to avoid the noise of 20 people stomping around that top floor River Street apartment. Michael looked down at the piles of shoes, and the muttering continued. He was close enough that I could hear it now: King-Jack. It had to be King-Jack. It had to be my hand. Tears were beginning to swell in Michael's eyes. His gaze narrowed on a lone shoe, separated from the others; he picked it up — examining it, ostensibly to see if it was his. Establishing that it wasn't, he simply hurled it at the front door. King-Jack, King-Jack. Another shoe picked up and thrown. Another, and another. Shouting now: King-Jack; Why did he have my hand!?! Sidney, Greg's loyal canine, ran from the kitchen, barking quietly. The $3/$6 players ceased all movement, the current pot conceded to the confusion.

The situation was escalating quickly, and sitting in the three seat, I was the closest to Michael's current position. I approached, a bit fearful, and asked the rather pointless and already-answered question: What happened?, followed by a quick and almost as pointless Are you alright?, and finally with something marginally useful: Would you like me to help you find your shoes?

By then, the noise had roused Greg. Within seconds, mayhem had ensued. The $3/$6 players were moving about; the $1/$2 NL players were crowding in from the back. Greg quickly shuffled through the now disorganized mess of shoes to find Michael's, as the man himself had collapsed against the wall, his tantrum spent. Greg handed him his shoes, and Michael was out the door before they were on his feet. Michael lingered briefly in the hallway, banging slightly on the door; Greg opened the door briefly, shouting that he should go home. Michael eventually complied.

The details of the hand were never clear but hardly mattered: a sharp player named Josh had called Michael's bet on the flop with on a lark with a running straight draw while holding KJ. It got there and Josh stacked Michael on the river.

As I retell the story, I'm not all that surprised that Nick didn't recognize Michael. The man we saw last month was clearly a different poker player. Sure, when we saw him, he seemed like he was playing a little too loose, and I don't know how many times he rebought. But, he did cash out something, which is certainly better than the old days.

I was cleaning out my email drafts folder recently, as I switched MUAs from mutt to Gnus. I saw a message from mid-2004 drafted to Greg, which read: I am really worried about Michael. After what happened last night and from his behavior after the Foxwoods trip, I think that he might have a gambling problem. I was wondering if. It ended there. I never finished the message.

I hope that Michael has turned over a new leaf. He's not the last person — not even at River Street — whom I've watched descend into something truly ugly because of poker. Had I been a better poker player at the time, I probably would have won hundreds, rather than mere dozens, of dollars from Michael. Somehow, though, I am glad that I was still a pretty bad player back then. I wish you the best, Michael, and I hope you fold KJ preflop most of the time these days.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ By popular request, here's the second entry in my River Street series. ]

It was every Tuesday. I was fortunate to have an office that didn't even get moving at all until 10:00, and sometimes later. I even came in a bit after that — around 11:00 — on Wednesdays and Fridays to make it easier to manage. I had to go. I had to be there. My week was planned around it. It was River Street.

What was the magic? I'm still not sure, even a year later. The feeling struck me even earlier this month, as I pulled into Cambridge for a conference at MIT, and saw the Riverside Pizza and the empty lot, and that building. The building of Greg's old apartment. The first apartment of River Street; it's where the magic happened.

Through February 2004, we were still self-dealing, and continued to do so into March. The limit game became goofy, fun and interesting. I realize now that we were slowly building the cast of characters that would become the center of the NL HE game — stakes always escalating — that would define River Street for most of those who came later.


I remember [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden's first arrival vividly. A unseasonably warm night in February 2004 a slightly chubby, broad-shouldered, smiling and friendly fellow stormed into Greg's living room. As Sydney jumped and barked around his legs, from under his Red Sox cap, he bellowed: I was just driving through Central Square with my head out the window trying to reboot the three Windows boxes on the roof of my car. Do you know how hard it is to reboot Windows while driving with your head out the car window?. My only thought: Who is this guy?!?!

Nick is that extroverted fellow, somewhat like myself. I immediately felt kinship to this guy — he was a computer geek, he was exuberant, he was thoughtful, he was friendly. We had a lot in common, and we quickly became friends. Well, at least we did eventually; for a while, he was was my friendly neighborhood fish.

Through February and March of 2004, I remained fearful of the NL game. I felt I was totally outclassed in the game, and I surely was — at the time I had a very poor understanding of the complexity of NL HE and had too much of a limit mindset toward the game. But, $2/$4 limit HE were my usual stakes anyway, and that limit game through February was rocking with new players. I probably only had six months of careful study ahead of them, but poker is about selecting games where you have relative, not absolute, edge. I certainly had one here, especially against Nick.

Nick started as a tight-weak player; many good players (including myself) start their poker play this way. This made Nick incredibly bluffable. I'd be sure to sit on immediately on his left — a treat anyway because he was a fun guy to talk to — and I'd three-bet him every time he'd raise. I'd bet the flop, and if he didn't fold there, I could bet the turn and the river, and he'd almost never call me with anything less than a strong top-pair. I got lucky enough that the few times he did call me, I had hit some goofy draw. He caught on after a few weeks, but it was easy pickings early on.

After some time, Nick and I exchanged contact information, and we became friends outside poker. I also eventually told him what I was doing and how to avoid it. I taught him everything I knew about how to beat the games, and being the smart guy he is, he soaked up the knowledge and became a formidable opponent. We played thousands of hands on Poker Room, watching each other's table and learning the game. These days, Nick ranks on the short list of my best friends in the world, despite that I have moved down to New York. When anyone questions whether or not poker is good activity, I think about how I met one of my best friend thanks to the game. It's all part of what made River Street so special for me.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

I began promising an ode to River Street that I started writing just after I arrived in New York City. I've been thinking a lot about River Street (which I historically called "Greg's Game" in this journal) since I got to NYC. Sure, there were always the NYC clubs, which have begun to disappear (for a while). These are much more profitable than my almost-break-even year (or so) at River Street. However, Greg succeeded where so many others have failed: he was able to mix a home game feel with what was (or, effectively became) a poker club, and it lasted longer than any NYC club I've seen. While a few of the clubs here in NYC have tried to give a home game feel, they didn't succeed, at least not in the way Greg did it in Boston.

Ironically, I used to give Greg a hard time in mid-2004 that his game was not really a home game anymore — which it wasn't — and I really lamented that at that time. But, I was mistaken to be bothered by it. It couldn't have survived much longer as a home game (after all, Greg was clearly getting sick of hosting it in a non-profit fashion), so the choices really were "death or club". I believe the transition was successful, even if the dealers scared the hell out of players with that high frequency of errors. (Having said that, I should (a) point out that Shannan was among the best dealers I'd ever seen, and (b) note that's basically the only real compliant, with a full year of retrospect, that I have about River Street.)

The year of River Street was an important time for me in my poker life. I have decided that I don't want that time to fade into jumbled memory too easily, and while there are still some fresh thoughts of it in my mind, I want to start journaling about them.

I picked this post for today as it is an historic date. My first visit to River Street was Tuesday 10 February 2004 (which, I believe, was the third or fourth time it ran as a "public" game). Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of my first visit to what I still consider the "best" poker game I've ever played in.

By best, I certainly don't mean it was the most profitable. While it may have been the game that helped me learn more than I could have elsewhere, it wasn't that alone that made it great for me. It became, because of the great mix of personalities of players, most like the poker game that I once played in college. In those games (that someday I'll write about, too), the game was a true social event. We were a group of people who met frequently to study each other's psychological make-up through poker.

For the next year, through a series of posts, I'll trace the history of River Street as I remember it. I am sure some of the details have faded, and I'll get some wrong. I know there are a few River Street alumni lurking out there who might help with this diachronic look at that game we all loved.

My first installment, the story of the first River Street game I attended, is behind this link. )

I'll try to post, over the next year, stories of River Street to match events on the 2004-2005 calendar to coincide with the same dates in 2006-2007. I obviously don't have specific incident and date memories nor email records that match the whole year, but I'll try to keep the general time frames right over the year. I hope you all enjoy this series, and I hope a few members of the River Street crowd resurface to chime in, and even correct me when I misremember.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

This little quote always makes me think fondly of River Street, of Matt (whom I miss playing against, even though he's a better player than me) and of the silliness and looseness that old NL HE game in Boston:

It's great to think that somewhere, at some poker game in the world tonight, someone is saying 'I'll straddle — all-in'.
&mdash Matt H. (aka [livejournal.com profile] dankhank) of River Street

The End of an Era

Tuesday, 26 July 2005 15:31
shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

I just got first-hand confirmation today that Greg's game, once a Tuesday and Thursday night staple in Boston and/or Cambridge, will run sporadically from now on, if it runs at all. Tonight's game, for example, was canceled due to lack of interest and Greg's lackluster interest in the running the game anymore.

Carlos' game, which I only attended once but was a staple for those in the Boston area who had cars, has closed as well. Some of the more serious clubs, none of which were ever MBTA-accessible, remain open, but they didn't have that "home-game-turned-club" feel that defined Boston poker for me in my year and half on that scene.

I feel the sadness that one feels when a pet dies. It's not the deep morning of losing a fellow human being, but it's that feeling that a living, breathing thing ("She's a living thing!") has ceased to be. I have a sense of loneliness and a feeling that the "era" in my poker career from now on will be thought of as "after Greg's game".

It's particularly strange for me, since I effectively said goodbye to Greg's game back in April when I moved to New York. Yet, I always thought about it being there -- that I'd find many of the same faces in the same place on the same night if ever I was in town on a Tuesday or Thursday. That sense that it "will still be there to go find" is unrealistic optimism now.

There is no lack of poker games in NYC. Within weeks of the busts, three or four new clubs were heavily marketing and picking up players. I am sure I'll never want for a game. Yet, they won't feel the same. They will never be this game that I walked into on the first night and plunked down a mere $50 to play $1/$2 limit. I'll never feel that way about a poker game again. It was special. Thank you, Greg, for putting up with all of us stomping through your apartment, pissing off your neighbors, feeding your dog table scraps, and for making a community for us. I'll never forget it; I am sure the rest won't as well.

I have many unfinished journal entries -- a whole series, in fact -- that I've worked on occasionally since April. They are a tribute to Greg's game and the people that played in it. I kept procrastinating because it seemed somehow premature to begin eulogizing a living thing. But, Greg's game -- even if he continues to run one occasionally -- will never be the "River Street" (the illustrious name of Greg's club that I've always obscured in my journal until now) that I remember. I might as well finish my tributes to the times since passed.

shipitfish: (Default)

As has now become my custom, I'm posting about Greg's games with a delay. Since everyone (more all the time) from Greg's game is reading this journal, it seems to make sense to always be at least a week behind in posting.

That night, the place was packed; there was actually a wait list and consistently 5-8 people standing around in the kitchen waiting for a seat. I got stuck early for a substantial amount (two buy-ins) and therefore was offering my seat for the price of "getting me even for the night". No one took me up on the offer, and eventually I did get even (up $16, actually) and decided to leave. The crowd was too much, Nick was offering a ride (because he wanted to hit-and-run :), and, as I mentioned before, I don't like playing a large stack there if I can help it. So, here's my post about that short session. )

shipitfish: (Default)

Last night, for the second time ever in Greg's poker game, someone got angry enough at me to resort to name-calling. I made (as Greg called it) "an unorthodox move" to avoid implementation of a controversial rule. While I agree that my move was unorthodox, I don't think it warranted name calling, nor do I think it violated the spirit of the rules, especially given the controversial nature of the rule, the implementation of which I thwarted.

We were playing limit poker ($4/$8 limit HE, O/8 and (of all things) Crazy Pineapple, with a half-kill to $6/$12). I may post specifically about some hands in a later entry, but at the moment, I want to focus on the incident that led to someone calling me a "little bitch". (I'm a pretty portly fellow, so I was a bit surprised I was a "little" anything. :) I write in this entry specifically about the incident. )

I follow it with a discussion of the specifics of the rules in question that led to the incident. Those who aren't as pedantically aware of poker hand-showing rules may wish to read this part first. ) I follow that with a discussion of one thing I do above and beyond the requirements of hand-showing rules that I think is good for the game. )
shipitfish: (Default)

So, for the first time, I've had to go back and read my post that started this journal, wherein I argue that it's a good thing to talk about your poker game publicly. Nearly every regular at Greg's game has started reading my journal. So, the theoretical possibility that most of my opponents are reading this journal has become an actual reality. I read that old entry to remind myself that I really don't mind this happening. I do ask, however, one favor from those regular opponents who were in the hands I describe in this journal. Please do post comments about your thoughts. This is a forum of poker learning, and I would rather it not be a one-way conduit of information. I'd like to hear what you were thinking when you played that hand against me.

So, without additional fanfare, I'll discuss Greg's NL game from two weeks ago. )

shipitfish: (Default)

I played twice last week in Greg's game. I guess because he'd been out of town recently, he decided to host two games last week, both NL HE, on Tuesday and Thursday. His standard NL HE game is $1/$2 blinds with a $140 initial maximum buy-in, which increases to "half the largest stack" as stacks go past $280.

I won $324 at the Tuesday game. )

I'll have to write about the Thursday game later. I also played Ashley's pot limit dealer's choice game on Sunday, which didn't go well. I doubt I'll make it to any home games this week, but maybe I'll do an entry on online play, and the promised entry about my thoughts on moving up in limits.

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