Saturday, December 23, 2006

Festivus Ramblings and Catch-Up

ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA, FESTIVUS was an actual holiday celebrated by the family of one of the writers on Seinfeld each December 23. I therefore cobble together the scattered thoughts in this post under the flimsy tent of the unfolding Festivus holiday. We'll gather by the aluminum pole, I will air some grievances (actually only a few), and — insofar there is nobody to challenge me as head of household with feats of strength — maybe talk about the physical and mental hurdles of the last several days since I've posted.

Last Saturday, blogging was an unthinkable concept. I was cleaning the joint, buying snacks and decorations, and rearranging furniture and plants (some fairly voluminous) to accommodate my party guests. By mid-afternoon, the place was looking great. The only hitch was the catering. The restaurant called 3 hours before go-time to say there had been "a problem in the kitchen," so they would prepare the food at the branch of the eatery a few towns over (there are 6 or 7 of this restuarant around the northern part of the state). They mentioned they would deliver the food as a result, which was critical; the afflicted restaurant was just one town over, and I had planned to pick the eats up with my father. Now it was to come from Paramus Park, which, 2 weeks from Xmas, was going to be a riot scene.

I called my dad to tell him he was off KP detail and that I would get the party ice at the liquor outlet next door, instead of accompanying him to the Elks Lodge where he is treasurer and helping ourselves out of the massive ice machine in the kitchen there. With my guests bringing desserts, and the only remaining line on my list saying,"veggies" (my cue to slice crudité and make onion dip), I limped across the street for an Italian hero and returned to soak in some TV and rest my aching dogs.

With the party planning and the work I've been doing to get a new job, my gym attendance lapsed for well over a week before the party. This made the day of cleaning an exhausting affair. I patronized a local gym decades ago in which one of the walls bore this legend: "SEVEN DAYS WITHOUT NAUTILUS MAKES ONE WEAK." No joke. Between the flood of holiday gift baskets at work — which tend not to brim with whole-grain cereals and pasta, fresh vegetables, or ground flaxseed — I picked up a couple of pounds at the same time as my muscles starved for regular workouts. My feet have been hurting at the end of the day, particularly my left, which bears the weight of my work bag. Reversible, surely, but a week ago it was bugging me by the end of my party prep, and as I sat and ate, it was a struggle not to nod off on my comfy couch.

By 4:45, 15 minutes after my scheduled food-delivery time, I was getting a little nervous. I had told my guests to arrive as early as 5:00. The catering guy at the restaurant told me it was on its way over. Seconds after I hung up, I realized I should have asked from which place the food would come. At that hour, threading through Paramus traffic could take a while. I counted on a degree of fashionable lateness on the part of my guests should there be a real delay.

As it happened, my first two guests, Jen and Steve, arrived fairly close to 5:00, followed by Amie and Mike and their two children, but the food arrived at 5:15, so they didn't have to wait long. The two folks from the restaurant were most apologetic; I later learned that the problem that kitchen faced was a ruptured water main in town, and I can only imagine how many other catering orders they had to reroute as a result. Had the main plan failed, I would have put out a massive pizza order and forged ahead. Nice to live in a town with many local food options.

Folks arrived at a faster clip after the food arrived, and the party was on. Shortly before the first arrival, I had purchased about 25 iTunes cuts, some Christmas related, some from the Rat Pack era, and some from Mob movies, and I arranged these into a playlist that took folks from the Peanuts, through Vegas, and into the mean streets of Ozone Park. The catering got multiple thumbs-up, much to my happiness. My high school and college gang and the mighty Amy and Ratatosk met up, in most cases for the first time, and folks who hadn't seen one another for some time got the chance to take a break from the holiday rush and catch up. It was a great success and more than worth every bit of effort I put into it. Sunday found me very sore but very happy.

This week was a stark downhill slide compared to the highpoint of Saturday. My boss is being driven even more crazy than usual by our deeply inept printer, the XML project we are now shepherding over to the outsourcing folks, and her fear that we will be somehow duped into staying longer because they won't be able to implement the new production process well. On Tuesday, I had the first-time experience of waking up angry. Had I any days off, I would've taken one. I was spitting neurotoxins and exhaling sarin all day. Worse, we had a department holiday lunch. Deciding I would skip possibly voiding my severance agreement with ill-chosen commentary to the higher feeders on the trough, I took some of the mediocre catered food (mine was much better), returned to my desk, and worked as I ate. Now you know I was pissed.

The mood lifted by the evening, when I had a poker game scheduled at my still-spic-and-span apartment. I managed a nice win after losing my first $100 buy-in when someone reluctantly called my bluff. Shortly thereafter, I hit three sets (3 of a kind, specifically when you hold a pair and a third card of yours comes on the board) in a row and won with all three of them, including one huge pot that cleaned out a guy who has a habit of pushing in all of his chips when someone bets weakly on a flop with no visible threats. In this case, I bet only about 20% of the pot when a third 9 gave me the set, the other guy went all in, I insta-called, and my 9s held up. It pays to take notes on other players' habits, because this is not the first time I have gotten this guy with that trick.

The foul mood did not return on Wednesday, which along with Thursday were very busy workdays. On Thursday, our department director and group manager sat in on a schedule meeting with one of the two editorial groups. This group will be in the trenches of the new XML process after we leave, and they had many questions regarding aspects of the process, fine details not mentioned in any of the meetings prior to this one. For months nothing has been done on this project, and now they felt — with the increased haste on getting it launched — many small points that managers who never do the work themselves would never have enumerated were going to pile up and cause problems. I have to credit one of the editors, my old supervisor before my current department rescued me by hiring me away, with being sharp enough to realize these snags. With the design group out of the company, she surely knows that she will no longer have a tech-savvy quartet of folks who can decipher problems for her without a call to our tech support line and in user-friendly lingo.

Many little lifelines will be snipped when our little band exits the building. The loss, for some, is only just dawning. There is some satisfaction in that.

I endured the shuffle-and-mumble by way of explanation on the part of our director as best I could, survived the rest of the day, and went home . . . to another poker game. Hell yes. Three-day weekend ahead for extra sleep? Absolutely goddamn right I'm playing my rush and heading to the usual Thursday game. This one featured a number of the regulars who couldn't make it Tuesday. All the merrier, as they were in the mood to gamble.

I won two large pots with the worst hand. In current poker parlance, a suckout is the act of winning with an inferior hand which improves, against grossly unfavorable odds, to become the winning hand. It's never something you plan to do. It's usually embarrassing the first time, but the second time in a single session, it can drive some folks to take shots at you to see if they can crack your luck . . . especially if you suck out on the same person twice. An extreme, but potentially lucrative, situation would be sucking out a couple of times at a table of deeply bankrolled, loose gamblers who get outraged at this sort of thing, then having a couple of them let their emotions or egos run wild and put you all in when you're holding something like a full house. In the old days, winning in this sort of situation could get you shot!

In the first hand, I reraised preflop with a pair of Kings, the second most powerful starting hand in hold'em. I got a call from the host, and everyone else folded, so it was heads-up. The only card I didn't want to see on the flop was an Ace, but one came, a spade, along with a deuce and a ten, this being a Ten of Spades. I had a King of Spades, so I had second-best pair with three flush cards. I checked, and the host bet $15. He frequently calls raises preflop with an Ace and another card of the same suit, so after deliberating whether the spade draw gave me enough additional reason to call, I did so. Odds were better of my getting a fourth spade on the next card, but instead, I got a much better card: a third King.

Now I had him. I decided to bet out to appear like I had a King while believing that his $15 bet on the flop was an attempt to steal the pot with no Ace in the hole. So I threw $25 in. Folks have seen me bet hard with strong hands, but I suspected he wouldn't be able to throw away a pair of Aces. He obliged me by calling. Note that this left him with a stack of chips about 30% of the total pot.

The river card was of no conceivable help to either of us, so I went all in. The current pot was around $110, and with my push, nearly $200. I was offering him fantastic odds to throw the rest of his stack in. (For every five or so times he made this identical play, he would have to win only once to show a longterm profit, versus the four times he would lose the last bit of cash he threw in. He was risking very little on such a huge pot that he virtually had to call with any sort of hand.) He thought for some time, trying to figure what hand might have led me this far. He couldn't see me reraising preflop with 22 in the hole, especially out of position (I would have to act before him on the flop, which gives him an advantage). He couldn't rationalize my reraising with TT, and he believed I would have raised the Ace-high flop with the third Ten to push an Ace or two spades out for fear of his hitting three Aces or spade flush. On the other hand, why would I have called on the flop with anything less than a set, Ace-Ten, or a strong Ace?

When he called and turned over Ace-King, I could see why he had discarded my holding two Kings as a possibility. If he already had one of the Kings, how could I have more than one of them myself? It was a good situation, and though it wasn't as brutal as some formal suckouts, the odds were strongly against my hitting that last King in the deck. It was a rare situation, but the circumstances and the player I was up against made for a good read on what he had and a very confusing read on what I might have had.

The second suckout was far harsher. I was dealt black Kings in middle position, and reraised an early-position raiser to get three or so callers out of the pot. To my slight dismay, I got three calls. This made for a $50ish pot before the flop even came down. It was entirely conceivable that one of the other three people might be holding an Ace, which would replay the earlier situation if the flop contained an Ace. Plus, with this much money in the pot, it was also possible that folks were calling with suited connectors (e.g., Jack-Ten of the same suit) or an Ace or a King with a high suited card, and if the flop came with straight or flush potential, my Kings were looking like Jokers. Short of something like two Aces falling, I decided to bet hard on the flop to end the party early.

The flop came Jack high, with two clubs. Similar situation to the first suckout, except this time I had an overpair to the flop. The early-position preflop raiser bet something like $25 into the pot. Some facts about this young man. He is a bluffer, a gambler, and a believer in luck. He has poor impulse control, smoking both legal and illegal substances, drinking heavily during the game, gambling his paycheck, and sometimes having to use checks his parents give him for schoolbooks to keep him in chips as games go against him. A half-pot-sized bet could mean, from him, that he was betting with — in descending likelihood — a strong Jack in the hole, an Ace or King of Clubs with a second club for a flush draw, a medium pocket pair, three Jacks, or another three-of-a-kind with the smaller flop cards. With this in mind, and his personality, I declared a raise. After I counted out $70 in chips, but before I threw them in, he said, "If you're gonna bet seventy, you might as well go all in."

I had an early reptuation in this game of being tight (i.e., playing a narrow range of hands preflop and throwing most of them away when hit with strong bets on unhelpful or threatening flops), so this trash talk could have been a bluff that he held a Jack with a better kicker, a powerful flush draw, or a set. I barely hesitated before saying, "I'm all in." When people bluff too much, you should raise their bluffs more often, especially when a win would double your chips. He had more chips than I did, so I had to count those potential implied chips in my odds to win. He barely hesitated in turn when he called, throwing down his pair of Jacks.

I just ran the numbers on my chances at this point. My opponent now had around an 88% chance to win. I was a 7.18:1 underdog to beat him. Thus it is an amusing coincidence that popped up this quote from poker brat Phil Hellmuth, Jr. below the odds: "I guess if there weren't luck involved, I'd win every time."

Luck was involved. The turn and the river were both clubs. Runner-runner flush. Suckout City. The table exploded with laughter as I burst out of my chair to sweep in the huge pot. My opponent, though he still had some chips left, looked stunned. I'd feel bad, but this guy was the type to praise his own suckouts and use them as justification for asinine bluffs. And as the immortal Bruce Springsteen wrote, "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."

I hung onto the vast majority of my chips for the rest of my stay. I headed out after two maniac, deep-pocketed players sat down and began sparring with each other with preflop bets of $50 or more. With a handsome win and my bed looking all the more welcome as a destination with each passing minute, I decided to retire. Had they come in earlier, I would have stayed; when I am awake, I am patient enough to wait for a prime spot at a two-maniac table and help them lose. If I've learned anything, it's that my patience wanes with fatigue. And it had been a long week.

Friday at work was a happy day, with most of the managers out, welcome tasks in my inbox, new poker cash in my pocket, and the promise of an early pre-Xmas release. I eventually drifted out at 3:30 and caught an early train home. Once there, with all of my holiday tasks behind me save celebrating it with my parents, I settled into the two Simpsons DVD sets I had received from kind friends who cheerfully ignored my gift moratorium with one of the few shows I would consider collection on disc. I enjoyed seeing clean versions of these shows, long in syndication and often cut by context-challenged networks eking out more time for vile ads.

As for Saturday, with no pressing needs aside from a trip to the gym to regain some of my strength and burn off some holiday lard, I have spent it in glorious indolence.

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