Monday, June 20, 2005

TSN Degree Poker Championship

TSN will be televising the Degree Poker Championship, a Canadian no limit hold'em tournament being held at the Fallsview Casino Resort just down the road in Niagara Falls. The East Regional qualifier started this morning at 8am.

It was free to enter the tournament but you were awarded a spot in the event based on a draw. Both Toast and I submitted an entry form but neither of us were lucky enough to get our names drawn.

However, there were an additional 100 seats available this morning on a 'walk-up' basis. Toast told me last night that he was likely going to try to get one of those 100 seats. He tells me that 500 people were there in the lobby of the Casino hoping to get in, making it a 1-in-5 shot to get entry...

Toast got in!!!

He begins play at 5pm at the Fallsview. I'm not entirely sure how things work but he'll have to survive until 9pm for sure to get a chance to continue play tomorrow. If he survives that, he'll join the West Region qualifiers on Wednesday and Thursday for the chance to reach the tournament finals that take place on Friday.

I'm going to fly down to the Casino after work today to check things out before my baseball and hockey games tonight (busy guy I am!).

Play well Toast!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

World Series of Poker

The granddaddy of 'em all is underway in Las Vegas.

Incredibly, the 2005 version of the tournament, taking place at the Rio Suites & Resort, lasts for almost a month and a half! I find it very interesting to watch the results come in from the various tournaments to see how the big-name pros do. They'll always have an advantage over the amateurs - hell, it is what they do for a living! However, the sheer popularity of poker has resulted in a huge influx of players making the trip to Sin City to give it their best shot.

One of those with stars in his eyes is a buddy of mine through hockey. Casey, the Rabid Pandas former goaltender, won a seat to the WSOP Main Event through a satellite tournament online. That seat is worth $10,000! Casey's evidently been practicing non-stop for months in preparation for the tournament. The main event starts on July 7th and you can bet I'll be following his progress.

In the meantime, I suggest that anyone interested in the WSOP go to the Card Player website for the tournament schedule and event results.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Disappointed Again

The second leg of the Niagara District Men's Tour at Twenty Valley was held this past Saturday. I left the course disappointed again.

I had a good practice session before the round and had no nerves whatsoever. I ripped my first tee shot right down the middle of the fairway and was in great position for my second shot into the short par five, just as planned in the post below. The shot called for a slight cut (left to right) around the trees to the green about 225 yards away. I ended up double-crossing myself (instead of left to right, I hit it right to left) and it went into a water hazard an incredible 60 yards left of the green! Oh boy...not a good start.

I ended up bogeying there and proceeded to go an incredible seven over par through the first six holes. I hit four greens in regulation and three putted all four of them. I'm not a quitter but I was almost feeling sick to my stomach after another three foot miss on the sixth. I finally made my first par of the day on the seventh, bogeyed eight and parred nine to shoot 43 on the front nine (par is 35 on the front).

I was able to right the ship somewhat on the back nine, shooting an okay +2 39 for an 82 overall. I actually had a nine foot eagle putt on the par five 18th and left the damn thing short. If I made it, I would have won a $90.00 skin. In the end, it was the only birdie of the trying day. My putting is just horrible right now: you can't make a score if you can't make the short putts. I think I'm going to have to work on my alignment in the next couple of days.

I tied for 31st on the day out of 51 players teeing it up. In the overall standings, I now sit in a tie for 26th place out of the 55 players on the tour.

I know I'm a better player than this. No excuses here; I just didn't execute anything all day. I'm just completely embarrassed with my performance.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Niagara District Men's Tour: Twenty Valley G&CC

13th at Twenty Valley
The second leg of the Niagara District Men's Tour kicks off tomorrow from Twenty Valley Golf and Country Club in Vineland, Ontario. I finished in a tie for 18th place in the first event held at Ussher's Creek in Niagara Falls last month with my 79.

I wanted to put together a gameplan for that round but ran out of time. Tis not the case tonight! I feel talking about the golf couse and developing a plan will save a couple shots...we'll just have to see! Here we go!

The first hole is a very short par five measuring 466 yards from the back tee. The issue here is a water hazard that runs across the fairway only 266 from the tee. I want to hit my 3-iron rescue club here off the tee to put me in a position to reach the green in two yet keep me from rolling into the hazard. As long as I get it in the fairway from the tee, there isn't much to this hole. The second hole is a 367 yard par four that demands a tee shot out of a chute. I'll likely hit my driver here to get going, more because I don't want to hit it for the first time on the demanding third hole, a 458 yard monster of a par four. Out of bounds runs all the way down the right side but shouldn't cause me any problems as I hit the ball from right to left. However, you have to hit the drive into the lower portion of the fairway about 260 yards to have a clear shot to a green hidden by a grove of trees on both sides. The green is very narrow and will only accept a well-struck shot. This is easily one of the tougher holes on the course and a par will be welcomed.

The fourth is a short par four measuring 321 yards with O.B. down both sides. The tee shot is up a hill that slopes severely right to left towards water, increasing the difficulty. I plan on hitting driver here as well but if I'm feeling a bit nervous will go to one of the rescue clubs. The fifth is a cool 388 yard par four; one of my favourites on the course. It's a huge dogleg right that has a diabolical green surface, with huge slopes running from back to front. I remember having a four footer for birdie here last year and all I could think about was making sure I didn't leave a twenty footer for my par that's intimidation! Number six is a 335 yard downhill par four that plays into the prevailing wind. A driver off the tee to a valley area then demands a blind uphill second shot. Another great short par four.

We finally hit the first par three of the day on seven, a pretty standard 168 yard hole. There's a pond short left of the green that shouldn't come into play for any well struck shot. Eight is a challenging 430 yard par four that doglegs 90 degrees left around the pond from number eight. The hole doesn't play as long due to the dogleg and I plan on hitting my 2-iron rescue on this hole. The green complex here is the most difficult on the course and any two putt is great. Another hole where four is a great score. Number nine is a short par three downhill, measuring 185 yards. O.B. is behind the hole so proper club selection is key. The front nine has a par of 35 so it's important to post a good number going to the more difficult back side.

Number ten is a 505 yard par five that has an uphill blind tee shot. A good straight drive here leads to a pretty routine second shot into a narrow, flat green. Birdie is attainable here if the drive is good. Eleven is a 355 yard par four that demands an accurate tee shot so again, I'm going to pull out the 2-iron rescue here. Twelve is a very difficult 389 yard par four with another blind tee shot. Depending on how the hole looks, I may hit the 2-iron rescue again but may hit the driver if the wind is blowing into my face. The green complex is raised and slopes wildly; it is as difficult a surface as number eight.

Thirteen is probably the most difficult par three hole in all of Ontario. It is 214 yards long and demands that you carry the ball the whole way uphill over water to a very shallow green surface. One of those holes you're thinking about much earlier in the round. Fourteen is a long 558 yard par five. Just blast away off the tee here, as length is the only real hazard. Fifteen is a 421 yard par four from an elevated tee; driver is the play here.

Sixteen is another long par three measuring 219 yards. A bunker front left causes me problems off the tee and I find this tee shot to be tougher than than twelve. The seventeenth hole is a 417 yard par four out of a very narrow chute. Driver is demanded here and you can lay the ball right off the tee and have it take the slope back toward the fairway left. Number 18 is one of the best finishers in the entire region, a 505 yard risk/reward par five. The fairway slopes severely downhill about 260 yards from the tee and can mean a great drive ends up only 150 yards or so from the green. However, there is O.B. both left and right, placing accuracy at a premium. If I'm protecting a great round, there is a chance I'll keep the driver in the bag and just play this as a three shot hole. The reason for this is the very demanding approach shot, uphill and over water to a green complex raised about 40 yards from the lower fairway. Just a great golf hole.

I'm going to have to work on my putting and chipping tomorrow morning before my 12:52pm tee off time. The putting especially was poor last week during the Niagara Cup qualifier and I'll have to be better to score well here. I think I can play with these guys and hope to get into the mid-70's tomorrow. I'll obviously report back with how I fared.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Who Needs the Casino When the Party is Always Rocking

Party Poker, that is. Yup, it's official...I'm an online poker player now.

And it's all Toast's fault!

Actually, it might have been my buddy Ryan in Oshawa who lured me in a couple weeks back when I played under his account. Either way, I'm a complete and utter hypocrite: I've always said I'd never succumb to the temptation of playing online but here I am.

And I'm loving it!

The advantages to playing online are plenty: no lines, you can play anytime, no driving to the casino and back, fishier players. The list goes on and on.

I always thought a major disadvantage would be the inability to read an online player. Not so. At least if you have the right software...

Now, I'm not going to spill any trade secrets (especially to those who end up at my table) but there are complimentary computer programs out there that work in conjunction with your poker site to give stats on your play and the play of your opponents. I can't tell you how amazing some of this software is...all I can say is that it is invaluable and it is helping me become a much better player. More importantly, it is giving me amazing information about my opponents and their tendencies at the table. You'll have to drop an email to get more information from me!

Anyway, I've been playing mostly at Party Poker at their $0.50/$1 tables...these limits are 1/6 of what I've been playing at the casino so it's pretty small stakes. However, the swings online are larger due to the fishy players and the speed of the games (you get in at least 50% more hands per hour online). So far, so good. I'm up 99 big bets since last Friday.

Stay tuned. I'll likely start sharing some of the statistics on my play in the near future.

Niagara Cup Qualifying

This past weekend saw St. Catharines G&CC hold a two-day qualifier for their Niagara Cup team.

The Niagara Cup is an annual interclub tournament in the region that takes after the vaunted Ryder Cup. Basically, every club in the region gets put into a bracket with two other clubs. You have a set of matches (all match play) at all three venues and the club with the most points (1 point for a match victory and a half a point for a tie) advances to the finals with all of the other sectional winners. The finals are one-on-one match play.

There are seven amateur players on every club team along with that club's pro. I was lucky enough to qualify for the team last year and we did quite well, winning our sectional and advancing to the finals. There, we ended up finishing in fifth I believe.

There was a new wrinkle this year that's caused a little bit of controversy. Instead of picking the top seven scores, the club has decided to pick five players based on the scores and then select two 'Captain's Picks', based on players they feel should be on the team that maybe didn't play their best on the weekend. I was just determined to play my way on...

The competition for spots this year was fierce. A couple newcomers were almost guaranteed to make the team: Ben, a guy I've played a few rounds with this year, is only in his early 20's and has a boatload of talent and Will, who's playing college golf in the U.S. and leading his team as a freshman.

We were able to play both Saturday and Sunday and submit our best score from those two days to determine who makes the team. I figured I'd need to shoot about a 76 to get in...I was pretty close to being spot on.

Saturday's round was an absolute rollercoaster ride. I barely made my tee off time and really was having a hard time with my vision early. Funny enough, I started par/birdie to go one under after two holes.

The wheels fell off quickly. I proceeded to bogey the next five holes in a row, three putting three times. My lag putting was atrocious; in fact, on the seventh hole I left a 45 foot putt 25 feet short. I was then slapped in the face again when my par effort lipped out of the hole.

Determined to fight back, I birdied two of the next three holes to get it back to two over for the day. I thought things were really starting to go my way on #11: I snap hooked my drive into the hazard on the par 4 but somehow made a miraculous par save. Unfortunately, I dunked my tee shot in the water on the next hole and made double bogey to move back to +4. I started grinding big time, making up and down sand saves on both #13 and #14 for pars but the magic started to wear off shortly thereafter. I ended up shooting 78 Saturday, a score that put me on the bubble.

I found out that this one guy at the club (who no one really knows) shot 72, so he was in. Will shot a -1 71 and Ben shot 75. Last year's club champion, Josh, shot 76, while Andy, another of the regulars, shot 77. Toast and I were on the bubble with our 78's. I'd have to go out Sunday and shoot that 76.

It wasn't to be. I just couldn't make anything happen on Sunday, much to my chagrin. My putting was uniformly horrible all day, as I took 35 putts for the round, about 4 more than I normally average. I ended up shooting 79, once again the same score as my buddy Toast, so the 78's we shot Saturday were the scores we submitted. Unfortunately, they weren't good enough. Our buddy Gary squeaked in with a 77 on Sunday to likely lock up a spot.

We talked about things after the round. It's very likely that both Toast and myself would play on the team at some point this year as alternates. There are always conflicts for people in the summer so we'd likely be first in line if someone couldn't make it.

I found out yesterday that I wouldn't have to worry.

The pro called me at work yesterday to tell me that they were using their Captain's Pick on me. Sweet! He told me that my Newlands Cup win last year at the club (I won the overall match play title at St. Catharines), my solid recent play and my solid play in the event last year were the reasons for my selection.

I just hope that Toast gets on the team as an alternate. We shot the same scores both days and he certainly deserves to be there too.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Mikayla's 1st Birthday Party

Once again, I had a busy Saturday.

My alarm went off at 6:22am and as per usual, the snooze button was hit. It was also hit at 6:31, 6:40, 6:49, and 6:58 before I finally came to my senses and ran into the shower. I was showered, dressed and at the golf club by 7:14...of course I was due on the tee at 7:15. Perpetually late it seems...

The golf is quite relevant but will be discussed in another post. Moving on, I rushed home post-golf, showered and changed and escorted Jacqueline to my good friend Deron and Tanya's for their daughter Mikayla's first birthday party, which started at 12:30pm. There were 28 people at the party, made up of family and close friends. What a fun afternoon; Deron was working the barbeque while Tanya and Mikayla opened a countless amount of presents.

It was a pretty big day for Jacky too. She had met the hosts (Deron, Tanya and Mikayla) along with another couple good friends in Brandon and Donna during an impromptu dinner about a week ago. She had also met Dave and Cherie, along with another good friend Jim on Wednesday night when we went to see Revenge of the Sith. But this afternoon provided her with the opportunity to meet a number of my other friends for the first time. She wasn't overwhelmed at all and I was really impressed: she was even remembering the names of all the dogs running amok in the backyard! I think she made a really good impression on everyone there and I'm thrilled because of it. I'm extremely lucky to have the friends I do and twice as lucky to have found a great girl in Jacky. She took a bunch of pictures during the afternoon that can be found right here. Check them out!

It must have been draining for Jacky, meeting so many new people and trying to remember names. It didn't get any easier for her Saturday evening, when she had to meet my parents...

I got a call from my mom, who left a message on my machine, asking if we'd like to go out to dinner with them and Vaughn and Lorraine, who not only are friends of my parents, but also Jacky's uncle and aunt. It was basically Lorraine and my mom who conspired to set Jacky and I up; in fact, my mother had been talking about her for over a year before I finally relented and took her phone number. Looks like I have the capability to make some good decisions!

Anyway, I asked Jacky if she was up to it and she said yes. So we met the four of them at this new Vietnamese restaurant on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines for an elaborate dinner. Vaughn ordered for the table and we all shared everything. Five different appetizers and 7 different entrees were ordered and enjoyed. I used to be a picky eater but I'm starting to really enjoy broadening my horizons with respect to trying new things.

I had never met Lorraine in person before and I'm pretty sure I made a positive impression. Mom and Dad were very impressed with Jacky as well. My old man was his usual aloof self during the meal, which kind of ticked me off. However, I found out from my mother today that he was in a great deal of pain during the entire night and was just trying to keep it to himself. My father has a pretty serious gall bladder problem and it was causing him grief the entire night. Hopefully he'll feel better the next time we get together so he can make a better impression on Jacky!

We all made the short trip to the Blue Mermaid, a fancy steakhouse in downtown St. Catharines for some drinks and relaxation. Vaughn, Lorraine and my parents go there often; there's a downstairs lounge area with sofas and chesterfields and great ambience. They have a piano player named Eddie who plays for awhile then makes the rounds, talking with all of the people in the lounge. Eddie is a buddy of my father's so he spent some time with us as we had our drinks. I had a pretty nice Spanish Coffee there, while Jacky just had a decaf. I enjoyed the time at the Mermaid quite a bit; Vaughn and I talked quite extensively about poker.

He's quite the player evidently. He's been going to the Fallsview Casino Resort since it opened and plays tables up to $30/$60! He told me he's made over $20,000 profit since it opened playing hold'em. He shared a few good tips with me regarding the counting of big bets, an important trick for people trying to determine 'pot odds'.

For those not schooled in the fine art of poker, in a nutshell, pot odds tells you the relationship between what's already in the pot and what you have to put into the pot to stay in the hand. You then use this percentage and compare it to the percentage chance you have of hitting your 'out', or the card that will likely make you win the pot. So if you have an open-ended straight draw on the turn (say nine, ten, Jack, and Queen), that means you have 8 cards that can make your straight out of the 46 cards left unseen (any eight or king) and 38 cards that can't help you. That means the odds are 38 to 8 (4.75 to 1) against making your draw and you have only a 17.39% chance of hitting. Now, if there is $45 in the pot and it costs you $6 to see the river, you're getting 7.5 to 1 on your investment, meaning the smart play is to pay the money and see the last card.

Whew. Hope I made that clear for those out there unfamiliar with poker!

Anyway, at 11pm, Jacky and I decided to wrap things up and call it a night. My parents, just like my friends, seem really fond of her.

Saturday's don't get much better than this one!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Talk about a dream for the Star Wars junkie...

This movie more than makes up for the lackluster Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Strange that I originally loved Clones but I watched it again with the girlfriend a couple days ago and found it to be a colossal bore.

The opening battle scene is something to behold, a 10 minute rollercoaster ride that truly rivals anything else George Lucas has ever done. The build-up to Anakin Skywalker's turn to the dark side is handled beautifully and culminates in a great scene between Hayden Christensen (Skywalker) and Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine) at an opera, where Palpatine shows where his true allegience lies.

And don't even try to get me started with all of the lightsabre battles. Un-freaking-believable!!! The last 45 minutes of the movie easily is the best sequence in the entire six-movie set. Very emotional, gripping till the end, and extremely satisfying.

A few (very tiny) negatives. The dialog in the movie, of course, is still pretty pedestrian. Lucas has never been much of a writer: he's an idea guy, a dreamer; he knows how to translate his thoughts visually but he can't write his way out of a paper bag. Poor Natalie Portman, a wonderful actress and one of my personal favourites, is a complete afterthought in this movie. She's barely given any screen time and when she is onscreen, she's burdened with lines of dialog that Meryl Streep couldn't even pull off.

Small grievances, however. Ewan McGregor looks like he's having the time of his life in this movie; McDiarmid absolutely steals every scene he's in, chewing said scenery like it's a box of Crispy Creme donuts. I even thought Christensen showed some life, although I'm kind of in the minority on that.

Overall, I still think that this falls below Empire Strikes Back in the grand scheme of things but only by the smallest of margins. This movie kicks serious ass and is a fitting conclusion to the series.

Highest recommendation!

A Weekend in Oshawa: Continued

Ryan's poker tournament brought 18 people to his new house in Oshawa. The buy-in for the No Limit Hold'em event was $20.00, so the total prize pool was $360.00. The top five people got paid, with fifth place getting their buy-in back and first place getting $200.00. Not too shabby.

Ryan ran a really good tournament, very organized. He had three tables of six going, with everyone randomly assigned a seat. Of course, I ended up drawing the toughest table; all very good players. Early on in the tournament, I sensed some weakness from Ryan, who I was tangling with on a hand and decided to make a play. Bad decision. He was slow playing a full house and took me for almost half my stack. Somehow, I was able to recover enough to be the chip leader at our table by the time we had to consolidate tables. When we were down to 12 people, we had another random draw for seats and I ended up drawing a spot directly to the left of the overall chip leader in the tournament. I was happy being there, to be honest. Danny was not a popular guy at the moment...don't get me wrong, they're all friends, but I guess the guy was playing every hand and drawing out like a mofo. Either way, my position to his left meant I could easily fold when he was making his plays.

I quickly realized that the guy was a very smart, very aggressive player. This was not luck. He used his stack to great advantage, knocking me out of many pots. The first rule of tournament poker is to NEVER mess with the biggest chip stack unless you've really got the goods. Remember, he can go all-in at any time: if he loses, he still has you covered and can stick around; if you lose, you're a goner.

Anyway, I was able to survive, albeit barely, to make the final table. Eight people drew chairs and now I was put to Danny's RIGHT, a terrible position for my short stack. I went out quickly, going all-in with A10 suited. Danny called as did the guy to his left. I was happy about this, knowing the chance was there to triple up. The flop came down 78J rainbow, giving me a gutshot straight draw. Danny raised the other guy all-in to get him to fold and turned up 9,10, a made straight. The nine I needed to split the pot never came and I was out, finishing eighth.

Jay finished in 11th place while Ryan played well and finished fifth, getting his money back. It was getting late; Danny and a pot of gold calling station named Penny were the final two players. We started at 7pm and it was after midnight. I had to get back to St. Catharines in order to make my 7:30am tee time so Jay and I left before the winner was awarded.

I've always been a pretty good no limit player but I've really regressed. You have to play a passive, by-the-book game to succeed in limit poker and that's what I've been playing lately, a style that will win you nothing in no limit. I'm just going to have to make sure I'm able to switch gears better in the future.

Overall, fantastic weekend with the boys.