Tales From The Main

Snapshots of small town life - zany characters and our neverending poker game.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Back on Track!!!

I showed up at the Main with a renewed sense of confidence. I have no idea where it came from as this hasn’t exactly been a week of triumphs but it was there nonetheless. Thursdays are turning out to be a hopping night – I walked in just before 6pm and was lucky to get a seat at the feature table. The game was eight-handed almost right from the start, including me there was Sarge, Moose, Callin’, Doc, Happy, Kid Tight and a newb who reminded me of the scary dude in the Goonies – I’ll call him Goonie for lack of a better word!

I got stuck in right away and dropped my first $40 before starting a long slow run up. There were a couple of key hands through the night; one where I was on the button and had A6o. I saw a cheap flop that came AA9. Bingo! Checks around to Goonie on my right who, without hesitation, pushed his entire stack in the middle. Now my first thought was to just throw my hand away but I decided to take my time and think it out. No one had raised preflop, and I had seen Goonie raise big with a naked ace as well as a small pocket pair. The other thing was his bet – most people with trip aces and a good kicker tend to check the flop hoping to induce action on the turn. With that in mind I put him on a 9 and called – hoping for a caller or two behind me. No such luck as it was folds all around leaving a pot of about $65 for us to fight over. Goonie looked a little sick and flipped over 34o!!! What a moron!

He proceeded to rebuy a couple more times – only to be stacked by both Sarge and Doc. Feel free to come back anytime dude – make sure you watch a few more episodes of the World Poker Tour – I think the lessons are starting to sink in!

My night was moving along well – I was really focused on fixing my major leak – the crying calls when I know I am beat but just have too much emotionally invested in the pot to let it go. I was also being a lot better about my starting hand selection as I have a tendency to loosen my opening requirements once I have built a stack. I have found that starting hands like QJo and 9 10 off are very expensive – often making very good, but second best hands.

In the entire six hour session I made only one glaring error that I can think of. Holding 52clubs in the big blind I was able to see a free flop which came 5 2 K rainbow. Uh oh. No slow play for me – I bet out the pot ($12) and got 2 callers. Turn is another 5 filling out my very well disguised boat. Since it was Doc and Moose in the hand with me I decided to keep betting to represent the K and pushed $40 into the pot. Both of them called! Still – I wasn’t worried at all and was quite happy to take their money. The river came another K and also brought a flush potential to the board. I wouldn’t put it past Moose to chase a backdoor flush draw but Doc is smarter than that. I put him on the K and Moose on either the K or the flush. Here’s the stupid part – somehow I missed the fact that a K gave them a better boat than me! Time to go back to Poker 101 I think. Stupidly I bet $100 into the pot only to be raised (obviously) by Doc and then re-raised by Moose. I then compounded my error by calling! What was I thinking? Well really I wasn’t thinking – the part of my brain that actually reads the cards and figures out what hand beats what had just turned off for a few minutes rest. Of course they both had a king and end up chopping the pot – and my $700 stack is reduced to just over $400. Dummy!

I was able to grind a little bit more and had the stack up around $500 when one of the last hands of the night came down. I was dealt fishhooks (pockets jacks for those of you new to the lingo). The flop came with an A Q x and all spades. One of my jacks was the spade. Turn is a blank – river another spade. By this time we are down to heads up – me and Birthdayboy - who had been playing about an hour. I put a $40 bet out on the river – very confident I had the best hand as only the K of spades could beat me. Birthday immediately came over the top with another $60. I thought and thought about it and eventually figured that he had either the K spades or 10 spades based on the way the hand had developed and I was 50-50 on which it was. Since the pot had over $200 in it already and it was only $60 to call I felt I had to make the call. Sure enough he was sitting on the king and I lost but at least I feel that I thought the problem through and made a good value decision.

In the end I booked a decent win – my food and bar tab was a little high tonight and I did tip Ms. Hottie well – but the net net was still $250 to the positive.

On a more serious note I have been following the Roe vs Wade for men case from the fringes. For those of you who don’t know it basically some 20something dude slept with this girl. She freely admits to telling this guy that she was both infertile and on the pill (hello! Alarm bells anyone?) and so sure enough ends up pregnant. He, understandably, is not thrilled with the idea of being a father at that point in his life and would prefer her to terminate the pregnancy or put the baby up for adoption. She decides to keep the baby, has it, then proceeds to sue for and win child support.

I keep flip flopping on my opinion in this case. Essentially the dude wants to wash his hands of the affair and is arguing that he was left with no say in the matter of the kid’s existence. On the woman’s side she now has this child who will need ‘stuff’ and no matter what the dude is paying the woman is sacrificing more to raise the child. It is an interesting dilemma and not one easily solved. There are valid arguments to be made on both sides – i.e. just because the women is the ‘container’ to gestate the child does that give her final say in every aspect of the child’s life? What about if the dude wins the case – and then the child grows up and wants to know her biological father. Doesn’t he then get the benefit of the hard work put in by the mother without any of the effort?

I guess the really smart thing to do is abstain from sex – or go get a vasectomy – or get the industry to develop a really good male contraceptive (Condoms anyone?)

My two cents – dude hasn’t got a hope in hell of winning. If he did it would open a Pandora’s box that we our justice system just doesn’t care to open.

Have a great weekend.


Hours Played 6
Net + $250.00

Hours Played 113.5
Year to date net of expenses + $2931.00
Hourly rate + $25.83

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Throw your television in the tar pit . . .

You can keep the display portion but the idea that we’ll all sit around a TV set watching the same thing at the same time is deader than the dinosaurs. Rumors of this have abounded for years but were officially confirmed earlier this week.

MTV – the former outlet for music videos – has licensed Canada’s CTV to rebrand a moribund digital channel known as TalkTV to MTV Canada. OK – so what’s the big deal. The issue is Canada’s CRTC – their equivalent of the FCC. Seems that the TalkTV license only allows for certain types of programming which will prevent MTV Canada from showing quite a few of MTV’s most popular and successful programs – Stripperella anyone? No problem says CTV brass. We broadcast what we’re allowed to on the TV channel – and stream all the rest through our CTV.ca website – we were mostly interested in the content anyway – the delivery mechanism is secondary.

The words above are mine – the CTV honcho wasn’t quite so cavalier. I believe his words were some marketing speak like “surround our customers with content options” but the reality is clear. No longer are the key demographic for MTV (read teenagers) hooked on televisions for their entertainment fix. They get it through their PCs and increasingly, through their cellphones. These mediums, BTW, do not have clumsy restrictions like content ratings, oversight bodies, codes of conduct and other impediments to making bucks that the big old TV dinosaurs have to contend with.

Oh for the days when the whole country watched the Cosby Show at exactly the same time. . .

(Sarcasm warning for those of you who didn’t quite get that)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Deja Vu all over again

I had a conversation with some friends last weekend where I mentioned that the valley was undergoing a venture capital boom akin to that seen in the dot com bubble. Now these friends are sophisticated professionals heavily involved in the technology business, and I could tell that they either didn’t quite believe me or choose not to believe me. Yet I worry that this wave could come crashing down on our heads much the same way the last one did – pessimist that I can be.

Here’s a tidbit of data to support my thesis from Peter Thiel at Founders Fund who was recently quoted as saying, “Early-state, first-round venture capital valuations are close to where they were in 1999 and 2000.”

Let’s think about this for a second. At a high level what is a VC thinking when he gives money to some uber-nerd with an business plan? The VC is not a noble creature out to create shiny new toys for the betterment of the universe – he’s looking to make money – and lots of it – for some hardnosed investors in his fund. The amount of money the nerd is able to get from the VC is driven by two things – the expected rate of return on the invested money, often a very fuzzy calculation, and the herd mentality of multiple investors clamoring to give money to the same nerd, allowing said nerd to demand more money in exchange for giving up less of his baby. What we are seeing right now is not investment based on rational expectations of positive returns but rather irrational investments by lemmings with bloated funds desparate not to miss out on the next MySpace.com. Yes I agree that this time around the general size of the investment is much smaller - no longer are we dealing with funding the building of the infrastructure with its huge capital requirements - but also the exits are equally smaller. I seriously doubt we will see more than one or two new Googles spring out of the class of 2005-06 - most exits will be more along the lines of a Flickr. A nice return but hardly the creation of billions of dollars in completely new value.

Some may argue that the tidal wave of cash flowing into early stage companies these days is a boon to innovation. I take a contrarian view and feel that an excess of cash at an early stage in a company’s existence is a negative thing. I have found through my career that people work best under two conditions; a) they really believe in what they are building, and b) they are under desperate financial and time constraints. Adding a lot of cash to the mix reinforces a) but removes a lot of the intensity. Having cash in the bank also allows the executive team the feeling that they can buy their way out of strategic or operational blunders and/or allows them to explore and develop variations on their original ideas. Branching out into complentary spaces might seem like a risk reduction strategy but ultimately it is most likely to remove focus from the organization and result in the creation of several mediocre products or services rather than one highly focused and stellar offering. I do agree that starving an operation is equally wrong but a lean and efficient group is far more likely to be successful than a bloated team with a sense of entitlement.

My current gig finds me at a wildly profitable company - and one that certainly struggles with employees feeling that they should be able to take advantage of the organization's success. Case in point is one of my engineers who decided that he would not travel unless he stayed at a 4 or 5 star hotel. Too bad! I stay at a $39.00 motor in in Sunnyvale - everyone else can too. The $150 a night savings times 6 or 700 hotel nights starts to add up to real money after a while.

Who knows? Perhaps this time things will really be different. I just get the feeling that 3 or 4 years from now we are going to see and awful lot of Web 2.0 writeoffs and be listening to stories about how you could get a social networking idea funded with a cocktail napkin business plan way back in the good old days of 2006.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Frustration – and a perspective on life from a trusted source

Frustration was the word of the day. Moose was at his best – calling down with crap and hitting miracle cards on the river. I really don’t mind since I will make money in the long (and short) run from players like that but it can get frustrating at times. All in all I turned a set three times – only to be rivered three times! When the dust settled I was down $500. Luckily I am on my get back in shape kick so there was no beer tab to pay on the evening.

Carol and I spent a pleasant – if somewhat decadent – weekend out of town with some friends. During the course of the weekend they mentioned that they had funded a charity that supports homeless and otherwise down on their luck people, and that they primary contributor to the down on their luck part for these people is gambling. Ouch. Especially considering that my friend had asked me about my business plans and I had somewhat enthusiastically told him about my ideas for marrying webcam technology with online poker to produce a new level of interactive gaming.

To be honest at first I just brushed the comment about poker being a form of gambling aside. Yes you do use money to keep track of who wins - but so does business. As for poker being true gambling - that's arguable - it really is a game of skill and over the long run a better player will always win - unlike roulette or slot machines - where over the long run the casino will always win. The real issue is that nothing of true value is actually created. No facilitation of value creation even occurs. Truly all that I might accomplish by building the most successful and wonderful poker engine the universe has ever seen, and attracting hordes of customers and in the process making myself fabulously wealthy, is to faciliatate the creation of legions of users of homeless shelters. Not really the outcome I am searching for.

So net net. Their comments hold weight. Couple that with the fact that they run a highly successful company yet still seem to have time to dedicate to charity, family and fun – more so than even Carol and I – leads me to believe that I need to rethink my choice of entrepreneurial activity. I still think that macro trends in our world are conspiring to bring about an increase in the desirability of video contact between people – I’m just going to rethink how I monetize that interaction.

Over the years I have been toying with the concept of immersive teleconferencing. Yes I know that it has been talked about for years and has existed in rudimentary form. These days however there is a definite transition from lab to field – company’s like HP are releasing systems – albeit expensive systems – that mimic face to face contact and allow the users to suspend their disbelief about not actually being in the same room. I’m currently reading a business book about moving your company’s product away from competitive oceans into ‘blue’ oceans and feel that I have a germ of an idea for blue ocean videoconferencing. Stay tuned.

Hours Played 8
Net - $500

Hours Played 107.5
Year to date net of expenses + $2681.00
Hourly rate + $24.93

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A bad run on the table - but life is really good.

The last few trips haven't been productive. One of them – there have been two – one due to pure asinine action. I just could not stop myself from calling. It was as if some compulsion had taken control of my hand making me throw chips into the pot. The problem on that night was my playing textbook poker. Bet the flop to price out my opponents draws. Make great reads. Call when I KNEW I was beat. I even called out hole cards that beat me – then called a three-figure river bet! What a moron.

Net on the night. - $100

5 hours

The second night I had lots to do so I could only play for 3 hours. I played much better, listening to the little voice this time and folding in marginal situations. Unfortuately this time I suffered bad beat after bad beat. I got allin in pre-flop with aces but had two callers – K9o and Q10o. Of course I end up losing – but what really hurt was that it was the first frickin' hand of the night! And not only did I lose but I end up with the worst hand! I should have just called it a night right there. The evening was bookended by my dream hand. I 'm in the cutoff – for those of you who don't know that's the position to the right of the dealer – when I'm dealt pocket 8's. We've got a full table by this time. The Captain's dealing to my left, Soundman's posted the small blind and Brad's in the big.

Moose cradle's the card's in his big paws, peers down, and with a quick grimace slides them across the table toward the three grimy white chips sitting waiting for company. Not a good beginning – Moose is one of the likely candidates to chase draws and would have called my raise.

Sam slides his red quickly in – too quickly – he's got nothing and just wants to see a cheap flop.

Smiley's got his chips ready – Sarge next to him has noticed and is already to go ahead and toss his cards away. Smiley looks down – riffles – and pushes forward his little stack of chips. “All in!”, he announces, firmly, gleefully. But he's only got $10 and in this game that's not going too much respect.

Sarge mucks, and I flat call – hoping to get heads up – or at least just have callers behind me and then flop a set. Sure enough the Captain folds, Soundman calls and Brad calls.

The Captain burns and turns and there it is – just like it will be once every eight times or so – the third eight. Even better this time my eight is boss – it's top set – meaning the eight is the highest of the three cards. The flop was 8 5 2 with two diamonds. There was now $40 in the main pot and I was last to act. I didn't have much thinking to do. Soundman bet $10 – Brad instantly went all-in for about $800 – Smiley was already in – and I had the nuts. There was literally no card that anyone could hold that could beat me at that point. Certainly I could lose and there were some scary draws out there but realistically would any of them have called a raise with 34 and then go all in on a side pot. Brad had to have a big pair and I had no idea what Soundman had. It took me about 5 seconds to call – about $40 more and then Soundman called. He had about $65 so Brad pulled back most of his stacks.

Once we sort out all the side pots we flip cards. Sure enough Brad had aces, Smiley laughs, says good hand and throws his cards in the muck. I smile and flip my eights. Soundman flips over A3o and yells out “open-ender”. Sarge nearly chokes him. To make matters worse the very next card is the 4 – filling in his gutshot. The river is a blank and my $160 pot is up in smoke.

Open ender. I should have just gone home.

Results - $ 120

Hours 3

Monday, March 06, 2006

The tale of the choking dog

A friend of mine with whom I used to be close once described me as a very lucky person. He used to tell a story about me having just an absolutely horrible, foul day, storming out of the house in a black mood, and coming across a mangy dog lying in the middle of the road. In my nasty mood I would kick this poor mutt, only to dislodge a bone from its throat, saving the dog’s life. The dog would turn out to be the prize pet of some eccentric millionaire who would then shower me with reward money.

Personally I disagree with him. I must admit that I have been fortunate in life. I have healthy, intelligent and reasonably well behaved children. I have a supportive and loving spouse and I have a comfortable standard of living. No manna has yet fallen from heaven for me though. The rewards I have gained in life have come through effort – which is not to say I’m the hardest working person in the world but I know when to work hard and when to have fun. A great deal of effort in life is expended in pursuit of meaningless goals. Whenever I am working on something I ask myself whether the effort I am making is worth the reward – if not then I just don’t bother doing it. It is amazing how much I can accomplish by just ignoring the inconsequential.

This weekend turned out to be a bit of fun. I managed to get out to play some hold’em on Friday. The boys were chomping at the bit to get some of their money back – seems they think I was a little unfair to their pocketbooks the other night. The game never really got going though. We had myself, Brad, Smiley, PoohBear, Birthdayboy and a new guy so we played six handed for most of the night. With the exception of Smiley and Brad I hadn’t played against the other guys before. For the first few orbits I just sat back and watched and it seemed they played more or less textbook with the exception of Pooh who was just plain bad. I jumped in and started raising with position only to get called by the new guy when I was stealing with 47 diamonds. He woke up with AKhearts but luckily I spiked a seven and was off to the races. I was up about $150 for most of the evening right through to the last hand. We had agreed to end at 1 am and I was sitting in the big blind with Q6 offsuit and was able to see a free flop with two limpers and the small blind. The flop came 66J. The small blind checked, I bet out the pot ($8), and got two callers. The turn was an 8. The small blind had folded so I was first to act. I wanted to take the hand down right there so I bet out the pot again ($32) which left me with about $100. Smiley thought for a second and pushed all in – he had about $50 – and birthday boy – who was up about $500 at that point and who had been pushing the table around for the last hour or so – came over the top all in. At that point I was 100% confident I had the best hand and it took me about a millisecond to call. Once we sorted out the side pot we flipped cards and sure enough Smiley was drawing to 2 outs with top pair and the birthday boy had a 9 10. I was looking really good but as luck would have it the river came a 7 to make the b-boys straight – the fat lady had sung. Birthday cashed out the bank and the rest of us left empty handed. Fortunately I had only bought in for $20 and I can tell the boys I had another losing session! Smiley, Brad and the new guy were each in for $120 and Pooh dropped $180 so it was a nice $560 parting gift for the birthday boy.

Played From 9:00 pm to 1:00 am – 4 hoursWinnings (Net of Expenses) - $20.00Hourly Rate - $5.00Hours Played 95.5Year to date net of expenses + $33381.00Hourly rate + $35.40

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I am a party animal. At least I can be when the mood strikes me.

Carol and I found ourselves at a swishy party recently and I had to be dragged out the door sometime just before the sun came up. I have a vague impression of smiles still on the host and hostess’ face though so I think we’re good to go for a return invitation.

Having been both a host and a guest at numerous get social events I have come to consider myself a bit of an authority on how to throw a good party. If you are considering having your own shindig here are some tips to save your event from becoming the type of party where you have three people left at 11pm, all looking uncomfortably at each other wondering who can leave next.

First off – people make the party. Invite lots of them. Make them from different backgrounds and don’t worry if they don’t know each other. Nothing is worse than going to a party and seeing the same crowd that you saw all day at work! The same goes for showing up at a party where the hosts have slaved away making food for the twenty guests they invited only to have 8 show up. My rule of thumb is for every 10 invitees you get 6 attendees – if you’re Tom Cruise or Oprah then this number changes somewhat but even for that strata of society people are out of town or get sick at the last second.

Second. It’s a party for you too. Do all the work before hand. If necessary hire people (older kids and their friends are good servants if you are on a tight budget – they are dying to be there anyway and you can always kick them out when the heavy lifting portion of the evening is over which is generally long before cousin Sally’s husband starts hitting on your wife anyway). If you have to serve food and drinks, clean, take coats, take care of kids etc. etc. then when are you going to mingle and have fun?

Third. If you have done your job and invited a great mix of people then you need to mix them well. Have a theme that forces people to interact. Some parties go all out – asking guests to dress to themes, organizing teams and formal games, even having prizes and speeches – we had great success with a simple idea – when a guest arrived we put a “Hi My name is . . . .” sticker on their back. We had prefilled in the labels with a variety of celebrity names and the idea was you had to guess who you were by asking questions of the other guests at the party. Simple and absolutely hilarious – especially for the one guy who went the whole evening unable to figure out that he was Superman. “OK. I can leap tall buildings in a single bound! I’m faster than a speeding bullet! I know it! I’m BATMAN!”

His wife, “You baby – You’re an idiot!”

Fourth. The food. I have been to many parties where there is a buffet of food laid out right from the start. By the third hour of the party the shrimp bowl is looking pretty grungy and the impact of the food is lost. Stagger your food service by having your helpers circulate with platters around the rooms of your house. This serves two purposes. One – it gives you a lot more bang for your food budget, and if you plan properly is not any more work, and two, keeps the party from staying concentrated in the kitchen/dining area. Serving food throughout the entire evening also keeps your guest a little more sober in my experience.

Five. Music. Loud music is great if people want to dance otherwise it is a conversation killer. I like to create a dance floor in a separate room and in the age of iPods there is no excuse not to have a great soundtrack for dancing going all night. Keep the music in the rest of the party to background volume.

Six. Don’t forget your legal responsibilities. Have cab numbers handy for those who had too much fun.

Seven. Enjoy yourself. A stressed out host is the biggest party killer around.



Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A very bizarre evening . . .

This was Huck's last day on his mini-trip. He went with Jan to the local ski hill for the school field trip. Both of them had a blast and couldn't stop talking about how much fun they had.

After a quick supper and a nuclear meltdown with Marcia (still to be dealt with), we decided to spend the last night of his trip down at the club - Tuesday's are tournament night and tonight was the final of the winter league. We got there in time to grab the last two seats at the cash game - only to find out that it was all the final table players from the tournament league, waiting for the last satellite to play down and award the final two seats at the championsip table. Perhaps, thought I, it would be time to adjust my play somewhat.

With the exception of Sam, the proprietor, and bet big Pete, the rest of the table were younger players who seemed to have a pretty solid grasp on the game. Right off the bat I decided to present a wild and crazy image and ran an outrageous bluff - tossing away $60 on a busted open ender. The next orbit I found pocket kings but had no takers for my $10 raise. Finally, down about $150 I found rockets in late position and was able to raise all in preflop with one caller. He turned over K10o, my hand held up and I was back to even. I started playing tight until our table broke up when the championship tourney table got underway, finishing that segment down $14. After a short break we got a new game going with me, Huck, Moose, and GQ - Smiley, Sam and DOG (drunk obnoxious guy) all sat down a little bit later - quiet man might have been there too but I can't remember :) Right off the bat I found myself stuck for my entire pocket money - down $300. I had to borrow some money off GQ just to stay in the game, which is probably a habit to avoid. Luckily I was playing reasonably well and since I avoid drinking I was able to stay focussed and on toop of my game. From 9 pm until about 4 am I was unable to get anything going but then, as they are wont to do, the cards turned in my favor. I found pocet aces, AQs that hit a boat, suited connectors that made a straight flush and pocket queens that held up, all between 4am and 7am, at which time the game finally broke. As the dust settled I found myself with a fairly good stack - and the prospect of a long day ahead in the real world.

Played From 9:00 pm to 7:00 am – 10 hours
Winnings (Net of Expenses) + $1025.00
Hourly Rate +$102.50

Hours Played 91.5
Year to date net of expenses + $3401.00
Hourly rate + $37.16