Around the World of Poker

[Content Disclosure: Detritus, Brain Dump]

Today marks the beginning of the end. The final preliminary event (#56) kicks off today at the World Series of Poker. For those waiting for something other than poker content here on my little blog -- not yet. Today a hodge-podge, a melange even, of those items that have drifting past in the last several weeks. Bits of poker flotsam, foamy discards on the sea of green felt.

I sat with WSOP tournament director Jack Effel the other day while he fielded complaints from players about a staff decision to delay the start of a tournament. I felt a bit like the emperor's slave who stood by the king and whispered in his ear: "You too are mortal." What I told Jack several times was: "You are never going to satisfy all the players, there will always be complaints."

It's interesting how far the tournament staff go to explore the possibilities for what would seem a relatively simple game. Here I point you to a newspaper article about Jack's former business professor, who has been called on to consult on a more modern and equitable structure for WSOP tournament payouts. 

"Effel now manages more than 1,000 employees, and the tournament schedule from May through July grosses more than $200 million and has 57 events. The goal for the players in any event is not only to win one of the coveted bracelets, but also a share of the prize money. The problem was designing an equitable payout structure for a single event which could have over 6,000 players."

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I mentioned before the communication changes brought about this year by Twitter. Players are now giving out not only their chip counts but also the blow by blow of an endless torrent of bad beat stories. The most common word in poker tweets could well be "donkey." If you missed the New York Times article on poker and twitter, it is well worth a read.

"It's completely changing poker for the audience," Joe Sebok says of Twitter. "Traditional poker media coverage is a lot of hand histories online. It's bland and basic. Now you get to hear players exclaim and interact - 'oh I feel so sick' or 'oh that player is a knucklehead.' They upload pictures and they reply to each other. It gives you a sense of the pressure these guys are under and what it's like to be here."

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While we are visiting the esteemed New York Times, they also ran an article written by a mother about her son's poker playing; an article written by a mother about her son's poker obession; an article by a mother about her complete misunderstanding of her son's poker game.

I could go on, but the extremely uneven article goes from an indictment of online poker to a somewhat more level discussion. This only happens when the mom discovers her son is winning and winning a lot! I have read the author (the mom) before, she is a very good writer but in this piece she really lost her edge and never quite got back to a place of saying what she meant, which I can summarize thusly:

I overreacted because I did not understand the game of poker. I was an overprotective mother and tried to prevent my son from exploring an outlet he truly enjoyed and truly excelled at. I eventually figured that out, but I am still stuck in a conservative, backward paradigm which prevents me from saying simply that my kid was right and I was wrong.

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When you around anything for a long period of time, you eventually get sick of the cliches. That being the case, it is important to notice when someone manages to expand the model and come out with a new and fresh take on an old theme. Stud poker is often called the old man's game. You hear over and over: "No one under seventy ever sits at a Stud table." Or, "You know it's a Stud tournament because of all the oxygen bottles."

Howard Lederer came up with a new and refreshing insight on this the other night, when he twittered: "Why do I love playing the $1500 Stud 8 event? Ten times tonight I said to myself: I haven't seen him in 10 years. Good to know he's not dead!"

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Finally, take a minute, really only a minute and sign the PPA petition.

Poker Mind In Depth Part XIII: H.O.R.S.E.

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

A slight departure today from our usual format for this series. Today I want to focus on a particular glitch in the WSOP scheduling and how that anomaly affects professional poker players and in particular our three feature players. The issue is the delayed start of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament.

Just as a review for those who missed it. The $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. championship tournament began this past Friday. The event was scheduled to start at noon. At starting time there were approximately 30 players registered for the tournament but only 2 were actually on the tournament floor. A floor decision, made at the highest level, was to delay the start of the tournament for one hour.

Now there are a lot of factors that went into this decision. The basic one being: How do you begin a tournament when you have no players and no clear idea how many players will eventually register? Because of the current late registration rules, any player can show up during the first two levels of an event and sign-up. The 50K HORSE has 90 minute levels, so a player had until at least 3 PM to join the tournament. With the delayed starting time pushed out to the world on Twitter and the Internet, players could easily find out they had until 4 PM to register. The delay actually made that aspect of the late reg. process even worse. But more importantly, the entire process allows certain players to have an advantage over other players. I am going to attempt to focus on these unfair advantages.

You should be aware that this controversy could only happen in a tournament full of professional players. A $1500 noon event has the same late registration rules has no chance at this level of confusion. The professionals generally play the 5 PM events and this year the signs of this problem have been growing week by week. The late registration process has gotten completely out of hand at the 2009 WSOP. For the 5 PM events the late reg. numbers have growth each day until recently over 50% of the eventual field were involved in late registration. This causes all kinds of organizational problems for the tournament floor staff. How do you seat the players in a 300 entrant event, when only 140 of them are there at the start. Do you seat the late entrants at new tables? If so, do you wait for 9 or 10 of them to arrive or do you seat each one and pull players from established tables to begin at once? They tried leaving empty seats at starting tables, but then the on-time players have to play early levels short-handed.

But let's get back to the 50K HORSE. At 12:05, Mike Matusow walks onto the tournament floor and says: "Where the hell is the tournament?" He and other players, as they arrive, are told of the announced delay but that does not satisfy any of the early arrivals. In Mike's particular case there is the matter of his medication. Mike's well documented use of prescription medication means that he has to go through a regular pre-tournament ritual. He gets up at a certain time based on the tournament schedule. He eats, does his workout and takes his medications based on when he will be playing. He is upset that without notice the tournament schedule has been altered.

Right there with Mike is Phil Ivey. Phil also showed up at 12:0-something and he is having a long and vigorous conversation with the tournament floor director and then the WSOP TD Jack Effel. Phil's complaint is that he left what was apparently a very lucrative poker game to go home and shower to be on time for the 50K HORSE and now there is no tournament to play. Phil pointedly asked if the tournament was actually going to start at one PM. He pointed out that the same people who were telling him this, were telling him yesterday that the event started at noon. Once again, a player acted based on the schedule only to find the tournament was rescheduled because of the WSOP's own poorly written registration policy.

Less it appears that every professional thinks the tournament should have started on time. I spoke with at least three pros who actually got calls about the delay and stayed in bed for an extra hour that at least one of them dearly needed to recover from a late night cash game. Again, one player gaining an unfair advantage over other players based on a rule change made on the fly without informing all the participants.

Mind you, the WSOP staff has the right and indeed the responsibility to act in the best interest of the game. So it does come down to a simply question: How do you start a tournament with two players in the room? Thirty players signed up from an eventual field of 95? Yes, the WSOP through Commissioner Jeffery Pollack are promising changes for next year, but will the "fix" be about what some players want or will it be about eliminating advantage?

I discovered about 12:55, Daniel Negreanu had also arrived on time for the HORSE tournament. When he saw the empty room and heard the announcement, he headed for the lounge to get a short nap. He too had altered his schedule to make it to the Rio on time and, in fact, this was one of "those mornings" where Daniel could have used the extra hour to get a bit more sleep. Once he was in the tournament room, Daniel was more than vocal about the decision to delay the start time and clearly and forcefully pointed out that this disadvantages the players who actually did show up on time.

By 12:50 the Tournament Director and staff were deluged with player complaints, except from the players who were still in bed or at breakfast or in a jacuzzi or doing whatever they do to prepare for a big tournament like the 50K HORSE. And that is the point. Many professional poker players have rituals and routines they follow to prepare for their job. Imagine showing up at your workplace at 8:30 AM and being told, the building will not open today until 9:30 and oh by the way, you still have to work your eight or nine or ten hours. Sorry but we changed the rules.

Fans and casual poker players tend to overlook the job aspects of the professional poker players life. One aspect of the job is preparation, another is time management. Having those altered to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others is simply improper and unfair.

At one o'clock after introductions and apologies from Commissioner Pollack and TD Effel, the big HORSE tournament got underway with a packed rail of poker fans. Mike Matusow is still complaining about the dealy during the first few hands and from the next table Phil Ivey has this conversation with Mike.

"Mike think about the next hand."

"I am but this was wrong."

"Just the next hand Mike."

"Hey, you were pissed about this."

"I wasn't pissed, it just happened. Besides its an advantage to you."

"But it shouldn't be."

"It's an advantage Mike, use it."

"That's just the point Phil, players shouldn't get an advantage because of a floor decision."

And there it was hanging out there for everyone to hear. Players should not gain an advantage over other players because of a floor decision. Either you have a rule or you don't. Either the tournament starts at noon or it doesn't. Either the floor rulings are in the best interest of the game or they are not. For next year, the late registration rule needs to change and be written down and not altered. Make a rule, stick with the rule and if it needs changing, then you change it after the Series is over and not on the fly from the floor of an event.

You might notice that the originator of the late arrival, Mr. Phil Hellmuth, is not mentioned in this piece. First of all, Phil did not play the 50K HORSE because he was involved in an earlier event and made a strong, if short-stacked run at bracelet #12. But you should know that Phil, who pioneered the late arrival, is not necessarily a late register. He often registers early and is blinded off until he arrives. You see there are good reasons to arrive late for an event. The simple one is that a noon WSOP tournament runs until 2 AM or fourteen hours. If you skip the first two levels and the breaks, you can change your day from fourteen hours of play to eleven, that is a significant adjustment.

On time registrations, do not cause a problem for the floor staff. Your chips are at the table and you are simply blinded off until you arrive. Your seat is taken and the staff knows the seat is sold. Late registration not only gets a full stack under current WSOP rules but also the staff has no idea if they need to prepare for an additional ten or twenty or ninety players. Yes, they will put in a rule change or two for next year.

Here is the Poker Shrink's advice, already given in person to tournament staff.
-players will complain no matter what changes you make;
-listening to professional players is one thing, being manipulated by them is another;
-the best interest of the game will never be the same as the best interest of every single player;
-write a rule and stick with it;
-in a situation with one group of rule-makers and another group of rule-followers, there will always be a tendency of the followers to bend the rules, if they can. The more you let them 'work' the rules the more advantage one small group will have over every one else;
-it matters less what the rule is than that there is a rule.

Daniel Negreanu: Poker Mind In Depth Part XII

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

If you remember Daniel had a very good run about a week or so back. He had been playing a lot of tournaments with a long run of 3 AM finishes. When last we left him, he was a bit worn down from that run and the half day off he eventually got to recover. He has played eight events in the last six days plus he actually took a full day off, no poker, no trip to the Rio. A honest to goodness day off. 

His comment on that: "A day off from everything equals a recharged battery. Less stressed out and ready for a second half run."

As I mentioned this session with Daniel came during an afternoon break in his tournament schedule and it was the day after his NHL celebration. For those who missed those details. The National Hockey League came into town for their annual awards show, dinner and party. Since Daniel is a huge hockey fan and since the event was right across the street from the Rio at the Palms and since the WSOP and the NHL had teamed up for a NHL Charity poker tournament --it only made sense that Daniel would attend the NHL festivities.

Shrink: "It's been six days since we spoke last, you want to talk about last night?"

Daniel: "Last night was fun!"

Shrink: "Would you like to say a little more about that?"

Daniel: "I showed up a bit --- they didn't have beer, well they had lite beer, I can't drink that crap. So, I just had cranberry and vodka."

Daniel arrived back at the Rio for event #37 ($10K Stud hi/lo) around 10:00 PM. Yes, it was a 5 PM start but that was right when the NHL event was starting.

Daniel: "You know I actually played really well last night. I may have been playing a bit cautious and not really loose as you might have expected. I played well and easily made day two. Today, I feel great. I haven't had any drinks the entire World Series, so today I feel great and am really glad I got to have some fun yesterday. So, it's not like I went back-to-back with the parties. I am right back at it today, no worse for wear."

Shrink: "But once again you do want to mention..."

Daniel: "Right, this is not an endorsement for playing drunk. That is nearly always a bad idea."

The following day, I stopped by Daniel's table and he immediately caught me to say: "Hey about last night, I mean not last night, two night's ago, the NHL thing. I admitted I was drunk right?"

Shrink: "Yes you did and you strongly recommended not playing in that condition."

Daniel: "Good because a few people have told me stories about the other night and I guess I might have been a bit more tipsy than I remembered."

Shrink: "I won't disagree with that, but I was in the Brasilia room that night and while you were certainly entertaining the crowd, your play was rock solid."

Daniel: "But we won't be repeating that performance anytime soon."

By the way, tomorrow is the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament #49 of this year's WSOP. Take out the three non-open events Daniel was not eligible for (Casino Employees, Seniors and Ladies) and that means he was eligible to enter 46 events. To this point Daniel has played in 29 events, made thirteen day twos and two day threes both final tables. He has, by my count, played in two tournaments at the same time eight times and just a few days ago for several hours he had a seat in three events at once. 

While Daniel is strongly endorsing sober play in this session; I would add that getting in top physical condition for the WSOP also should be mentioned again. There are a lot of poker players dragging themselves around the Rio this week and Daniel is not one of them. He really seems to be as fresh and ready to play as when this all began four weeks ago.

Phil Hellmuth: Poker Mind In Depth Part XI

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

If you are following any WSOP twitters or reading other sites, you have probably seen some comments on the Las Vegas weather this summer. As recently as last year, we worked the Series in 'all 100 degrees all the time' summers. Last year Las Vegas had 108 consecutive days over the century mark, but this year we actually had a week early this month where the temperature never reached 90. Today, we have rain and hundred degree temperatures. Its very odd to stand uncover and feel hot winds gusting over 30 miles an hour, while inches away torrential rain is falling. You can feel the static in the air and you know tempers will be lightening short at the Rio today. We are creatures of our environment.

What, you ask, do wind, heat and rain in Las Vegas have to do with Phil Hellmuth and the World Series of Poker?

Well I am reminded whenever I write about Phil that most poker fans only know Phil through the image that television chooses to present. And, of course, Phil's own prolific writing. No this is not going to be another apology that begins: "but away from the table Phil is really a nice guy." Phil is Phil and you get to make your own assessment of who he is. Phil, Daniel and Mike are public figures, judgement from the public comes with the priviledge of fame. What I will say is that Phil Hellmuth is a lot more complicated than any televised portrayal I have seen. I think today's session clearly demonstrates that.

Remember, I caught up with Phil moments after bustout from a Stud tournament where he literally was stone cold card dead.

Shrink: "Want some time Phil?"

Phil: "No, let's go ahead and do the interview."

Shrink: "So its been another week of World Series play. We are hitting the doldrums, how are you feeling."

Phil: "I am feeling great.  I just play two days of the best Stud tournament of my life and just couldn’t hit a hand. Rollups got run down on the river, two pair got overpaired. That one hand I had rolled up sixes and got called by king, ten, three and lost to broadway."

Shrink: "I was watching, it seem pretty brutal both days of this tournament."

Phil: "It got so when I started with a big hand, I was just hoping to win half the pot and survive until I got a run of cards. I was thinking about surviving not winning."

Shrink: "That seems to be the script for your last couple of weeks at the Series."

Phil: "I agree but somehow this year it is different. I really am able to see what part is my play and what is just the cards. I can separate the two and that allows me to remain calm. That makes a tremendous difference in how I play. It really is going great now, everything but the cards. So my goal is to just keep the play going, I can’t change the flop but I can remain focused and playing good poker. The cards will come."

Shrink: "Well that has been a very consistent theme for you this summer. This really is a changed attitude."

Phil: "I think so, I do feel great and I have some real clarity on the parts of the game under my control and those that are just the rub of the deck. I feel much better about my game."

Shrink: "Taking the rest of the day off?"

Phil: "No, I was really short-stacked for this restart, so I signed up for the noon event, but I checked my table before I came here at 2 PM. When I checked my table it looked really tough, so I am going to take some time before I sit down in that tournament."

Phil did indeed take a break and calmly rejoined the noon tournament around 4 PM to continue his World Series.

Mike Matusow: Poker Mind In Depth Part X

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

In my last post I talked about the Doldrums which usually hit the WSOP about this time every year. We have all been at the Rio for about a month and are still several weeks away from the main event. Sure the $50K HORSE is coming up later this week. But nearly everyone is simply tired of poker. It's hard to get focused for yet another event. Three day tournaments seem like a week and the day ones just go on and on with no chance of anything but a few hours sleep as your reward for making it to day two.

I caught up with all three players on a day two 2 PM restart where they all entered the day's fray with short-stacks. Normally, you try to avoid interviewing players after a bust out, but professionals like Phil, Mike and Daniel have fairly thick skins after a month of the Series. So unless they had some horrid bad beat to end their day, I was going to catch each of them as they left the event and before they jumped into another tournament. Phil and Mike were playing side by side at the same table and between them they gave me some insight into the uneven enforcement of the new penalty rules.

Phil: "Hey Tim, here's your story for today, get this down."

Mike: "I called the floor over because David Oppenheim was f-bombing everyone at the table. I wanted to know if that was a penalty or not. I mean I got into the book earlier that day for using the F word just once."

Phil: "Oh no, you're in the book!"

Mike: "Michael Binger misread his hand in Omaha8 and got all this chips in and then he sucked out to stay alive. I said: 'You are the worse fucking Omaha player in the world.' The whole table was laughing, but the floor heard what I said and gave me a one hand penalty and put my name in the book."

Phil: "Now they have you in the book and can make any penalties you get worse in the main event. I have not been written up -- yet."

Mike: "Yeah, so later I called the floor just to check on what David Oppenheim was saying. I didn't want him penalized, I just wanted to see what another floor would say. He did nothing."

Phil: "Did you ask for a ruling."

Mike: "Yeah, that's why I called the floor over."

John Hennigan: "What did he say."

Mike: "Nothing, he just stood there and listened and then walked away."

Chad Brown: "Wait, he didn't give you an answer?"

Mike: "Nope, no ruling, no answer. Ten or twenty F-bombs and not a word from the floor. I say it once as a joke and I get written up."

At this point the entire table got into the discussion about how the new rules are aimed directly at certain players and are not being evenly enforced. I will add here that this is also the observation from many of the media. We commented even before the Series that the new table etiquette rules would be unevenly enforced and this seems to be the case.

But back to the players. Phil busted soon after this discussion and I got an exit interview with him that will run tomorrow in The Poker Mind In Depth Part XI. Shortly after that Daniel busted out of his table but quickly ran off to another tournament. I caught up with Daniel at the next break and that session will run in two days as Part XII of this series. That left Mike, who got moved to a new table with David Benyamine, Chau Giang and Huck Seed and wouldn't you know it he had one of those bust out hands.

Shrink: "Did you have as many outs on that hand as I think you did."

Mike: "Yeah, not just outs but I had a perfect read on that guy. He was drawing for the low when he checked I knew that the only way I lose the hand was if I brick on the last two cards and he hits a bigger two pair to scoop. Which is exactly what happened. Sometimes the perfect read is not enough."

Shrink: "You seem to be having a long run like that."

Mike: "Its not that I am getting sucked out on so much, but I just can't make a hand. I mean I feel like I have been playing the short stub for a week now. I go deep but only because I am keeping my head down, not because I am winning any hands. You can't play great laydown poker and win one of these, you can survive but not win."

Shrink: "Away from the poker table, you still feeling good?"

Mike: "Yes, absolutely. This is the longest run where I have felt this good in years. I am still having to tweak my medications but it's not because I am feeling bad. I just need to adjust them some more to have my perfect focus at the table. But I feel good and life is great. No negatives at all. Now if I could get some cards..."

"I won five pots in two days in this tournament. You gotta run better than that to win. Well, let me pay off my last longer bet and then let's go sign some more books."

You didn't really think I would pass up an opportunity to mention the book, did you?

Photo Credit for the Mike pix to BJ Nemeth.

World Series of Potpourri

[Content Disclosure: Stuff In and Around the WSOP]

Just another collection of tidbits from one more week of trodding the halls of the WSOP and the blogs, sites and sounds from the Series. Today (Sunday) is the biggest day outside of the World Series as both Ultimate Bet and Poker Stars run there massive WSOP main event qualifiers. UB will be handing out 50 seats, while Poker Stars has been qualifying players for over a month for their 150 seat extravaganza

Lest you think these online events are for those living in Nova Scotia and Des Moines. There will be plenty of players hold up in their hotel rooms all over Las Vegas today. A cheap seat is a cheap seat, no matter where you are currently seated.

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In case you missed the New York Times article "How Twitter is Changing the World of Professional Poker"; it is worth a read and if you intend to follow the main event or any of the remaining events, I strongly recommend adding to your internet feeds the twitters from PokerRoad. No one has twitter technology mastered yet but PokerRoad is way out ahead for this WSOP. You can follow dozens of top pros right from the tables. Plus much of the insider dirt also gets laundered via tweets. Makes you almost feel like you were here and needing a quick shower.

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The WSOP parties start in earnest this coming week, expect to see the drab "queen and a queen only" tournament coverage being spiced up with reports from inside all the hot clubs in Vegas. Media get invites to these so they will pimp the host sites and well, we do. Coverage of such alcohol fueled debaucheries will be found in much more detail on other sites. Speaking of debauchery, Dr. Pauly is rumored to be returning from his extended Phishing tour. I make a final appearance on the Tao of Poker on Monday, but this time with a PG rated story. Well, maybe R rated if you live in (country name redacted to avoid jihadist retaliation).

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Inside the WSOP these are the doldrum days. More players are napping at the tables. Twitters and blogs are replete with excuses for missed tournaments. The WSOP flu is fully in evidence but not at pandemic proportions. More arguments are popping up at the tables and thus more penalties and warnings are hitting the infamous WSOP infraction book. Bitching about the poker kitchen, bad payout structures, missing blind levels, in general anything and everything have spiked this week. It's all a function of this being the fourth or is it the fifth week of cards and chips, chips and cards and the main event is still nowhere in site.

The WSOP Doldrums will be the theme of my next three Poker Mind In Depth posts as even Misters Matusow, Hellmuth and Negreanu are not immune. That series will resume on Tuesday.

Daniel Negreanu: Poker Mind In Depth Part IX

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

We continue with the Twitter inspired revelations, this time from Daniel Negreanu. When we left off with Daniel last time, he was in his seventh consecutive night of 3 AM finishes and was commenting about the late night loopy feelings. Later that same night, he left this Twitter message:

"This is mentally tough. Seven straight 15 hour days. Not for everyone. I kinda hate it, but I kinda love pushing myself to the edge."

Daniel went on to make it ten straight 3 AM finishes before he finally had an early evening bustout at 9:30 PM. So he went home and got some down time and a full night's sleep. I caught up with him the next day.

Shrink: "How are you feeling today after those ten days in a row? You look a bit worn out."

Daniel: "Well the funny thing is that I did get a break finally, an evening off and a good long night's sleep and today I feel like crap. I kinda hit a wall when I got this break, maybe it was must because I altered my routine."

Shrink: "The run itself was really great, if we just consider the poker and your results."

Daniel: "Well I knew looking at the schedule that there was going to be a time during this WSOP that I was going to be playing day after day after day. I didn't know it would happen quite this soon, but the whole point of getting physically prepared this year was in anticipation of a big run with lots of late nights. Not sure if I anticipated ten in a row and I really thought it might be later but I was ready."

"But I feel good, sure I wish I had won the two or three events where I went deep. But I am putting in a good effort and playing solid even when it is a fifteen hour day."

Shrink: "And going forward."

Daniel: "I keep looking at the schedule, trying to find that free time and it's just not there, at least not yet. Maybe next week, maybe. I will have to figure something out because you can only push yourself so far before you start making mistakes."

Shrink: "I see you looking tired and then a few hours later you seem better."

Daniel: "Oh, I definitely go through phases. Sometimes I look like death, like now and then I get to the table and get all spunky and talkative. I get a second or a third wind, I get a massage and I am back. It is definitely an ebb and flow type of thing, as far as energy goes. I try and stay as level as possible, but those two and three AM finishes, I can get a little loopy and I just have to try and avoid mistakes on the downswings. I can go on auto-pilot and not make mistakes, the problem with that is I also am not making good reads and making moves off of those reads. But when I get a bit goofy and unfocused, you just have to compensate for those times and play good, solid auto-poker."

Shrink: "So you are going to try and find a day off."

Daniel: "Try yes. Like today, if I bust out, I am not playing tomorrow until 5 PM. So I get an afternoon off. It's not a full day and that is what I really need about now."

As things turned out, Daniel did play the late event after our conversation and he did play until 3 AM making another day two. He busted midday the following day and jumped right into the 5 PM HORSE tournament. The following day he played the 5 PM event again but he busted just after 2 AM. Then, finally! He took a full day off after playing 14 of 18 days until 3 AM.