Black Friday to Rosarito Beach

I just wrote up this interview for QuadJacks and it turned into a blog, so now I’m actually turning it into a blog.  Enjoy :)

Tell me about your situation. When did you first come down to Mexico to play poker, and where were you coming from?

I moved to Mexico on April 1st this year coming from Colorado/Las Vegas.

What was Black Friday like for you?

Black Friday was the worst day of my career.  It was mud season in Colorado, I slept in a little bit, I was getting clobbered playing $100-200 8 game on Stars over a bowl of Cheerios, and then I got this email at 11:27am:

Hey guys,

I’m sure you’ve seen the news by now about the US Govt seizing domain names. I don’t have any more info than what’s currently in the news…

I hadn’t seen the news by then, but the email gave me enough reason to quit the game and look into things.  I logically went to the PokerSites.com and saw all three FBI and DOJ logos.  I instantly knew this was bad, very very bad, but didn’t know how bad.  After realizing the depravity of the situation I decided to declare it Fiesta Friday and spent the rest of the day binge drinking.  That lasted until Monday when I sat down with the intention of really assessing the situation, and when I finally realized how bad it was I was lost, depressed, scared, angry, and frustrated.  It took me three weeks to come out of that fog.

How did you come to the decision to travel down / move down to Mexico?

Was gonna come down last year, but then relationship wasn’t going so well so I didn’t.  Ended that one, was going to come down last fall, then I met my current girlfriend.  She’s fantastic, and we came down here together.  She cooks healthy food like Mama makes and sells it to poker players.  She also made more money than I did in Mexico, and because of our bet on that sum I must wear a hat of her choice for the first week of WSOP.

I initially wanted to go to Costa Rica for the warm water.  I speak Spanish and used to live in Mexico so the South vs. North coin flip was never a decision for me.  My vision was to surf, play online, and hang out, much like my modus operandi in Summit County was when Black Friday hit, except I was skiing instead of surfing. I’d surfed a ton in Baja during college and the water is colder than it is in Southern California and putting on a wet suit sucks.  Eventually with the community moving away from CR due to cost of living and into Rosarito for proximity to Southwest it just made logical sense to drive my beat up old Ford truck down to Mexico instead of trying to get established in Costa Rica.

What have you been playing down here? Any big scores so far, or close calls?

I’ve been playing smaller, mostly MTTs with cash and SNGs added for flavor.  I’m breakeven with lots of 10th-18th places.

How do you feel about living in Mexico? What has your  experience been of the place you’re in, the locals, the ex-pats, and the society in general?

I love Mexico and I’m probably a bit biased.  I lived in DF spring 2000, playing online at pokerroom.com, way before it was cool to live in Mexico and play online poker.  I’ve spent many many days surfing and camping in Baja while in college.  The Mexican people are incredibly friendly, happy, hospitable, welcoming, and hilarious.  The perception of Mexico being a violent place where you can’t go out after dark without risk of decapitation is completely flawed.  Yes, there are drug cartels here, and yes there are lots of them, because Tijuana is a major border town of TWO MILLION people.  The cartels don’t wan’t to kill us gringos, they want to sell us drugs.

There is very little difference between the cartels and the mafia of the prohibition era.  Businessmen become criminals when their business is outlawed, but the demand for their product doesn’t go away.  In many cases it is exacerbated, and prices go up, thus insuring that there will always be a supplier for the public demand.  Since their trade is illegal, they cannot settle disputes in the legal system, and thus they resort to violence.

If the United States ended the war on drugs, then the cartels would go out of business.

I dig the Rosarito community.  I dig the people.  I dig the food.  I dig the cost of living.  Kendra says that she feels safer here than she does in Denver, Colorado. She learned the Spanish alphabet in March and this trip was her first outside of the country.  Living here in Mexico highlights the oppression of the United States government.  My lighters don’t have a child safety thing on the striker, making it easier to use and cheaper.  There’s sugar in my coke.  Stop signs are a recommendation, but if you blow one and hit somebody then you’re going to jail.  Fruit doesn’t have stickers.  There’s boobies on TV.  If you do something stupid, you can’t sue somebody else for it.  They wash your windows every time you get gas.  Gas is only sold by the Mexican government.  They don’t have refineries in Mexico (even though they have a ton of oil) and export their oil to be refined, and the gas is still cheaper.  Kids can have a job if they want.  They work their butts off and are proud of their work.  There’s two competing bus services.  They are profitable, provide a better service than any bus system in the States, and are cheaper.  I can buy puppies, oranges, honey, and shrimp in a coconut on the same street corner, and the policia just waves at them.  Carne Asada.  Guacamole.  Fish tacos.  And it’s $1k/month to live in a house on the beach.

The fact that I have to leave my home, self proclaimed Land of the Free, to play a game on the internet for money is absurd.  Then down here I see a society free from regulation and moral legislation, and the result is that everything tastes better, works better, costs less, and just looks less pretty.

Is there a story you’d like to tell about your time spent here in Mexico Anything particularly funny, strange or interesting that’s happened to you here?

I don’t think I’m at liberty to tell those stories.

What’s been the most difficult part of the transition for you?

Missing friends and family on the other side, the feeling like I’m a criminal every time I cross the border back into the US, the fact that I have to be here to play online poker just infuriates me.

What would you say is the best thing about being in Mexico, apart from being able to grind?

I covered that pretty well I think :)

Peace and good luck,

Devo

Reflections on a(nother) Downswing

This is how I feel about variance.

I know that there’s really nothing to be afraid of, but it still scares me to death. If variance didn’t exist then I wouldn’t be able to be a professional poker player. The existence of variance leads to the inevitable downswing, and with proper bankroll management, these downswings should be sustainable.

I am nearly at the end of my tenth year playing poker professionally. In the past decade, I have had five significant downswings, each one bigger than the one before it. My tax returns show me as winner every single year, even with some extremely brutal downswings that lead me to too close to busto (examples here and here). Following every one of my “worst downswings ever” is one of my “best upswongs ever”.

So, cliff notes of what got me to this spot, and a general summary of why I haven’t blogged very much lately:

End 2011 WSOP, nothing’s gone right since April 14th, 2011. Go on greatest run of life, finish 12th in Main Event for over $200k in my pocket. Crush everything in life except relationship until spring 2012.  I ended that, bought a house, played some poker, everything’s perfect, and then it happens. BOOM. I get fucked three handed on a final table. No big deal, I can’t complain, I’ve won everything I’ve touched for 9 months.

Little did I know, that was the moment The Doomswitch Operator flipped mine.

These are my results and notes from this time frame:

 photo ezgame.png

 photo fml.png

As you can see, it started to get to me last fall. I had just sunk half my bankroll into a house and was very proud of it. I had filled it with tenants, but they weren’t paying rent. Things were fine though, I did this intentionally. I had backing for the big mixed game, and was about to receive an offer to co-host the HPT. I rejected the offer, asking for more money or to be able play in events as well, and both were denied. I lost about 75 big bets in the big game and my backing with it. I stone bubbled three tournaments, mercifully being gifted a half min-cash in one of them. I head back to Colorado for Thanksgiving licking my wounds.

The best thing to do in a downswing is to move down in stakes and work your ass off until the universe returns to a state of normality. Just before I left for my trip down to the minors I jumped wrecked my truck, snapping a tire off my axle.  Oh eff eff off.  No problem, I borrowed Kendra’s Durango while it was in the shop, she borrowed her grandparent’s truck, which has over 450,000 miles on it and has never left our county which has no stop light.

I cashed in zero of the small field tournaments in Blackhawk and I lost my ass to the easiest cash game in the country.

So, once again I had swung the entire spectrum.  From everything is going great to nothing’s going well except my relationship.  Determined to fix this, I launch a vendetta against The Commerce at the beginning of this year, the 2nd easiest games I know, and the place where I started.  I had a good New Years, got back into playing music live, and for the first time could claim that I made more money playing my guitar than anything else for a while.

They kicked my ass in LA.  I had one week of hope when I made back to back final tables, but then I went right back to losing everything I touched.  Kendra and I decided at this point to give the international thing a go via Rosarito, Mexico.  Spent some time chilling in Colorado, and then I wrecked Kendra’s truck.

It can always get worse.  At least this one wasn’t my fault, and nobody got hurt in either, so I’m still a long way from “it’s worse”, but Motel 6 feels like Skid Row compared to The Ritz.  Fortunately Kendra has full coverage, unfortunately State Farm was and still is giving us the dick, offering us about 60% of what it would cost us to replace the vehicle and not budging for months now.

Made all arrangements to head to Rosarito.  Stoked for this, I used to be close to fluent in Spanish, and I spent a lot of time in Baja Norte surfing during college.  I thoroughly enjoyed my winter of living in a ski town, playing online, and spending time on the slopes.  I’ve always wanted to do the same thing in a surf town.

Kendra and I made to Mexico with two surfboards on the roof of a banged up old Ford truck.  We have a bet between us on who will make the most money South of the border, me and my gambling habit or her and Miss Kay’s Food Service.  Spirits are high, and I’m sure that I can conquer variance through volume.  I’m motivated, eager, and about to get clobbered.

I’ve won 10 out of 30 days worked in the 38 since I got back online.  I’m stuck only $1,405, and that’s because I’m playing whiffle ball until this stupid losing streak breaks.  I’ve got one win, a couple of fifths, and too many heartbreaks.

I made it out surfing a couple of times until all hell was unleashed on my back.  For reasons that I can only speculate, all the muscles concerning my left scapula got tight, compressing bone on nerve, giving me the worst pinch of my life.  I spent over a week in constant pain ranging from 2-8 of 10.  It cost me sleep, health, work, money, and it just plain sucked.

It can always get worse.

So I’m feeling pretty damn good right now.  My back isn’t sore very often.  I had my best day of surfing since college on Friday, really felt like the good ol’ days.  I had a satisfactorily winning weekend.  I’m about to take a road trip up the coast for my buddy’s wedding, come back to Mexico and finish up the SCOOPS, and then I’m off to the WSOP for the summer.  I’ve got plenty of run good stored up and lots of big events to use it over the next two months, so I’m looking forward to that.  I can’t do anything about the past, and I can’t control what happens after I’m all-in, but if I keep putting the money in good then my future will be fine.

Peace and good luck,

Devo

Best September Ever?

Last time I wrote I wasn’t sure where the heck life was going to take me this fall. I felt happier mentally, physically, and spiritually than I had in a decade, but wasn’t quite sure what was gonna happen next. I headed to Denver for a Phish fest Labor Day weekend and really only had one goal in life: to wake up alive Monday. I succeeded in my endeavors, had an awesome weekend, made it to my truck in the parking lot, and then got stuck again. I fired up the Ford, tried to figure out where to take it, and ended up sitting there idling. I knew that I wanted to get back to Vegas and work, I knew that I needed to be in Black Hawk for the HPT’s Mile High Poker Open, and I knew that I wanted to climb some mountains. It took that full 30 minutes for me to realize that I needed to be in Black Hawk just 9 days later, so if I wanted to work and climb, then I had my next several weeks covered.

I started the three hour drive back to the ranch. Booked a flight to Vegas for the weekend. I had lent several skillets from the ranch to the prettiest girl in Custer County the week before, I wanted to get those back and convince her to hang out with me. Pretty girls are elusive like elk though, and even though I was getting a higher response rate to my text messages than before, I still didn’t like my chances. Packed up all my gear, woke up in the morning, and headed for the mountains.

I wanted to climb several of the fourteeners (14,000+ foot mountains) in the Southern end of the Sangres, Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear, and Lindsey. After looking at some maps and doing some reading I knew my route, and I would have an opportunity to summit all of them except for Lindsey. A 90 minute drive from the ranch took me through La Veda Pass and over to the West side. I drove 45 minutes up a gnarly dirt road to 9,000 feet when it got to be too much for my truck, and I finally started hoofing it at 2pm. I hiked 5 miles and 3.5 hours to base camp at 11,700′ on the shores of Lake Como, finding myself at one of the coolest camps I’ve ever been to.

Photobucket

That evening I went to sleep with a sore throat and a runny nose. Even though it’s important to climb mountains early due to afternoon thunderstorms, it’s more important to take care of yourself and stay healthy in the wilderness. I slept until my body was done, crawling out of my tent at 9am. I looked up at Little Bear Peak only to see a shroud of clouds. Aww, c’mon. It’s never cloudy early, and that’s an awful omen for my endeavors to climb mountains today. I lazily started boiling hot water for my coffee and dehydrated eggs and bacon. By the time I finished my breakfast the clouds had parted, and by the time I was ready to begin my ascent I was standing under a bluebird sky. Had a wonderful day, took 4 hours to summit Blanca at 14,345, my highest point yet, and then another 100 minutes to make Ellingwood’s summit. A few hours back down to camp, and at supper time I was sitting next to the lake, still enjoying a perfect sky, loving the colors brought out by the fading sun to the West.

Photobucket

The following day I had a flight out of Colorado Springs at 9:30pm or so. The Springs is another 90 minute drive tacked on to the 6 hours it took me to get there, so my plan to climb Little Bear was pretty much shot. That and Little Bear has the most difficult standard route of any of the 54 14ers in Colorado and frankly scared the shit outta me. I slept in again, savored my coffee and dehydrated granola with blueberries, and eventually started hiking out. Everything was perfect. Toward the bottom of the trail I started seeing a bunch of people heading in, the name “Camp Gladiator” popping up lots. I came across a gaggle of girls, I already was flying down the hill and probably kicked it up a notch to show off, and ate shit right in the middle of the trail. I’m sure I looked awesome laying in the dirt, rolling on a backpack, trekking poles flailing in the air as I tried to regain my balance. When I finally did I was pleased to see that my truck was parked a mere 30 feet away, cause now I’m that guy who just hiked a dozen miles, climbed five thousand feet higher into the sky to stand on the summit of two of the tallest mountians in America, and nailed every aspect of it except for walking past pretty girls in the parking lot.

Photobucket

I needed to get the skillets back to the ranch, and I wanted to hang with Kendra, but she had to work and dropped them off at The Dome so I could pick them up. I did, drove back to the ranch, packed for Vegas, and drove to the airport. Zip to Vegas, land, head straight to the Aria, and just missed my seat in the mixed game. I wait an hour, but by midnight I’m pretty whipped from the day and catch a cab home.

Wake up the following morning very excited to work. I show up around 1pm and get the game started with Jean-Robert and Jeremy Ausmus. I’ve been so disconnected that I didn’t know he made the WSOP Main Event final table, and to this date I still don’t know who else has. We played $300-600 for most of the day, kicked it up to $400-800 when the game got awesome, I ran pretty awfully for the most part but was pleased to only lose $6k in the 12 hour session, especially after the $20k train wreck that was Cantu 1 outing me razzdeucy, making #1/#1 to 3/4 my #1/#2. The best part of the day was easily dialoguing with Kendra, we texted back and forth all day long.

Chomping at the bit to get back into action Saturday, I found no games. My text messages yielded no results, so I wandered down to the Bellagio to try and stir up some action. I found a seat in a $40-80 mixed game, and wasn’t terribly pleased with this because I’ve gotta win a lot of bets at $80 a whack to get un-stuck $6k. There was nothing else going anywhere though, action is action, and I was in town to work.

About 20 minutes later this 60 ish year old dude that I’ve never seen before strolls up, asks what we’re playing, and says, “I don’t play any of that split pot bullshit, I play razz. How bout you and I play some razz heads-up?” Well this is a strange request. I’m far from being a heads-up specialist, but I’m pretty good at razz, and I’ve never seen this guy in my life, so… how big do you want to play, sir? “I have thirty-five thousand in my pocket and I want to use it.” You got action! I’m going to my box to get money, I’ll be right back. Frank! We’re starting a game.

I get a bunch of flags, come back expecting to play something in the neighborhood of $400-800, decide that I’m gonna try and talk him into adding stud to the mix too, and zip back to the poker room. I catch him walking out, he says Frank is being an ass and saying that we can’t play heads-up, I tell him that the rules of the Nevada Gaming Commission make it illegal to just play heads up, but we can start heads up, and if somebody wants to join, we’ll request that they don’t, and if they do, then we’ll just quit and try again. He accepts, we discuss limits, he says, “I don’t play any of that limit shit, we’re playing no-limit.” No limit razz? My head explodes a little. Ok sir, how about we play $100 ante, $100 bring-in, no-limit razz. “Sure, but you can bring it in for whatever you want.” Okay sir, you got me there.

Frank writes up a plaque, we make the minimum buy-in $15k, and the guy never ever buys a chip, just used $100 bills like the man Lancey Howard. The third hand went like this. He brings it in with a king to $400, I make it $1200 with a seven, he calls. He beats me out of $5k that hand, I ask if he wants to double the stakes, he gladly accepts saying something about how he was getting bored with the $100 ante, and proceeds to whip me for another $10k. I get into the game for $35k before finally winning some pots, and it takes me about an hour to win back all my chips and get him to pull another 10 out of his pocket. On the last hand I put him all in on 6th street betting slightly more than the pot showing 325J vs his Q74J. I had 95 in the hole, and wasn’t pleased with him calling at all. On the 7th card he says, “A six is good.” Well, that sucks, because it’s impossible for me to make a six, but I caught a six, and say I have a ninety-six. “That’s good too.” The dealer pushes me this $50k pot with $100 bills sticking out of black and yellow chips like a koosh ball. He stands up, says nice hand, I’m still getting a massage, and can’t believe this just happened. After I finish counting everything I got him for just around $27k, and once again found myself out of action but much happier about how my weekend was going. Kendra asked how I was going to celebrate, my first instinct was to go buy a boat and take it out on the lake, instead I went out with my friend Steph and some of her friends to Red Rock for a CD release party followed by more live music at Toby’s

The following day Jared talked me into going to the lake, which wasn’t too hard considering that there still wasn’t action in town and I was basking in the glow of yesterday’s razz match. Stayed out there until Monday, got back on a plane, and returned to Colorado Springs. I drove straight to The Dome where Kendra was working, stayed until closing, and she asked me if I wanted to hang out longer. Heck yes. Suddenly the best catch in town wasn’t so elusive. We sat on a picnic bench in the beer garden out back until 4:30 in the morning. She introduced me to Katt Williams, I introduced her to Mitch Hedburg, we laughed lots, and finally went our separate ways. Call me when you get back to the ranch so I know you’re safe please? That led to another half an hour on the phone, and I went to sleep smiling extra.

I picked Kendra and her black lab Lindy up shortly after noon. We went to our friend Nate’s restaurant for breakfast and decided to spend the rest of the day in the mountains with a loose goal of ending up in Salida for dinner. Pick up stuff for a picnic in town, drive North, and start discussing where to go. There are two roads into the Sangres North of town that neither of us have been on. Her idea for how to choose which one to go up? Flip a coin. Atta girl. Heads for Hayden Creek, we pull off highway 50 and into the dirt up the mountain. More and more I saw things I have in common with this girl, from what we like to do to our goals and everything in between. The day was beautiful, rain falling on and off for our drive up the East slope through fall colors on the changing Aspens and Oaks. We hit the pass and didn’t find a good place to picnic, plus it was raining, so we continue down the West side, and it didn’t take us long to find what we were looking for.

Just as we park in this alpine meadow the rain stops. We spend a couple hours hanging out there, and then continue our drive down the hill. About a mile later the road turns nasty. There are several spots that I have to get out, scout, and move some rocks around. It’s raining again. We get to one gnarly spot that I’m not very happy about, but my only option is to continue downhill at this point because throwing it in reverse isn’t going to happen here. She’s spotting me on the passenger side, I’m creeping downhill, and I feel the entire ass end of the truck come off the ground. We’re in the air. Instead of freaking out, she says, you’re good! Keep rolling! I do and we were, eventually we make it out of the mountains, and were welcomed by a complete double rainbow from the sun peeking out from under the clouds. It was just as magical as our chemistry and connection, and I was thoroughly enjoying the best first date of my life.

We drove to Salida. She was headed to New York the following week to be a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding, I became her plus one, and we booked a flight. The following day I drove up to Black Hawk for the Heartland Poker Tour’s Mile High Poker Open at the Golden Gates’ Casino. There were four day ones. We were scheduled to play 12 levels or down to 30, whichever came first. With 8 minutes left in day 1a I was short but happy to still be in. We busted somebody in 31st, the floorman said we’re just going to play through level 11, and then I got two kings, losing all my chips to two queens to bust with minutes to spare. Rats.

Tried again the following day. Ran a flush into a bigger flush, got nitrolled, and fired shell three. This one went much better and I ended the night with heaps, very excited to have the next two days off. My choices were to hang around Black Hawk and grind that 30-60 game or drive back to Westcliffe to spend an evening with Kendra. Not a tough decision in the slightest; we had spent hours on the phone while I was at the Ameristar, swapped hundreds of texts in those two days, and made our relationship official and committed.

I had time to kill before she was off work that night so went fly fishing on the Blue River with Jen from the HPT. It was gorgeous, I love this time of year in Colorado. The weather was warm enough that I could wade in the river. I didn’t ever see a fish, but fishing is about much more than catching fish, and it was a successful day. I made the drive back down, hung out until she needed to go to work, and then headed back to Black Hawk.

Day 2 began Sunday at noon with a hundred some odd players still in. I was near the top of the chip counts, 74 were being paid, and we had to play down to 6. There were four of us circuit pros still in, David Baker, Chris Tryba, and Chance Kornuth. We all swapped some action, and we all had high hopes. I eventually busted thirty somethingth for $5300, missing a $1k pay jump by one spot, but also losing my chips to Chance. I started drinking, they were all still in. Chris busted 20 somethingth, Chance and David made deep runs, but Chance busted 7th on the final table bubble.

The folloging day I was hanging out around the final table when I get a text from Kendra saying that she just walked into the Golden Gates. What?!? Awesome! She had conspired with Jen and the whole crew managed to keep it a secret. Jen put her to work quickly taking pictures at the final table, and the whole HPT family welcomed her whole heartedly. It was awesome. Jen tells me that I thought Cory was perfect for me, but I was wrong, Kendra is perfecter. I can’t agree more. David ended up busting 6th to a very gross two outer when all the money went in on the turn.

We drove back to Westcliffe the following day, she worked, and we packed for New York City. She managed to get Wednesday night off so we could head up to Denver a day early to catch Andy Grammar, Mat Kearney, and Train at Red Rocks. Neither of us have ever seen a show there somehow between our 25 combined years in Colorado and were both very stoked for it. It was everything we hoped for. Had a nice night in downtown Denver, woke up lazily the next morning, had breakfast, and headed to the airport for NYC.

So now we’re on the flight home. I had a fantastic time in NYC. We didn’t do anything touristy, but no worries, I’ll have plenty more opportunities to do so. My heart hurts thinking about the looming need to get back to Vegas and resume working. I feel stronger for her than I did for Cory or any other woman I’ve ever been involved with. I’m once again upset that I can’t work online still, because I wouldn’t have to be apart from her if I could. I don’t mind it all though, because I still feel better mentally, physically, and spiritually than I did a decade ago, and now I’ve been blessed with beautiful love on top of it.

Mike at the ranch gave me some sound advice. “Well done kid, she’s a good one. Don’t fuck it up.” Yes sir!

Peace and good luck,

Devo