Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The One from my Hotel Room

I have 48 minutes to shower and get to the noon tournament at the Venetian, so this has to be short. So far:

Arrive Monday night at 7pm, cab to Harrah's, check in, and go right over to the Venetian for their 9pm tourney. Only it is a 7pm tourney. I sit down at their $1/$2 NL Hold'em cash game, knowing that the cash game is not my strong suit. I just want to bide my time until the 11pm tourney at Caesar's (um, it was at 12am), but for the first time ever in a Vegas cash game, I win ($200). Between the rake, dealer tips, and drink tips, I am pretty proud to clear this much in ninety minutes.

10:50pm, arrive at Caesar's and discover I need to wait a while. I buy in to the 1/3 NL game and win another $186 before the tourney starts. The midnight tourney (cost is $70) there is small and only worthwhile because it's one of the few options at that time. I am playing extremely well, doubling my chips while risking very few. Then someone I identify as a poor player goes all in pre-flop against my KK. She has A8s and well, we all know that means aces will flop, and they do here, too. I lose my edge, and I'm soon going all in with 77 as overcards to a flop, only to lose to QQ. Sorry, I can't recall the betting (I'm taking a notepad to the Venetian this Wed noon). I place 20 of 32. I walk back to the cash game and win $170. It's late, and I go to bed, up $486.

Noon, Tuesday, and I enter the Venetian tournament ($150) as one of 139 participants. I am mostly short-stacked, because I learn the hard way that the play in Vegas is different than the play in Minnesota. I basically lose my chips to two limpers, one limping with KK (I had QQ), and one limping with JJ (I had 99). These two losses make me play short stack poker, and I lose all in A10s to the chip leader's AQ. Place 50 out of 139.

Tuesday 4:30, I head to the Bellagio to see baseball people. I don't have a clue who's who, and only recognize that people are wearing media passes. I look for Aaron Gleeman and don't see him, so I go play poker. I buy in for $200 for a cash game when I learn that there is a Sit and Go for $130. Top 2 of 10 get into the $540 Bellagio 7:15pm tourney (and $30 in cash). I get third, of course. On the way out, I pass a blackjack table and decide to put my remaining $70 down for one bet. I get 73 and the dealer has an 8 showing. Of course, with your one and only bet or your last bet, you always get a double down situation! I have four twenties and get $80, $70 of which I use to double. I get a 2, dealer turns over a King, and there goes $140. I bet the extra 10, get QQ, and the dealer gets three cards to 21. Yuck.

Tuesday 7:35pm, I arrive late to the Venetian and pay $120 for the evening tourney. I play the short stack the whole night, surviving by risking the stack and having the table fold. I finally have AJs and get two players to call me. Flop is AK6, turn is 6, river is 2. I think I've won, but the chip leader and hottest player happens to have a 6. Place 18 of 85. Go to bed. Down $550 for the day, $64 for the trip.

Noon Wednesday, Venetian. I'll keep better notes so that I can give some analysis of the interesting hands. I'll try to update before bedtime.

Update: I had zero hands, once going 18 hands with no card higher than a 10. I played one of these tens and made top pair on the flop, only to be bet of the hand by a player who flopped a set. I got blinded down, and my limps all got raised, so I was short stacked immediately, finally went all in with A9 and got caught by AQ. I lasted ninety minutes and decided basically I didn't want to play short stacked all day again. Down $150 on the day, $216 for the trip.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The One Where I Email Bill Smith

I just sent off an email to Bill Smith. It's not my first. The problem with sending Bill Smith, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, an email is that one has so much to say, so much to, well, tell him.

I mostly got that email out of the way on Friday, so today, as I prepare for my trip to the winter meetings, I thought maybe I better send Mr. Smith one very succinct email, titled: Garret Atkins' numbers.

I mean, how could he resist opening that email from his hotel room at the Bellagio? If he doesn't recognize my name, it could be contact information for Atkins. And if he has interest in that, then I know I did the right thing by sending Atkins' contact numbers of a different kind.

While Aaron Gleeman is very comprehensive in his analysis of players like Atkins, I broke down the basics of what Smith needed to know about the Rockies' 3Bman:

Garret Atkins, career away from Coors: .260, .328, .424 (avg, obp, slg)
Brian Buscher, vs rhp in 2008: .316, .368, .437
Brendan Harris, career vs lhp: .295, .360, .440

How can anybody look at these numbers and make a trade for the poor fielder who's enjoyed the fruits of hitting at Coors Field? I don't think even Bill Smith can ignore this...if he opens it. Perhaps I should have shown more restraint and less rambling in my email on Friday, though, for now I fear he will see my name and dismiss it without opening. Oh, the humanity!

The One That Got Away

As I depart for Las Vegas this afternoon, I thought I'd briefly update all on the recent poker tournament I played in at Running Aces. There's not much to say, other than I again made my biggest mistake in poker--I assumed my opponent was bluffing or clueless. More on that some other time. This time with AK and a flop of A, 9, 2 rainbow, I disbelieved that the Big Blind, who made a pot-sized bet, had hit a set. His call of a preflop raise had me pretty sure he didn't have two pair, and I just couldn't put him on pocked deuces or nines. I went all in, and he insta-called with deuces.

To provide you all with the number one rule in all of poker: If you assume your opponent is bluffing or just trying to steal with a medium hand, you had better be able to rule out the hands that can beat you. In this case, I could rule out AA and 92 pretty easily, but what if the BB had stayed rather foolishly with A2 or A9 suited? It was possible, as were 22 and to a lesser extent 99, which he would more likely re-rasie with. My bad.

On Wednesday, I got away with one mistake in the $100 noon tourney at Running Aces and proceeded to make it to the final two, heads up. I played very well overall with good cards, a combination that has unfortunately been lacking in my game. My opponent had a 3:2 chip lead, and I went all-in with K5o. He had A8, called, and it held up.

Upon reflection, I became furious at my decision. I had about 110,000 chips with the blinds 6k/12k. I was on the small blind. While a king looked good, afterward I tried to imagine the scenarios, given the various hands he might have had:

Any pair: he calls, and I'm behind.
Ace mid or better, such as he had: he calls, and I'm behind
K9-KQ: he calls, and I'm dominated
Q9 or worse: he folds, and I pick up 12k, or about 4% of the total chips

That leaves QJ, Q10, J10, Ace low, and King mid or low as the only hands where he has to think. Given his conservative play and nice chip lead, he probably folds all the hands here where I'm in the lead, knowing I have those beat. The only positive impact of my going all in was to possibly push him off Ace low or King mid, meaning I'd pick up a few chips I shouldn't have.

To sum, he would fold all hands where I had him beat, and there were only a few hands he would fold where he had me beat. I was in a Big Lose, tiny win situation. Very stupid play on my part. Most times, he won't have a hand, so I'd get away with it, and truthfully, I'd probably already gotten away with one or two of those.

Tonight I play the Venetian tournament. Assuming I can get online, expect an update in the morning. If I can keep pumping out the blog material, my plan is to keep a running summary of tournaments I play in, starting today. Mind you, for 2008, I would have to win a big tournament to get into positive $$$, so a tax man need only be concerned with my 2009 running tally.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The One about the Vikings

I'll readily admit to being a fair-weather Viking fan...maybe a bit more, since I'll watch them if I'm not doing anything else at home, even if they stink. As the NFL years go by, I know less because I care less, but I still have some wisdom about the sport. I was a football nut and played it (poorly) in college, and that basis never really leaves a person. So as I sit around the poker table and listen to the virtually unanimous opinion that Brad Childress is a horrible coach, I ask why and never really get a coherent answer. Play-calling and "should be winning" are the best the poker table can muster, and frankly, I just haven't bought it.

So I ask about the one Childress decision that, to me, was crucial and perhaps displayed poor judgment: don't you think, I ask the big and small blinds, that after just two games removing a young quarterback who's shown some promise, who went 8-4 as a starter last year, who provides an extra athletic dimension...and replacing him with a competent career backup, a never-was, never-will-be, and certainly an ehh QB who's about fifty was a basic poor decision for a coach who needs to make the playoffs and maybe win a game?

The button usually chimes in at this point, stating the obvious, that Tarvaris Jackson sucked in the Vikings' first two games this year. Fair enough, say I, he did pretty much suck. But then I remind the folks that Jackson got hurt in his 2nd preseason game, didn't play until the opener, and maybe he wasn't quite ready to start the season. I translate the "Jackson sucks" and "Gus Frerotte's 5-3" type responses that follow to "I'm a stupid white trash hick" and/or "ok, you caught me, deep down I don't want a black quarterback" and proceed to folding my hand.

At the time of Jackson's demotion, I balked, stating the above. But I also added this: if Childress keeps Jackson on the bench for a few games, it may well help the kid. The learning curve for an NFL quarterback is steep, and when one is expected to both learn and concentrate on performing, the difficulty is another order. I was happy to let Jackson, well familiar with playing NFL games, actually sit on the bench, soak up knowledge that is suddenly pertinent, and gain vision for what's happening on the field. I thought this would take two, maybe three games, and Jackson would be ready to come back and be a decent NFL starting QB.

The problem was, Brad Childress apparently didn't have this plan. He was happy to let Frerotte be his very mediocre self every week with this apparent strategy in mind: the Vikings have a lot of talent, the division is very weak, and a young QB who may or may not be ready will not decide the fate of a coach who only needs to make the playoffs to secure his job.

As a fan, intense or not, I was put off by this decision, and it was the only one I could think of as to why Childress should be fired. I certainly don't want anyone anywhere to get hurt, but I've found myself secretly happy every time Frerotte has gone to the ground with injury. I wanted Jackson back in there, and it appeared that injury (hopefully minor) would be the only way that Childress would allow that.

Today it happened. Jackson, not having played for twelve weeks, came in when Frerotte went down and immediately looked better than Frerotte has in his three months as the starter. Granted, the playbook was short, the actual number of drives was only two, and the opposition hadn't prepared for Jackson. But he performed and performed well. Hopefully, that's the last we'll see of Frerotte as a starter, and we in Minnesota can actually start to think about winning a playoff game.

Oh, and one more thing, Childress should have gone for two against Detroit back on October 12.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Return of Twinstalker

Originally I had intended to talk about poker along with opining about the Twins, Gophers, etc. Between never finding a good voice, not have the time to commit to a blog, and general laziness, I sort of let the blog go. Now, however, I am playing a lot of poker and getting better at it. I realized the time has come to keep a log or a diary of hands I've played. What better place to do this than a blog? Twinstalker lives!

In a few minutes I will be leaving to play in a poker tournament at Running Aces near Forest Lake. I think the buy-in is $550, so I'm going to try to win a satellite entry. I'm leaving on Monday for Las Vegas and need all the cash I can muster. Tomorrow I will report on my tourney results for all to read. "All," heh, that's funny.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Initial Reaction to the Santana Trade Report


Defeating Evil

Sign Johan Santana to a 6yr, $126 million extension. Limited no-trade clause, escalator clause if traded.That's what the Twins should do.

Unless they get Martinez, Gomez, Guerra, and a close pitcher, they're going to lose big to the Mets. Let's face it, the Red Sox are only in it to make the Yankees pay. They themselves won't cross the line. The Yankees are smarter now with a triumverate of power, so they're not crossing that line either.

I guarantee the Yankees would pony up if Santana were signed by the Twins, even with an escalator clause. Right now they just figure they can outspend everybody next year for him, and as long as they dangle Hughes, no team can really beat them in a trade. It's pure evil all-around, and the only way to defeat it is to sign Santana.

Too Much for Two Men?

This past Friday the Twins announced the signings of Justin Morneau (6 yrs, $80 million) and Michael Cuddyer (3 yrs, $24 million) with the hope it would appease the Minnesota Twins fandom. It appears to have worked. Whether or not the signing were good ones and how they affect the Johan Santana situation are, as always, very well reviewed by Aaron Gleeman.

My reaction to the deals, as usual, was spot on with Aaron's, at least objectively speaking. I sense that Morneau will be special, and that the money he got won't be overkill, but I'm taking a risk with that assessment. Cuddyer I know was flat-out overpaid. He had two more years of arbitration, from which he would have "only" totaled around $12-$13 million. He is white, though, lest we forget.

I'm only sort of kidding...he's average, he's now hit the backside of his peak age, and he plays a position a normal team should have plenty of options at...I can't figure out why the Twins wouldn't go year to year with him. My only guess is that he's a typical Twin and the typical Minnesotan can identify with his race, his decent work ethic, his laid back, no-waves manner, and his staying out of trouble. Boy Next Door get $24 million...stay tuned.

Oh, and did anyone notice that the Twins spent $8.75 million of this year's payroll in bonuses for these two guys? I had wondered whether the money that seemed available was going toward paying a new 3B or CF, and it obviously could have been used for that purpose. It now appears now we can be pretty assured the names Monroe, Pridie, Lamb, Harris, and Punto will cover those two positions and 2B, barring a CF returning in any Santana deal.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Twins Avoid Arbitration with Lefty Bats

Yesterday the Twins avoided arbitration with LF/DH Jason Kubel, agreeing to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. They followed that up with the signing today of 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau to a one-year, $7.4 million deal.

It's clear the Twins want to avoid last year's rather ugly situation where they couldn't come to agreements with their top three hitters prior to figures being submitted. While they successfully avoided arbitration with all three, the Twins spent a lot of energy on the tasks, and ultimately didn't make any headway on extending soon-to-be free agents Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, and Torii Hunter. That may have had more to do with former GM Terry Ryan's conservative approach to spending his boss' money, but it's pretty obvious that new GM Billy Smith does not want a few hundred thousand dollars to occupy his time and energy when he needs to spend it all on determing the constitution of his club for 2008 and beyond.

Right now, Santana is the priority, and it should be. It's been debated endlessly what the best option is with Santana, but Smith seems determined to treat the issue appropriately: as the deal that most likely will define his tenure with the Minnesota Twins. So he's not messing around with the fact that Morneau might only deserve $7 million.

Kubel's deal might seem light these days for an improving hitter with three years service time, but while the arbitration process usually favors undeserved money for mediocre play, in this case the arbitrators would be looking at a player whose first year of service time was spent on the DL. Kubel's nasty knee injury, incurred in the 2004 Arizona Fall League season, probably actually prevented the pure hitter from any decent production until the finals 3-4 months of the 2007 season. $1.3 million seems right for Kubel, but my opinion is that by the end of 2008, Smith will wish he had signed Kubel long-term. Stay tuned.

The feeling here is that Morneau's deal is just a prelude to a long-term deal that will be dealt with after Santana's situation is resolved. The Twins still have to reach an agreement with RF Michael Cuddyer, and we'll address this next week. Others Twins eligible for arbitration are relievers Matt Guerrier and Juan Rincon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What I like about Al Nolen

People who know me are pretty sure I'm not high on Gopher freshman point guard Al Nolen, but the opposite is actually true...I just don't think he's a star player, and as a fan I want the Gophers to have all star players in their starting lineup like most big-time programs do. It's a case of setting my expectations high. I want a team that is obviously the best team in the Big 10 prior to the season because we've recruited so well. Great, good, average or bad I'll cheer like hell for (and criticize) them once the season starts. And then the most important thing, infinitely more important than what they look like on paper, I want the Gophers to win the Big Ten and have a shot at the national title.

I've always held those expectations, because I believe without them, you allow yourself to slide into taking what recruits you can get. And that's what has happened with previous Gophers coach Dan Monson and what I thought happened with his recruiting in 2007. I thought Blake Hoffarber was a great shooter in high school and a very good player. I didn't see that translating well necessarily to college, at least not early, though I never doubted his talent. Of course, I didn't expect the Gophers would have Tubby Smith coaching him.

As for Nolen, I was pretty sure (along with many) that he wasn't Big Ten caliber, though I almost always qualified that I hadn't seen him play. It was someone Monson could get. He didn't score in high school, and who doesn't score? A Big Ten quality player is going to score at will in HS. When I finally got a chance to watch him play, it quickly became obvious that the Gophers were better with Nolen on the floor. But I also noticed he wasn't ready for the Big Ten right then. His great plays were at the expense of some pretty bad competition, including the guards Iowa State put out there. I thought quality guards would shut him down and make his play inconsequential and ugly, and the Florida State game seemingly proved me right. At that point I still wasn't sure if he could be a positive impact against good teams once the Big 10 season started.

What I started to notice after FSU is that I was most comfortable with Nolen and Hoffarber on the floor. Nolen's basketball IQ is extremely high, so much higher than anyone Monson coached. We haven't seen a true point guard in these parts for a long time. He is truly selfless on the floor, and it occurs to me that's why he wasn't scoring in high school. When Al Nolen is ready to play in the B10 against the top teams and top guards, I have no doubt that the team will play on a high level, relatively, because of him. Is that now? We'll find out here quickly as the Gophers play the Indiana Hoosiers in just a few hours.

Nolen is a good ball-handler, a hard-working defensive player with quick hands, a good passer who will get better when he understands he can't get away with every fancy pass against better competition, and he creates a sense of calm on the floor. I think he has a soft shot that will eventually be a dangerous weapon on the rare occasions when needed. He has the ability to penetrate somewhat, though we still need to see whether he can take top guards and finish. I don't see it right now, but there is potential. I'm unsure of his half-court defense on the ball, whether he can guard a guy like Indiana's Eric Gordon and his penetration, but I have no doubts that part of his defense will develop if it's not there already.

I'm of the belief, though, that there is no reason we can't recruit great players, including a great PG. I have no doubt that if Nolen is the primary PG for a very good squad that the Gophers can possibly win the Big 10 in 2-3 years. But he'll only really be a star in our memories, much as Arriel McDonald. A 5-star PG recruit who is an amazing threat when he has the ball can be the ultimate weapon. And an experience Nolen teamed with someone like that will be a perfect combo to lead the Gophers to the promised land.

Some people have compared Nolen to 1994 recruit and Final Four PG Eric Harris. I agree, except I think Nolen might be even better as a freshman. Of course, not as much was needed from Harris on that year's NCAA tourney team. The talent on this Gophers version is spotty, and there is no way this team dances without Nolen. I think Nolen is solid now and will end up being very good, but I just don't see him ever being a star, the definition of which is the ability to completely take over a game and change its outcome on his own. He'll always be a solid piece, though.

Tonight we have an opportunity to evaluate where he is on the ladder toward becoming a quality Big Ten point guard.