Fate (?): How an Ongoing Housing Nightmare Fueled a Series of Fortunate Events

I rarely blog nowadays unless something remarkably significant happens in my life, or I’ve had some sort of relevant epiphany and I deem it substantial enough to express a few thoughts about it.  In today’s case, it’s a bit of all of the above.  There’s actually so much in this story that I almost don’t know where to begin.

If you’ve ever had the stress of not having your housing situation figured out, you can relate to much of what I’m about to say.  Knowing where your home is: a sense of peace, solitude and sanctuary at the end of the day when you lay your head to rest, your life’s belongings, along with countless other blessings we all take for granted, is one of those luxuries that you won’t realize how valuable it is until you don’t have it.  Since January of this year, we’ve been living out of suitcases and boxes.  I’ve kept my toiletries in my travel accessories bag mostly out of convenience.  After the sale of my previous house, its contents were dumped into a storage unit that I’ve been paying rent for the past 16 months.  Miscellaneous crap from our apartment where we stayed from summer of 2014 until the end of 2014 has been sitting in several Rubbermaid tubs.  Furniture that we ordered anticipating a spring move occupies my gracious friend’s entire basement and half of his garage.  You get the picture.  For someone who loves organization and structure, this has been painfully chaotic.  It’s aggravating to stress over the uncertainty of when and where you will move to your own place, combined with the inconvenience of having to go to several different locations to try and dig through your own stuff to find something you need.

I know in my last entry I talked about keeping things in perspective and realizing how fortunate I am, and it’s not that I’ve lost sight of that.  The housing situation in itself has been irksome, but it doesn’t even compare to the torture our first loan company that shall remain unnamed put us through.

Q: What’s worse than not having a home?

A: Being told that you will on XX/XX/XXXX, only to be deceived repeatedly.

I’d like to believe I’m a humble, simple guy.  I don’t believe in keeping up with the Jones’, and don’t have the desire for flashy things or recognition.  I didn’t really care that much about how fancy or big the place my wife and I would be living, as long as it wasn’t in a shitty location and met some standards.  The first house that we were under contract with we had opted for new construction and built it from scratch, (only to have our loan company fuck up to the point where they cancelled our contract and began this seemingly eternal housing limbo nightmare), was luxurious, I’ll admit.  But it wasn’t the lack of said fancy house that’s caused my frustration; it’s been the ongoing uncertainty of everything else housing related.  I thought that even if we had to settle for something much smaller or cheaper or whatever, I would’ve been ecstatic because at least we could plant roots somewhere and call it home.

Here’s a rough timeline of the debacle from House #1:

August 2014: Just having returned from a month long stint in Vegas and having sold my previous place, Tammy and I go house hunting for a place of our own and decide on new construction because of an attractive location and community.  We go under contract and give them an earnest money deposit of $15k.  They tell us the house will be ready in February.

January 2015: We are now told there’s some delays due to weather and they’re shooting for late February/early March.

March 2015: We are told they haven’t done any work on the house in over three weeks because they were waiting for the gas company to install the gas line.

Late March 2015: Our realtor and loan officer advise the builders not to prematurely set a closing date until the house is completely finished so it wouldn’t cause delays with compliance of homeowners insurance policy/appraisal.  They then do the exact opposite of what we ask and try to set up a home inspection without the water pipes installed.

Early April 2015: As a result of their prematurely declaring the house as completed, our initial settlement date of March 31 is pushed back to April 6th.

April 6th: The morning of our settlement date, we get a call that apparently the homeowners insurance company didn’t update their paperwork on their end, thus creating a change in policy and forcing another delay. The new date is now April 11th.

April 13th: we are called early in the morning saying that our file has now been chosen for an audit to ensure compliance with federal loan regulations and will take at least 5 business days. Apparently it’s random, but are more likely to target those who are self employed.  (In hindsight I realize this was most likely bullshit by the sketchy loan company, as was every other delay they pulled out of their collective giant ass).

April 20th: We passed the audit, new settlement date is now the 22nd.

April 22nd: We get a call in the middle of the night that now they want the most recent tax return, since it’s been so long that we have passed April 15th. I drive my 2014 tax return over to my realtor’s house since we didn’t have a printer or scanner at 5 am. I happened to declare about 800 dollars less this year than the last. Apparently that can’t happen, and now we are told it creates a need for a new loan application, thus starting the entire process over.  We are told April 30th will be the new settlement date.

April 30th: Last summer, when we first applied with the loan company to see what we qualify for, there was a bogus charge on my credit report that was completely false. I called them back then right away and thought I had it taken care of, and that the credit bureaus would update accordingly. I also didn’t trust those idiots to do it correctly so I had them mail me a confirmation letter that it was indeed removed. Apparently they didn’t do their job, because it was now popping back up in my credit report, causing yet another delay.

May 6th: We are told by the builder since we have failed to close in April, we will be charged a per diem of $330 for every day we don’t close. New settlement date is may 10th.

May 10th: Get the usual call in the morning, credit report is still fucked up because of that errant company. Rescheduled for May 13th.

May 13th: Loan company calls us and tells us they have to reduce our loan amount …..causing another restart of the entire process. New target date is May 20th.

May 20th: Loan company calls and says they have to reduce the loan amount again as well as plug us into a different program (so they make more money). Standard necessary to restart the loan and more delays.

May 21-27th: Jamaica.

May 28th: Return (happily married) and find a letter from the builder threatening to cancel our contract if we don’t close by the month’s end. Loan company still dragging their feet with underwriting and bullshit.

June 1st: Builder gives us an extension until June 3rd to close, else we lose the house and the $15k deposit.

June 3rd: Loan company tells us they are almost done, but the builders tell us it’s too late.

June 4th: Apparently our loan officer has been in touch with the builder’s closing manager, who advises them to continue working on the loan, and that we should be fine if we can get that taken care of.

June 7th: Now the sales rep who sold us the house tells us there is another contract on our house somehow so we are out of luck.  We then go over the fine print on our contract and discover not only have the builders not followed what was written in terms of protocol, but also legally they cannot cancel our contract unless we explicitly tell them (sign) our lack of financing or no longer with to purchase the house (obv we have done neither ).

June 8th: Our loan officer physically goes to Freddie Mac to obtain the last two signatures we need to finalize the loan. She gets one and the other has to be done by someone in a certain high position of authority, who obviously isn’t available. She’s told to come back the next day.

June 9th: She is told she can’t sign until we have a settlement date given by the builders, which we obviously don’t have because we are unsure what the fuck is going on with everything. Their closing manager for some reason tells us that off the record, she will send us the extension form we need…which leads us to wonder how the fuck our house can be under contract then if she’s offering to help.

June 10th: Obviously the closing manager fakes, but our loan officer says she may have found another way around it. Meanwhile we can’t contact the builders because they are afraid they’ll contact our loan company, who apparently has grown weary of our loan and may give up completely on us.

July 2015: I’m trying to focus on playing my best while in Vegas, but with this constantly hanging over my head it’s admittedly really difficult to.  My results ended up being mediocre, and despite signing power of attorney over to Tammy so she could sign in case we miraculously would close with the builders, nothing came into fruition and I came back with still no home and I feel my state of mind on the downward spiral.

This is where shit gets even weirder: the entire time that our loan officer was “going behind the scenes” and “doing things we weren’t supposed to know about” in hopes of trying to get us the property, I felt very strongly that this was not the correct way to buy a house.  There should be zero gray area or tiptoeing around the builders, or shortcuts.  Things have to be done in a clear cut, legally binding manner…and the fact was, we were told different things from our L.O. and the builder.  According to the L.O., we were still very much in contention for this house, despite there being another contract on it now.  According to the builder, they had followed through on what they warned us about cancelling our contract, and now the house that we had built and waited ten months for had been sold to someone else.  At some point in late July we reluctantly cut emotional ties with the house and had to accept that someone else was now living in it.  The L.O. and realtor reassured us that they had been in constant communication with the builders and negotiated a way to get our $15k deposit back, despite zero communication on our end.  Seriously, not even an email or phone call.  More on that later.

I should add that in between all those days of waiting, we were always agonizing about what would happen next with the loan.  It became a perpetual cycle of being told one thing, only to have it changed the next day.  The underwriter had to wait for a higher up, who had to wait for a different person to sign off on something the first person needed.  Updates on the status of the loan were scarce, and we often clung onto whatever little information (albeit misleading and untruthful) we were given as truth.  In hindsight we were fed a steady diet of complete bullshit.  Hours became days, days turned into weeks.  Weeks dragged into months and we were still on the fence waiting for something that ultimately would never happen.  But they always made it sound good, to keep us emotionally invested and hopeful for the next target date.  We would lie awake at night uneasy and wondering what would happen and where we would end up.

Beyond frustrated and weary from all the nonsense from before, I looked online and fell in love with a house in an ideal and familiar location with very comparable features to House #1.  We’ll call this one House #2.  The pictures that were posted in the listing were shoddy at best and most likely taken from an inexperienced realtor’s cell phone, but immediately I saw the potential.  We went back on the house hunt, nearly a year later from when this all first began, and sort of went through the motions walking through dozens of other properties.  When I first stepped foot into House #2, I already knew it felt like home to us.  We quickly put an offer in, and it was accepted.  The settlement date was scheduled for August 28.  Shall we do another timeline of misery and empty promises?

August 27: Our realtor advises pushing it back a week to September 4th because a title search revealed the seller had some sort of lien that needed to be cleared up.

September 3: Our L.O. calls and claims the bogus credit report issue came up again and triggered a redisclosure.  New settlement date is the 11th.

September 11: L.O. claims that “since the loan already had “Freddie Mac approval and that is supposed to be the final step of the loan process, their systems would need to update to the point prior to this step and that would take 24-48 hours.”  Yes, by this point I’m taking whatever they say with several grains of unrefined salt.

September 15: Once again, the morning of our supposed closing, we’re fed some more bullshit about how the credit report issue popped up again in their final pull (I’m wondering how many times they can pull our credit throughout the span of the year?), and they’re paying some third party company to expedite the removal of this bogus account.  Understandably so, the sellers are getting pissed off with all the delays.  They’ve signed several extensions at this point and said they would not sign any more.

September 18: “Good news!” is what we’re told.  The L.O. claims that the credit issue was taken care of, but all we have to do is wait another 24-48 hours for the system to update and we’re in the clear!  (yeah, right).  We’re told that we’re “clear to close” (it means that it sounds like; all documentation and final verifications have been made and the funds are ready to be disbursed), and that nothing else could possibly pop up to ruin our day again.  They claimed that the closing documents had been drawn and ready to send to the title company, and that reaching the settlement table was only a signature of an extension away, which they claimed was the biggest challenge at this point.  Our realtor and L.O. conspire to tell them a tall tale that my wife and I were out of town on a family emergency and we would settle when we get back, which makes me very uncomfortable since I despise dishonesty.  The sellers reluctantly agree and we think we’re finally in the clear.

September 21: Surprise! The morning of, we’ve been sent a text that our file mysteriously got pulled for an internal audit, with a new set of demands and conditions to be revealed to us a day, two days, five weeks from now, it didn’t fucking matter.  I was losing what little sanity I had left at this point.  Eventually the “auditor” requested what’s known as an audited profit and loss statement because of my self employment, which costs $5k when I called and asked my CPA about it.  When I expressed how ridiculous that is for a piece of paper verifying income that they should’ve done from the very first stage of the application process, our realtor bluntly stated that it was either eat the $5k (and we’d still be unsure if the loan company would deliver or not), or eat the $15k deposit for failure to comply with conditions given by the lending company, which would result in a default from the buyer.

Devastated and annoyed beyond comprehension doesn’t begin to describe the mood Tammy and I were in, and while we were debating how to proceed, the sellers decided they had enough of us and pulled the plug on our contract.  Thirteen months of waiting to move, and we were 0/2 on houses, and -$15k.  It certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but a circulating thought of mine during all of this was that reaching the settlement table was like reaching a poker tournament final table.  It’s no secret I’ve had a dismal lifelong track record with tournaments, and had been weaning myself off to the point where I rarely entered them.  You’ll see why it’s funny soon.

September 24: Despite the unbearable situation of being back to square fucking one, had a great time taking my mind off of things with my close friends watching Armin van Buuren perform.

September 25: With no plans and not wanting to sit at “home” (the term being used loosely because we had crashed at our best friend’s) and stew about it, went for a double header and saw Oliver Heldens.  Had a blast again and enjoyed the music and escape from reality.

September 26: Woke up at 12:30 PM with a depressing realization that I had no agenda for the day.  Debated internally on some options of what to do to avoid thinking about the housing situation for a good half hour in bed before tentatively deciding to enter a rare tournament.  The WPT happened to be in town at MD Live, and Day 1B of their $3500 Main Event was already underway.  I stumbled in at around 2 PM, at the end of level 2, with a starting stack of 30k.  Cards were rather uneventful, and I went to dinner break with a meager 28k.  I came back from dinner break to a new table, and started picking up a few spots here and there.  I could feel myself getting focused, slowly but surely entering the ever elusive “zone”.  I resisted the urge to be on my phone in between hands and instead observed every action from every hand from every opponent at my table, tuning out all the negativity from the previous year in my mind.  I chipped up to 60k, when I got in KK>QQ for about the same amount.  Now I’m at 120k, and get in QQ vs KK on QJ73cc in a 3b pot for piles.  We hold, and end the day as overall chip leader at 286k.

September 27-28: Get moved around a lot, half of the time to unfavorable tables with very tough players, but still adhere to my self imposed phone ban.  I feel like I’m on all sorts of adderall but I haven’t taken anything except copious mental notes and water.  Our realtor is still sending emails and texts and I choose to ignore all of them, which feels incredibly liberating.  Nothing was going to break this seldom attained zen-like concentration I had going.

September 29: I made the WPT final table, which is six players, in a virtual tie for 2nd in chips.  The chip leader is none other than my longtime friend and former backer/lifesaver Greg Merson.  I hadn’t been sleeping much during this whole tournament, and everything leading up to this moment had a very ethereal, dream-like feel.  Because of my tough opposition at that table, I consider myself very fortunate to have finished in 2nd place.  It could’ve easily gone in such a way that things would have ended differently for me and for others.  I took home $164k, super appreciative of the overwhelming support from my friends and family.  Tammy and I had something to smile about again, and for those four days, my mind was free from the clutter and negativity.

We then went back on the house hunt (yet again), but this time changed lenders.  I cannot express how glad we are to have done that.  It was like night and day.  This will serve as a shameless plug for them, not out of any financial motive on my end for doing a little advertising for them, but because they deserve to be recognized for excellence.  We met with Daniel Rivera, the Vice President and one of the founders for New America Financial, and he’s been nothing but kind, honest, dependable, and professional.  As opposed to always being made to feel like we were second tier clients who are always being told to wait for things that never came, he followed through on exactly everything he said would happen, when it would happen.  We put another offer on House #2 on October 5th, and when we were informed that there were two other offers on the table, we thought it was impossible that we’d be accepted again given how many times our previous loan company had given them the runaround.  Daniel said he would personally speak with the sellers and their agent on our behalf despite only meeting us once.  While the sellers were considering our offer and others, Daniel and his team ran our application through underwriting and emerged with an approval.  This is different from the standard pre-approval letter that most lenders issue to unsuspecting clients, and then unleash a slew of never ending conditions that end up causing major delays.  The items he asked of us included standard documentation that all self-employed individuals have to provide at the beginning of applying, which makes me wonder why our previous loan company didn’t think to ask for it until an audit was pulled and the sellers were already too pissed off to continue dealing with us?  More importantly, he requested everything all at once and up front, instead of one thing at a time.  At the conclusion of their meeting, he reassured us that he was 100% certain they would accept our contract, and he must have successfully relayed the finality of his approval to the sellers, because on

October 12: The sellers ratified our new contract!  Somehow we’re back in the running for House #2.

October 16: Appraisal is ordered and completed.  Daniel says the report will be ready on the 19th.

October 19: The appraisal report is submitted and deemed satisfactory.

October 26: We’re given the clear to close.

October 30: We closed and ended our seemingly never ending state of homelessness.  

As cliche as it sounds, I’ve learned and re-learned that things happen for a reason, and sometimes they’ll fall into place eventually.  Life can be harrowing and difficult and filled with uncertainty.  Who you choose to surround yourself with is what will get you through your darkest times.  To my dear friends who are reading this, you know who you are.  Thank you for showing me time and time again how compassionate and important you are to me.  We’ll continue to build each other up and tune out the hate and negativity, and instead focus on how to mutually improve one another’s lives, and positively influence those around us to our best ability.


Everything in life is relative.

I’m updating finally and writing this mostly as a reminder to myself and to get some thoughts down on paper (and I guess there may be a select few out there who still care or know this blog even exists).  Lately, there have been some extremely frustrating and nonsensical delays with our pending house closing, which has taken the forefront of my thoughts and mood often times.  We should’ve been moved in at the beginning of April, and as I’m typing this in the middle of June on a plane to Vegas, we still haven’t settled.  It’s times like these I need to reflect on just how fortunate I am, and how I’ve defied astronomical odds to be where I am today.  Let’s start from the beginning:

My parents were born into somewhat poor families in China, a country with the world’s largest population, where countless millions of citizens and residents are trying desperately to find a better life elsewhere.  My mom is the youngest of two children, and my dad is the fourth of six.  Pollution is devastating, especially in major cities like Beijing where I was born and raised, education is subpar, and the chances of finding a way to make a decent living are automatically stacked against you since there are so many people competing for the same education, career, lives.  The quality of life is far inferior to anything my spoiled ass could grow accustomed to.  Because my grandmother on my mom’s side had a stepmom who immigrated to California, my grandparents on that side only were allowed to latch on and move with them.  A few years later, my parents were granted this same opportunity, the absolute best blessing anyone in our position could’ve asked for, something that I take for granted far too often: we as a family were the only ones out of six to be able to move to the United States, the greatest country in the world.  My parents picked up and left their families, everything they had ever known in their lives, and native country to move somewhere where they had no money or knowledge of the English language, all for one purpose: to provide an opportunity for a better life for my sister and I.  To this day, the rest of my extended family in Beijing is still on the waiting list to immigrate here.  It’s been over a decade.  While they’re finally about to be called up on the queue it seems, we’ve had the sanctification of creating a life of comfort and luxury that the rest of them can only dream of.  People in China literally give their entire life savings for the chance to come to the US.

Flash forward some twenty years, it’s 2007.  I had little direction or ambition in life, no job, and not a dollar to my name.  The lack of maturity, discipline and bankroll management had caught up to me and  I had hit rock bottom.  Once in a while I look back on those long sleepless nights in my parents’ basement, overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and dread with what I was going to do with my life.  Had my parents sacrificed everything for me to fail them?  With no other options I hesitantly agreed to a short term staking deal at a local house game where the stakes were $1/2 NL.  It was there I met and befriended Greg Merson (who went on to win the WSOP Main Event in 2012).  At the time he happened to be establishing himself as a volume low stakes grinder on Pokerstars, and was getting into the investing side of the game.  I recall that night was actually the one and only time I played at that home game (they subsequently, like most other home games in the area, got raided.  I haven’t been back to a home game since and don’t plan on it).  The stars aligned, and though I was always confident in my abilities as a player, I happened to run well that session too.   Greg took notice and reached out to me to propose a staking deal to play on Pokerstars.  He offered to set me up with an account and $2k to grind $1/2 NL 6 max in exchange for a portion of my profits.  I felt like I had hit the lottery.  I had never been a winning player online before that, but I was determined to learn how to beat it for good this time.  I felt like I had no choice, and refused to let the second chance go to waste.  I would stay up all night studying my hand histories and playing, four tables at first until I got the hang of it, and then slowly adding to six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve at once as I continued to enjoy a nice upswing.  In the first three and a half weeks I won 17k playing no higher than $1/2 NL online, and haven’t really looked back since.  I paid Greg his share and went on my own shortly after.

I often think to myself, what if I hadn’t agreed to that home game arrangement to begin with?  What if Greg didn’t happen to be there that night, and what if he was but I was doing poorly?  Would he still have staked me, given me a fresh opportunity at life?  What if the game had been raided before that, or during that night?  What if I didn’t go on a massive heater to begin the staking arrangement, would that have crippled both his confidence and mine?  I was a losing player, after all, going into the staking deal, so I didn’t have the mental assurance that eventually I would win if I kept at it that I do nowadays.

As it turns out, eight years later, my life is amazing.  It’s everything I could’ve dreamed for and more.  I still get to do what I love for a living, and that is not something I should ever take lightly.  Too many people I know hate going through the motions of having a boss, a job, someone to answer to.  Being my own boss, I wake up, go to sleep, go to the gym, watch a movie, hang out with friends, go on a trip, basically do whatever I want, when I want.  I “work” much less hours than conventional work weeks but reap much higher financial benefits than I would doing anything else.  I talked to a good friend recently about my annoyances with the house delays, and he kept things in check by commenting that I should be so fortunate to even have the opportunity to play a game for a living and be in the position to have a house to wait for.  Recently Tammy and I got married in front of some of our closest friends and our family in gorgeous Jamaica.  It was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.  To see such outpouring of love and support, and of course getting to marry my best friend where we get to spend the rest of our lives together, was just simply incredible and something I’ll never forget.

The past three summers I’ve gone to Vegas around this time of year, and have not gone to a single event or outing save from my one time at a Above and Beyond show at Encore that I didn’t appreciate at the time.  I’m a couple of hours away from landing at McCarran, where I will rent a car and drive to an awesome house off the strip to be shared with three of my good friends…and a few days away from attending the biggest music festival of the year: EDC.  It still hasn’t hit me yet that it’s so close, and it being my first time I don’t really know what to expect except that it’ll be mind blowing.  I look forward to a month of spending time with good friends, eating good in the hood, EDC and EDM related activities, and of course, doing what I love: playing cards and engaging in mental warfare.   This year I won’t even set a monetary goal or be too concerned about that side of it.  I will only focus on playing my best as often as I can and living with the results.  After all, I’ve already won in life.  I should keep that in mind and count my immeasurable blessings.

Eating My Own Words

Life and poker wise things have been pretty awesome lately.  Me and Tammy are having our dream wedding in Jamaica where I originally proposed next May, and in Feb we will be moving into our brand new very first home together (literally new since they’re building it from scratch).  After a bit of a hiatus from poker I’m back in a rhythm of putting in consistent volume and trying to play as well as I can.  Aside from some lapses in judgement I think I’ve been pretty good at staying focused and arriving at the appropriate course of action.  I believe mindset is so critical to success in this field, which is why I am pretty strict about only playing under optimal conditions mentally and physically.  Days that I plan on playing poker I dedicate the whole day to just that until after the session is over, and only then do I allow myself to relax and indulge in activities I enjoy otherwise.  I think also I’m pretty fortunate in that I genuinely still love the game and that keeps me intrigued in what I do.  I would absolutely hate to be forced to do something for a living that I didn’t enjoy, as I’ve already done that before.  Life’s too short to not pursue what you love, know what I’m saying?

Anyways, the title of this entry.  I know my last entry I kind of blasted EDM and voiced why I disliked it so much, and how I probably would never get into it.  It’s funny how I look back and can laugh at myself for being so close minded.  For the past year, while Tammy has gone to numerous shows and always had a blast, I never once expressed interest in joining her.  Not only were they always either on weekends when I normally play at Live or EDC in Vegas (when I lock down and try to play as much live as I can), but I had never been one to want to go out to do anything remotely like the party scene.  She always mentioned I never gave it a chance and she would love it if I accompanied her at least once, and finally I gave in and told her I would accompany her to just one upcoming event just to say I did it.  She gave me a choice between something called Moonrise Festival or Andrew Rayel at Echostage.  I didn’t know what any of that meant, so I just asked which one was shorter.  She told me the latter, so off we went…and I have to admit, though it was a bit overwhelming and awkward for me at first since I had never been to anything like that before, combined with seeing so many friends there having a blast, it was an amazing night.  Probably one of the best nights in recent years for me that I can recall, actually.  I definitely experienced a bit of culture shock just looking around me and seeing so many things that were unfamiliar, but I could tell that everyone else had been there and done them before.  That, and Andrew Rayel’s set was endless high octane energy pumping through my veins all night.  The bass pulsated through my chest and the melodies were always hauntingly distant, kind of hard to describe…and he definitely fed off the crowd’s energy and positive vibes and returned the favor with a relentless assault of beats and remixes flavored with his own unique classical kind of sound, which of course, I always appreciate.

So after that magical night with friends I decided to give EDM a listen, and while I’m still a bit confused as to how the whole process works, as in who makes the actual songs and tracks, and who sings on them, who they belong to, what the DJs have to do with it, I have grown accustomed to listening to it and actually prefer it when I’m working out because of the upbeat tempo and tirelessness of the sets.  In the future I’ll use this as a reminder to myself to be open minded about not just music but other things in life as they come up.  Sometimes things we haven’t experienced yet will surprise us.

Poker & Music; Other Random Thoughts

If you’re anything at all like me, you do your best thinking at night time.  I’ve always preferred nocturnal solitude where I can reflect and be alone in my thoughts on a fairly regular basis.  I still don’t quite and never will understand the mass hordes of people who weave through one of the most traffic infested cities in the country, pay $20 just to park their car and have to walk a few blocks to the club, where they line up outside in extreme temperatures just to cough up another door fee to the bouncer.  Then, after you get inside finally, it’s so loud you can’t even hear yourself shout, and acquaintances who you would never otherwise go out of your way to spend time with come up to you and try to make half assed conversation with you, as you both take turns screaming in each other’s ears:

Person A: “Hey man! Long time no see!”

Person B: “Yeah! how you been, good?”

Person A: “Yeah, good.  you?”

Person B: “Good!”

—-end of conversation—-

Then you push your way through a moshpit of sweaty strangers to get to the bar, wait fifteen minutes for the bartender to notice you, before you voluntarily give them $7 for a beer, or even more amusing to me, $15-20 for a 1 oz shot in a plastic cup of liquor.  Or, if you’re “lucky” enough to have your own table for the night, you get to pay $300 for a $20 bottle, or $80 for a fruit plate, only to have random people come and drink your shit and never offer to chip in with the bill.  In fact, it’s always the same three or four guys in the end that end up eating the cost, and usually they’re the ones who drink the least (this is me) out of the group of a dozen or so.  Anyways, that was quite a tangent I went on there.  That’s kind of going to be the theme of this entry, lots of random thoughts just thrown on here no filter.  So where was I.  

Oh yeah, so I like peace and quiet at night and never go out, but honestly who am I to judge?  To each their own, and as long as people are enjoying what they do and aren’t harming anyone else, more power to them.  We all have different needs and preferences.  I love spending time with friends, but in a more intimate situation where I can hold actual conversations with them, and we are able to lounge around and be ourselves around each other, eat, watch movies, play games, bond.  In my poker career, I’ve been very fortunate to receive some incredibly kind words from various people.  At times I feel validated, like, maybe I’m onto something here, or, great! all that hard work is paying off.  Other times when I feel I’m going through a stretch of uninspired play I feel genuinely uncomfortable hearing these nice things.  I definitely don’t want what I don’t deserve, and believe what you get in a lot of situations in life is what you put into it.  I constantly challenge myself and like to put myself in someone else’s shoes when I’m watching a hand transpire.  What would I do with this range, or how would this alter the outcome of the hand?  What would I do better, worse, or differently?  If I think I can take a better approach to the situation, why is it better?  Essentially, I am constantly asking myself what my edge is in this or that spot, and sometimes there is no edge to be had.  Certain hands between competent opponents just play themselves, or become labeled as “standard.”  To be honest I tend to cringe when I hear players talk about hands and say things like “Oh well he never has this,” or “he would’ve done X with Y.”  I remember a random inconsequential hand 5 years at the Bellagio where I bet/folded the turn in a 3b pot vs a young internet player and he turned up a bluff.  He then proceeded to tell me that if I had X hand, I would’ve always checked turn and therefore my betting range on the turn is polarized towards nutted hands/floats.  By the way, it was the first time we’d ever played each other.  I didn’t say anything back to him, but what he said really stuck with me.  Not that it was true, by the way, but just that he was so linear in his thought process that he would go as far as to encapsulate my turn check/bet tendencies, in position, in a 3b pot, in a dealer vs BB situation, with an incredibly rigid (and incorrect) assessment of what I will do with XYZ of my range.  In a game like NL where there are very few absolutes in my opinion, based off of a hand sample size of perhaps 50 hands, that just seemed so absurd to me.  And yet, I see it time and time again.  The kid who 5b jammed AKo vs the 65 year old rock who opened UTG 5x because it’s “standard” and you should “always” re-raise AK and get it in no matter the situation.  The times I hear bustout stories of some kid who called it off with XX even though your hand is much less relevant in the situation than the opponent.  I think a lot of times, you can make assumptions based off how people play hands in general, but in no universe should you ever think everyone plays like you.  Or thinks like you.  Just because you would make this play or do that doesn’t mean the next person will.  And that’s what keeps poker interesting to me.  If everyone was always making “standard” or “optimal” plays, where is the edge?  Short term variance can be deceiving to everyone, from the recreational player to the seasoned pro, but without analyzing why you won or lost that particular session, and what can be learned from it, your game will become stagnant, taper off, and eventually fall behind.  

If you read this far, props to you.  Because this is just a mashed up unedited “freestyle” mess of thoughts.  Speaking of freestyle, this blog is supposed to correlate music and poker, so here it is.  I’ve been in love with music since I was a kid.  I was the only kid I knew who volunteered himself for piano lessons in elementary school, and spent countless frustrating hours by myself trying to put together a melody until my parents actually told me to stop practicing and go to bed.  I actually looked forward to Thursday afternoon piano lessons each week, ready to tackle on new songs and show my teacher the progress I made on last week’s.  I got pretty good at one point in high school, winning the only talent show I entered with my partner at the time (we played a two song duet and rocked the auditorium), and then I got myself a guitar and taught myself how to play off this Green Day tab book I bought.  Pretty funny looking back on it now that for the first couple of weeks I held my guitar based on how I saw Kurt Cobain from Nirvana hold his on MTV, and therefore my chords were inversed until I realized that Kurt Cobain, of course, was left handed.  My guitar was meant for the rest of the world who play it right handed.  If learning piano was like trying to learn a bike, then learning guitar was like trying to learn to fly a jet at first.  My chords never sounded clean, I could never hold it correctly without my wrists hurting, I didn’t use the pads of my fingertips and ended up muting my strings, I had no rhythm when I strummed, nor did I really understand what strumming was, but I kept at it and eventually got fairly decent at it as well.  This was while I was playing trumpet in band in high school too.  Was there a point to any of this in relation to poker?  Not at all yet.  Just felt like sharing something personal with the internet.

To me, I draw inspiration to play my best poker from music.  Everybody’s trying to do the same thing as you, so what’s going to set you apart?  I remember as a kid I would play a song on the piano I had spent hours perfecting, only to have someone more skilled than me sit down and make it sound infinitely better, effortlessly.  At the time I felt a sense of envy, mixed with awe and a newfound determination.  It was amazing to me: we both used the exact same instrument, the same sheet music, same notes and rhythm, but he would just bring something entirely different to the table that when you heard it, you knew you were hearing an experienced musician who was transcending the music written on paper.  That’s the beautiful denominator between poker and music, both start with a relatively blank template.  You as an artist choose to create what you want, based on the situation.  The million other poker pros who do what you do and play exactly the same game do not all approach the game, or any hand, or any street the same way.  I just want to be the best I can be, and preferably better than the field.  

In the music industry similar parallels can be made since it’s so cutthroat.  Everybody else has their talents and is trying to make it as an artist, so what is your edge on the field?  I hardly think it’s any coincidence that Justin Timberlake, formerly of Nsync, is the only member today with a flourishing career.  He knew the boy band days were numbered, and took it to the next level on his own to tailor fit his strengths.  A couple of weeks ago I listened to every single Eminem song he’s ever recorded, starting with his Infinite album before he was well known.  I have to say, I went through a period in high school/college where I really liked his music, but then stopped listening to him when he started putting out corny commercialized “mainstream” singles just to appease the masses like “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me,” “Crack a Bottle,” etc….but after listening to his albums in entirety, especially some of the more obscure tracks, the guy is a true artist and lyrical genius.  After every track of listening to him string together flow after flow of parables and rhymes and metaphors I kept expecting him to run out of steam at some point, but he just kept getting better.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone so witty and clever with the English language, and he does it so easily several times I had to go back and listen to a verse again to make sure I got every word.  Here’s some of my personal favorites:

Slim Shady EP

Drug Ballad

Rock Bottom

Guilty Conscience

Just Don’t Give a Fuck

Bad Meets Evil

Marshall Mathers EP


Drug Ballad

The Eminem Show

Till I Collapse


3 a.m.

My Mom

Bagpipes from Baghdad

Old Time’s Sake

Must Be the Ganja

Deja Vu


The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Rap God



See, I told you this would be insanely random.  That had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the stuff I was talking about; I just really respect creativity and talent and think it should be rightfully recognized.  I think that is why I still haven’t gotten into EDM, nor will I ever probably.  I prefer organic music with words and a story and some sort of emotion from the artist who put it all together in the form of a song, which is no easy feat…while EDM not only all sounds the same to me (prevalent driving synth bass, similar upbeat tempo, high treble notes for some major key melody on repeat) but listening to it just bores me to tears.  No feelings of awe are invoked, like when I’m listening to Tom Morello pull off some sick guitar solo or Matt Bellamy belting out that familiar haunting voice over a grungy guitar riff or beautiful piano segment he composed, or the raw aggression/angst of Eminem when he’s making real music, or the playful banter between the Beastie Boys on their tracks, etc.  All of these are very human to me, and I will always be infinitely more impressed with sounds that humans conceived, wrote, and executed with their own voices and hands than a beat machine and some synthesizers.  

Anyway, time to wrap this crap up.  I’m headed to Vegas on the 8th for the rest of the series, so hopefully I activate my inner musician and play my heart out.   


Poker Night in America “Controversy” Follow-Up: I believe in Peace

It’s been a couple of days now since PNIA and my previous blog entry detailing my frustrations on the set.  What I never anticipated was the flood of comments/Twitter interactions/raging debate on FB and in general, a ton of what I don’t ever enjoy having in my life: drama.  I don’t have any enemies in my life, nor do I have any interest in accumulating any.  The nice guy persona isn’t an act, it’s a lifestyle.  That being said, I am far from perfect and have my own set of flaws.  I feel compelled to address what has happened.  I am an unknown in the greater poker world, largely because I rarely play tournaments and wasn’t a former nosebleed stakes player online.  I’ve always flown under the radar; imagine my shock at how much feedback my basically anonymous blog was getting from a post I wrote while extremely frustrated and angry.  It wasn’t meant to be read by more than a handful of people.  People have asked me, why did you blog about it instead of confronting them at the time when they were bothering you?  There are a couple of reasons why I chose not to fight back while on set: one being that I’m non-confrontational by nature, especially in circumstances where I get the vibe that I’m being outcast to begin with, so I believed at the time ignoring them would’ve been better.  The other being that this being my first time on camera, I didn’t want to make it awkward for my tablemates, the crew, whoever would eventually be watching if any of this ever makes the final cut.  The last thing I wanted to do was turn a proud moment in MD televised history into a set of The Real World/Jerry Springer.

The reason I wrote about it is mainly because eager friends kept asking me how it went, and instead of having to retype the whole experience to each individual person I figured it’d be much easier if I just wrote it up where I knew they would see it.  As for calling out Gavin and Tom S. on Twitter, not my proudest moment.  At the time I was pissed off from feeling disrespected all day, and felt compelled to let them know how they acted was how I felt was unprofessional.  Some of this is being re-written from previous comments I’ve made, but also imagine getting chastised while getting dealt unplayable hands/spots, and then every now and then attempting to play off this “tight image” and running a sup-optimal bluff based on that and also in an attempt to make something happen since there were so few opportunities, have it fail of course, lose the pot, and then get needled immediately after for still not playing pots.  I think my fellow poker players understand in this business there will be characters and needling, it just comes with the trade, but as for my first experience in this environment, it just didn’t leave a very pleasant taste.

But that still doesn’t make it okay to put Gavin and Tom S. on blast; not that I ever thought more than 5-10 people would read it, but at the end of the day I should’ve either let it go, or confronted them on set in a peaceful manner.  All parties have reached out to each other and we can all agree this was pretty much the summation of a big misunderstanding, and an unaligned set of expectations.  I take fault in not trying to be more engaging with my tablemates, or trying to contribute more to the show.  Gavin seems truly contrite and surprised that he had upset me, and now that we’ve talked it out, I can see why so many of his friends consider him an ally, who at times may be misunderstood.  I do hope we cross paths again sometime soon so we can put all of this behind us and start fresh.  As for Tom S., he wrote up an extremely well thought out response on Gavin’s Facebook thread, much of it directed at me, and it was about as honest and genuine as you could get.  I commend them for being pros about the aftermath, and we have also exchanged contact information so we can talk some more about it.  They both seem like great guys, and I do have respect for the older generation pros who have paved the way for the younger guys to do what we do and will try not to take that for granted.  I sincerely look forward to speaking more to both of them and consider this a vast learning experience.

To Gavin Smith and Tom Schneider: I apologize for causing you any grief for things I said out of frustration.  It’s been an eye opening experience this past couple of days, and I think I owe that apology to both of you.

Had I ever known my entry would’ve caused this much controversy, I would’ve never clicked on that submit button.  However, what’s said was said, and after necessary reparations are made (currently in progress), I think I will consider myself fortunate to know these two guys.  Again, thanks go to Nolan Dalla for giving me the opportunity, and all the PNIA crew for doing such a fantastic job.  I’m sorry if I did not meet expectations as to what I might add to the show.

Oh, and as for the random people posting on FB criticizing my blog for posting about hands as if I’m bragging about them or whatever, you can go f*ck yourself.  It’s my blog and I’ll write whatever I feel like.  You don’t have to read it. :)  And if you even read carefully, I criticize myself at every step of the way as well, as I am constantly working to improve on my game.  And as a person.


First off, I’m really beyond tired of this snow b.s. that’s plagued this never-ending winter for us east coasters.  Supposedly we’re getting another 6-10 inches tonight, and it’s freaking March.  If it weren’t for my family, friends, Maryland Live!, and hesitance to tackle things that require a shitload of moving and hassle, I would probably opt to live in California.  Maybe in another life.  

Anyways, as usual in January and February my interest in poker is sort of in a lukewarm phase as it is every year.  I can’t really explain it, it’s just sort of carried over from December usually when I’m decreasing my hours and trying to take some time out to enjoy other things in life more.  However, it’s not to say that I stopped thinking about the game or trying to learn more about it.  I think in the past couple of months with playing much more short handed on Bovada I’ve definitely gained something from playing against all sorts of opponents, some much looser and more aggressive than others, and perhaps started figuring out ways to not only counter their strategy, but to take parts of theirs and weave it into my own.  The nerdy kid in me that grew up loving Transformers automatically associates tweaking parts of my game with the Construticons, the Decepticon group of engineers and builders who form together to make a powerful juggernaut of a machine, Devastator.  Image

^that’s a metaphorical representation of my poker game, accumulated through millions of hands against players more skilled than I, but not without me at least trying to learn something from them and try to apply it to my own.  It’s important to remind myself that I can learn from bad players, too, as in how they think, and more importantly, why their play in various spots is incorrect.  

Now that it’s March, it means the WSOP is just around the corner again, and suddenly the insatiable desire for more knowledge, more advanced strategy, higher levels of thinking and focus, and the urge to compete and succeed is like a raging furnace.  Not that I’m looking to be playing in many tournaments, if any at all, besides the Main Event, but just something about summer and Vegas and poker always brings back some of the best memories of my life.  I secretly love that grinders and zillas alike gather from all corners of the world in one city to play poker, and that as for cash games, I get to challenge myself and play against other pros and see if I can destroy them.  Maybe it sounds kind of twisted now that I put it on paper but it’s always been that competitive drive in me that forces me to be better and get better as a player, same as it was before with basketball or music.  Historically I also have a very solid record at the Bellagio (knock on fucking wood), so I guess that helps the confidence a bit as well.  

This is several months overdue and comes at a shock even to myself, but for the first time in a while I’m going to reveal some hand histories that I thought were interesting spots, and my thought process during that time.  Luckily I remember these like they were yesterday still so I can still transcript them accurately.  These are during last summer at the Bellagio:

$10/20/40 NL

I’m well into my session and doing extremely well, which certainly wasn’t the case for me the first week or so of my trip.  I was locked in and comfortable, and finally attained the ever-elusive “zone” where every action seems to happen in slow motion and the right decisions find their way into my thoughts, and all my creative energy reserve is pumping.  I’m in UTG+3 and open to $140 with:

My cards: 6c-5c

Folds to some assy British dude, 40s, thin, looks like he has played some before, probably a tournament background mostly, and he 3bs to $400 on the button.  Action is folded back to me, and I peer over at his array of stacks and cash somewhat haphazardly piled in front of him and ask him about how much he’s playing.  

“About eight thousand and change,” was his reply in a distinct English accent, while subtly giving a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders that was supposed to indirectly imply strength to me, which I of course read as slightly weak.  Though this isn’t always a defend for me, and of course sometimes I would consider a 4b bluff, I decided to call out of position as I felt I could make better decisions than my opponent post-flop.  

Flop: ($870)

7-5-2 rainbow, one club

I check and call his continuation bet of $440.  So far, pretty standard stuff as I would be doing this with pretty much my entire range of hands that continues.  

Turn: ($1750)


I check, (obviously this is a less than ideal card for us and our perceived range) and observe my opponent slide out $920.  When I’m honed in I think I can sort of sense when someone has it or not, and when I’m out of focus I really don’t know what’s going on, but luckily, at this time, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wasn’t particularly strong.  It’s hard to explain, but I guess in the moment it makes sense.  Something about the way he counted out the bills and how he put them across the felt just told me he wasn’t even happy about making this bet, it was more of something of an obligation because he read somewhere that when you 3b and cbet and an A comes on the turn, you should bet again.  I also thought back to my initial read of him holding less than premiums preflop, and how he wasn’t the kind of player who was capable of value betting TT-KK in this spot when the A peels, so when you put it all together he’s really capped at Ax mostly.  I decided if indeed he had a naked A, I would need to rep better and put him to a decision for his stack with an implicating turn raise (with an impending river bet clouding his mind obv), and check-raised to $2340.  He deliberated for a little bit, shot me a look, and threw his cards in the muck.  Not the most interesting or most complex hand, but definitely a confidence boost at the time that my reads were on.  


I had just sat down about an hour ago, and picked up some small pots here and there when this hand came up.  Action folded to me in the cutoff, and I raised it to $120 with 

My cards: Qd-Jd

A middle aged Vietnamese grinder, who played fairly solid and erred on the side of nitty/cautious, 3b to $400 on the button.  Action folded back to me and I made the call, both of us around $10k effective.

Flop: ($870)

(by the way I just noticed the first two hands I am defending a 3b out of position vs a button raise)

J-5-4 rainbow, one spade, one diamond

I checked and called his bet of $600, though I did take note that with his image and fairly tight preflop range there was a decent chance my hand was no good.  

Turn: 6s ($2070)

I checked, and he continued with a bet of $1400.  At this point I actually didn’t think my hand was good, nor did I necessarily want to turn it into a bluff since it would be quite expensive and would require some pretty big ammunition.  Besides, nits tend to get extremely stubborn with their overpairs in my experience, directly correlating to how much money they’ve already invested into the pot.  Something inside me clicked while I was studying the board and realized a new alternative to winning the hand: call and lead the multitude of shitty river cards for him.  This way it’s more credible I completed my hand, and he’ll have less money invested and therefore less incentive to call again.  I’m definitely no math wizard, but I do know there are a lot of cards on the river that he’s going to puke on.  

River: ($4870) 8s

Beautiful runout.  Now the board has run out J-5-4-6-8 with 3 spades.  To dissuade any sort of curious calling I hit him with a large barrel of ass to the tune of $4k, realizing this is how I would play all my hands that got to the river in this manner that are greater than one pair (his perceived range), and realizing that he knew that I knew he was never betting this river.  He groaned and agonized for a good two minutes, but finally rechecked his cards a few more times before pitching them in.  


This particular hand was probably my favorite of the trip, perhaps one of my best personal best hands I’ve ever played.  It occurred during a somewhat assy session where it had been several hours in and nothing much was going on for me, and the game wasn’t very good.  It was short as some people were up from the table, and folded to the button, a young white guy grinder who opens to $120.  I look down in the SB and find:

My cards: Ks-Js

I don’t always 3b here, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.  Sike.  I 3b to $420, and as soon as I did, I noticed the bb, a similarly young white guy grinder looking type, not fold immediately and was shuffling his chips.  All three of us were $10k effective, and I began to detect some re-thievery was on his agenda.  He cold 4bs to $960, and the button folded.  I considered 5b as a bluff, but again, decided to keep my flatting range wide and the pot smaller before the flop and not get into as many of the pre-flop monkey wars that are so prevalent nowadays.  It would be painful to have him send it in on me with an Ax blocker or whatever assy shit he had, thereby nullifying any postflop edge I may have on him.  Heads up we saw:

Flop: ($2040)

3-4-6 with two diamonds, one club

This being a 4b pot with a BTN/SB/BB dynamic makes for a far more perplexing set of ranges.  I studied the flop a bit before I came up with the following plan: if I went with my original read preflop that there was a decent chance he was just cold 4bing with a Ax or Kx blocker and therefore wasn’t that strong, I would hit him with some ass and induce some mistakes.  If he had a pair, he’s far more likely to call, and if he has a pair, it’s probably going to be 99+, which means on a 5, diamond, 7, 2, overcards, or any combination of other whacky runouts I can run a multi-barrel bluff to force him to fold one pair.  

I led small, $700, and really tried to focus now on his reaction.  My initial sense was that he hated that I led into him, and now he was trying to figure out what to do about it since it clearly had taken him out of his comfort zone.  He deliberated for a while and finally raised to $2400.  I thought and clicked it back on him to $4100, to which he immediately folded in disgust.  Uncharacteristically (I pretty much never show bluffs since I think it’s poor sportsmanship usually) I turned up my hand without saying a word and dragged the pot.  His face turned beet red, and some people across the table looked shocked and started chuckling.  I guess at this point I started to feel bad since I didn’t want the attention and definitely didn’t want to embarrass him necessarily, but in the moment I felt like since I had been such a non-factor all day I had to let him know he wasn’t playing with a scrub, and his assiness would not be tolerated.

So this entry turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, and it’s getting late so I’m going to have to retreat to bed.  Stay tuned for more updates soon (and possibly more hand histories?)

Obligatory End of Year Blog

Only a couple of hours left in 2013, and I haven’t touched this blog in a while…seems like an opportune time to update real quick and reflect.  2013 was an especially whacky and eventful year for me.  I think I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of human emotion in these past life-altering and at times mind-boggling months, and definitely more volatility than any other year I can recall in my life thus far.  Not that volatility is always a bad thing.  Sometimes things swing upward in your favor.  Case in point; my beautiful girlfriend is laying next to me fast asleep while we’re vacationing in Santo Domingo, DR.  We’ve been here almost a week and it’s been blissful serenity with 85 degree weather.  Neither of us speak much Spanish (I thought I was kind of proficient because I always did well in Spanish in high school and got A’s and B’s in AP Spanish 5, but it’s a lot different speaking a language to natives than it is sitting there reading from a textbook) and our phones don’t work here.  We don’t watch TV since all the channels are also in Spanish.  It’s actually a really refreshing change of pace from being totally immersed in technology (eh, our laptops and tablet still works so it’s not like we’re completely shut off; hence how the hell else am I blogging right now) to being basically the only English speakers in the resort to not only being together all hours of the day, but talking and learning to appreciate each other, as well as life.  We’ve had a blast this whole trip, and honestly without doing all that much besides relaxing in the sun and making the most of this paradise-like weather.

To sort of sum it up, in 2013 a lot of shit happened in my life, drastic changes were made, I don’t think I ran very well in poker for much of the year but managed to end up a pretty good winner overall so I’m very satisfied with the result, we traveled to a bunch of places, I learned to appreciate my friends more, learned to appreciate my family even more, and hopefully I have matured some as a person and learned some things about people and we all inter-connect on a societal level.  Since this past year wasn’t almost a smooth ride, I  sincerely wish and pray for a less turbulent 2014.  Here’s my short list of things that I expect from the new year:

-continue developing my game and maintaining a high level of focus.  And keep the money flowing.

-show T-dawg everyday how awesome she is.  never take her or us for granted.

-cut the carbs and increase the exercise regimen; find healthier ways to eat and keep those cravings for crap food at bay

-make sure my family is always taken care of and let them know how much they mean to me

-enjoy time with my friends.  you all know who you are and you guys are seriously such a blessing to be around.  

That’s it! Happy New Year!  See you soon 2014!


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