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The odds in Vegas and Israel June 26, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : poker,travel , add a comment
Of course I am smiling. At this point, a couple hours into play, I was one of the tournament's chip leaders. I wouldn't be so happy if I knew the woman to my right would take all my chips 28 hours later.

About 30 hours after start time, the Ladies World Series of Poker ($1000 buy-in), was down from 1190 players to 34. Under the gun, I looked down at two black kings. I raised; I was re-raised by a serious Russian girl in middle position; I re-raised all in and she called. I was happy to get all my money in preflop. She turned over one of a few hands I expected (I knew she didn’t have aces cause she asked for a count after my re-raise), a pair of queens. A queen came on the flop; my stomach turned but straightened up again when a king popped on the turn. The river was the yuckiest heart I’ve ever seen, which gave a flush to my enemy in the hand, Svetlana Gromenkova. My melodramatic father said it was the worst moment of my life. Assuming for a second there’s some merit in this declaration, does that mean it was a particularly terrible moment or that I’ve had a great life? My brother and backers said things like, "gruesome but nice run,” “that’s poker but you did great.” Weeks later, my boyfriend admitted that in his heart, he felt I should have played tighter in that spot—an excusable comment from someone who doesn’t know about the ranking of poker hands.

There was one person I wanted to clock: the tournament director came up to me after the hand and started raving about how wonderful it was that I came in 33rd out of 1190 players. Although I was not crying, he turned on the "I’m talking to a small child voice." and repeated himself cooing, "You came ahead of over 1100 women. That’s amazing!" At the time, I was more focused on losing $60,000 of value to a 4:1 shot than on my poker talent or  the luck it took me to get that far.  I wish I had punched him cause then the KK vs. QQ moment would speedily be replaced by a worst moment: being carried out of the Rio in handcuffs.

Svetlana ended up winning the event and the $224,702 prize. She was one of the best players I saw at the tournament so I can’t argue with the result. I tried making small talk with her early in the tournament about the Borgata, Brooklyn and trying to learn Russian, but she couldn’t have been less interested. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that women poker players too often shun math in poker. Svetlana and various other professionals in the tournament (Kathy Leibert and the "first lady of poker" Linda Johnson played at my table for a while) were definitely exceptions.

Shavonne Mitchell. Photo Macauley Peterson

One player that impressed a lot of people was Shavonne Mitchell, who finished in 22nd. I sat down at her table and the women started whispering to me: "She’s such a bitch", "She sucks all the air from the table.", “She wins at the biggest NL Hold Em games at AC,” "Don’t get involved with her." Well, I played with her for about 5-6 hours total and I can say definitively that she was NOT nasty. For instance, when I went all in with 10 4 off from the button with 6x the BB plus antes, I easily defeated AJ in the BB by rivering a wheel. :) Shavonne was one of a few at the table who didn’t complain about how there is "no justice in poker" and she reacted in a similar way when she suffered a bad beat of her own. So, Shavvone clearly had enviable table presence and instincts, but  IMO, there were just way too many instances in which she committed 1/3 of her stack with preflop raises and then folded to all in re-raises. Her style definitely made an impression; I wish white women would step up like she did and behave and dress like divas at size 10, size 12, whatever.  

I love downtown Vegas, and it had a special charm this time: a vintage car show.

As for my play, I’m happy to say I played my worst hand of the weekend in a 100$ buy in warm-up tournament at Binion’s in downtown Las Vegas, a day before the main ladies event began. I had about 20x the BB (there were antes) and min-raised from EP with KQs. I got one caller — a pretty tight woman who had me covered, just to my left. The flop came JT5 rainbow, and I idiotically did not push the flop. I then convinced myself to fold after my opponent’s bet. I was burning for a couple hours…it feels awful to play too tight.  After this, I decided I was rusty and needed to focus on two personal goals for the big ladies event: not to play too tight if I got to the bubble and not to commit too much of my stack preflop without deciding whether or not to call or make an all in bet.  I’m happy to say that I think in 15+ hours of play, I succeeded pretty well in these goals, although there were obviously a few hands I’m still not sure about. At some point early in the tournament, I was probably the chip leader (hard to tell for sure with so many players.) That was exciting because there was another big stack at my table, and I got heads-up with her a couple times, which gave me a glimpse into the never-never land of deep-stacked poker. I even bluffed on the river once against her with absolutely nothing, my proudest moment of the tournament.  River bluffs rarely seem profitable enough to me in my usual short-stacked scinerios, because a reasonable bluff usually represents too large % of my stack and I’d rather save it for a situation where my opponent is even less likely to have something. I think I have the talent for deep-stack poker, although I’d need experience to tell how good I could get at it. I had little time to muse on my success and failure, as three days after Vegas, I was off on my second trip to Israel.

Upon my arrival in Israel, I was placed for about an hour in a holding area with Muslim and Arab familes. Of course this is because my last name is Shahade, a Lebanese name: when you google it, besides the chess accomplishments of my family, you’ll find some entries about fundamentalist Muslims. In the holding pen I was slightly scared yet exhiliarated by the thrill of being in something similar to a jail. I struck up a conversation with a beautiful Palestinian-Californian college student, Leena. It turns out she is blogging about her experiences in Palestine, and managed to pass the interrogation by feigning lack of political thoughts- "Jessica Simpson couldn’t match up to my apparent ignorance." I had an easier time. After an hour waiting for the interrogation, I was done in two minutes after explaining that my mother is Jewish and showing off my “Learn Hebrew in 10 minutes a day” book.  

Less than an hour after the ordeal at the airport, I was eating amazing falafel and hummus in a neighborhood called Abu Ghosh, at a place named, funnily enough, The Lebanese Restaurant. Hummus has remained a staple on my trip, while eggplant, grape leaves and halva ice cream are also fighting over my stomach.

The people have been very nice despite repeated warnings from Israelis back in America that I should expect lots of shoving and gratuitous bumping, mockery of my crude attempts to speak Hebrew, and my thighs that are naturally smaller than in the winter, but between which you still can’t stick two magnetized 1 shekel coins.  True, I have encountered Israeli men with big eyes, who will hit on you when your boyfriend goes to the bathroom and an Israeli-Palestinian boy who screamed “Muslims Only” when I tried to approach the Dome of the Rock, just to photograph it. But I found all these experiences telling or funny, not traumatic.

July will be a stressful but fun month as I’ll take my tiny pink laptop on the road for events in Philly, Chelsea, NY, Camden, St. Louis and Belize. Air-conditioning is not as popular in Israel and that doesn’t bother me. Back home, I sometimes forget to enjoy the heat.

Shalom, Jennifer