Disharmony and Displeasure

I’m sure many of you saw the feel-good story about George W. Bush and Ellen Degeneres attending the Cowboys-Packers game this weekend.

If not, here’s a link to it.

Seems like the kind of story you couldn’t possibly dislike — two people reaching across the aisle and embracing a friendship that transcends political beliefs. It’s exactly what our country needs right now, to realize that we all want what’s best for the country even if we disagree on what that means.

And yet, it’s 2019 and we can’t have nice things.

About 10 seconds after I read the first story, I started reading the backlash to it from people on Facebook and Twitter. Many on the left think Bush is literally pure evil and undeserving of any positive attention whatsoever. They’re still mad about him trying to thwart same-sex marriage and appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing a case on whether it’s OK to fire people simply for being homosexual or trans. (For the record, I definitely do not think you should be able to fire people for no other reason than that).

Many also pointed out that since both Bush and Degeneres are wealthy and white, they are nothing more than an example of privilege and shouldn’t get to teach any of us anything because they don’t know what it’s really like out there.

I’ll go on the record and say that overall, I didn’t approve of the Bush presidency. I blame him for getting the Republican party away from being fiscally responsible. Now the reds spend as much as the blues and neither side is interested in doing anything about our country’s massive debt.

I still think he was genuinely trying to serve our country and take it in the direction he thought best, just like his successor Barack Obama. Can’t say I was a big fan of his either but I also believe he thought he was doing what was best for our country.

Could we as a country just start with that premise? It would make a world of difference. Sometimes I disagree with Missy’s parenting decisions (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual), but I know she wants what’s best for our kids and our family. If I focused only on those differences and said that Missy was an evil person who wants our household to fail, we probably wouldn’t be married for long.

Do you really think George W. Bush is sitting there at the Cowboys-Packers game thinking about how to suppress LGBTQ rights? Could we possibly just have one positive political story without assuming that half the country is evil and wanting to ruin everything?

You survived Bush. You survived Obama. You have survived Trump, so far anyway. If you don’t like Trump, please vote against him next year. Get other people to vote against him. One of the beautiful things about our electoral system is that you’re never stuck with anybody for very long.

That brings us to Ukraine and this whole impeachment mess. Really, it’s more of a joke than a mess. Let’s just be honest, democrats can’t believe they lost to this clown and they don’t want to wait the 4 or 8 years to get rid of him. They’ve been talking about it literally since before he even took office.

Is he doing improper stuff? Of course he is. We knew he would and he has. Is it impeachable? Not unless you want impeachment talks about every president from now until the end of time.

If Trump just flat out said you won’t get your aid unless you find something on the Bidens, then I’d possibly think it’s worthy of removal from office. I have no problem with further investigation on the subject. But so far, the quid pro quo has only been heavily implied. When directly asked, it was made clear that there was no quid pro quo. Also, the funds were released before any of this became news.

Kicking someone out of the highest office in this country for implying something seems pretty damn stupid to me. I missed the official list of what qualifies as “high crimes and misdemeanors” but I doubt implications are on it.

I’d be willing to bet that every president in our country’s history has implied a quid pro quo in a similar situation. You know what they call that? Politics. It’s been three years since you lost the election. Better to move on to the next one.

Judge Judy, your verdict please.

Now that you’ve all quit reading, let me move on from complaining about all of you to complaining about two specific businesses. We can all get behind that, right?

A couple of weeks ago I took our van into Eskridge Honda to take advantage of the “oil changes for life” thing that we got when we bought it. Quite a ripoff that program is. It’s supposed to be free but you have to pay $30 for an oil additive every time you get one or else your engine warranty is voided.

So I get the oil change and they tell me I am also in need of a new battery and some transmission fluid. Those things haven’t been changed in a long time so I make an appointment for that too.

The morning after the battery and transmission fluid were changed, there’s a massive puddle of oil in our driveway. I take the van in and they say it was either a faulty gasket or someone screwed up. They fix it for free but it cost me 30 minutes of my life waiting for it.

Just a few days after that, our van won’t start. Battery = no bueno. I take it back in and ask if the same guy who changed our oil put in the battery. Didn’t get a response on that but evidently there was nothing wrong with the battery itself. The connection from the battery to the van was loose. So far, we haven’t had any more issues with it.

The crazy thing is that Missy’s parents came down to visit last weekend and their car battery died when they tried to leave. Had to get it replaced (not at Eskridge). And the other day, I took our other car to Riverwind to play poker and when I tried to leave it was dead. Riverwind jumped it for me and when I went to O’Reilly’s to get a new one, they said my old one still tested out OK. I don’t think I left a light on or anything but I don’t know what happened. It’s worked fine the last few days.

What hasn’t worked fine is the basketball shoes I bought a couple months back. I’d had my previous pair for about five years and they were great, just finally wore down. My feet are shaped weirdly so for whatever reason I’ve always had to wear Nike’s. They’re the only brand that isn’t super uncomfortable.

So I went to the Nike store in west OKC to get new ones. My options are always limited because I wear a size 14 and they don’t carry 14s for every model, but I thought I lucked out by finding some KD’s (Kevin Durant’s shoe) on sale in a 14. They fit great and felt fine, but after playing only 7 or 8 times the sole on the right shoe literally came out. And I can promise it wasn’t because I was so quick and explosive that the shoe couldn’t handle it.

So there you have it. KD has no soul — I mean sole.

Poker Cheating Scandal

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

“Bad press is better than no press.”

The game of poker is putting those sayings to the test this week with the Mike Postle scandal.

If you aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, here’s the gist of it: a guy in California named Mike Postle has been (very credibly) accused of cheating in poker games that are being broadcast on the internet.

If you’ve ever watched poker on TV, you know there is special technology which tracks every card in the deck so they can show the players’ hole cards. At Oklahoma City’s finest casinos, they just use a regular deck of cards. But for these live streams, which bring free publicity to the card rooms that air the games, they use the technology (called RFID) to track the cards. And when there is technology to track every card, we know there is technology (not to mention plenty of financial motivation) to pass along that information to a player in the game.

This particular case is fascinating, both because of the scant evidence available on the surface and the overwhelming amount of evidence available once you get into the weeds. You can spend hours poring over this stuff, feeling like you’re solving the JFK murder. I don’t need to do that here. Other people have already done it and they are better at it.

This Ringer story does an excellent job summarizing the whole affair. I highly recommend reading it even if you care nothing about poker. If you’re more of a visual person and want to see some video evidence, I’ll link to one of the many, many YouTube clips on the subject. Joe Ingram, Doug Polk and others have been on top of this case from the get-go, and they’re seeing their online viewership skyrocket like Mike Postle’s winrate.

I’ve been getting texts about this pretty regularly over the past 48 hours, some from people who don’t really follow poker much but ran into something on Twitter or saw Scott Van Pelt’s segment on SportsCenter last night.

It’s good for poker in the sense that it gets people talking about and interested in poker. It’s bad for poker in the sense that it reinforces old stereotypes about the seediness of the game and those who play in it.

Poker has come a long, long way in the 150 years or so since it became a thing. It used to be played in bars or on riverboats where it was less a game of skill than a game of who could cheat who more effectively. Or shoot a gun the fastest. The only rule involving cheating was to not get caught.

But 50 years ago the World Series of Poker was created, and gradually over that time poker has become a more and more legitimate and socially accepted game. I’m confident that my mom is at least a little bit less worried about me getting shot, robbed or cheated than she was 15 years ago.

At it’s best, poker is a really interesting game of skill involving players seated around each other at a table. The table setting allows for joking around, watching sports together and occasionally having an interesting discussion. There’s a sense of community.

Any time you inject money into the equation, there’s motivation and opportunity for cheating.

I remember a few cheating “scandals” from my Lawton days. There was a particular home game. I never played in it, but I kept hearing stories about how one guy would win these crazy pots — a straight flush against four of a kind, or four of a kind against a top full house. After a couple of these highly improbable hands (I’ve played for 15 years and never been involved in one like that), people got suspicious and found out that the guy was rigging the deck. Not regularly, just for these specific pots.

In a sense, that’s the low-tech version of the Postle scam. People in Lawton got suspicious because of the unlikely nature of those crazy pots, and people in California got suspicious because Postle was literally winning more than was humanly possible. His results were so far beyond the norm as to be impossible without knowing what cards other players held, and from that premise the investigation sprung.

On their own, the videos really don’t prove anything. You have to combine them with the fact that he essentially never lost or never made an incorrect decision to know something was up. Had he been less greedy, he could have gotten away with this for much longer and made much more money in the long term. All he had to do was throw away the absurd hands (many of which you can find in the videos) and stuck to making the right decisions on the halfway decent hands or the ones that would make a shred of sense if you were watching the live stream consistently. Just like the guy in Lawton could have kept getting away with it if he had settled for slightly less improbable hands that might have netted slightly smaller pots but would never have been detected.

Another “scandal” in Lawton involved a guy who supposedly put fingernail marks in the aces so he could tell if you had one. At other times, there were rumors of two players signaling each other what their cards were. Sure, those things have value. But to capitalize fully on that value, you’d probably have to be smart enough or good enough at poker to be able to beat the games straight up. And if you can do that, you don’t need to cheat and risk being banned from the casino. The people involved in those rumors were terrible players who lost most of the time, so as far as I was concerned they could do whatever they wanted and I wouldn’t mind playing against them.

There isn’t one single instance in which I thought I was getting cheated in a poker game. At the same time, I’m 100 percent sure I have been cheated at some point. I’ve played too much for it to never have happened.

The point is, it’s not something I worry about in the least. Maybe if I played in those live stream games it would be something to consider. But like I said, poker is a community. And around here, I know about 98% of the people I play with. We have fun and joke around with each other.

So have fun with the Postle investigation; it’s entertaining as hell. But don’t let it taint your perception of poker or the fine, upstanding people — specifically those named Matt Franklin — that play it.

Spies and Thieves

Last Saturday, Missy and I had a date night.

Per usual, we waited until the last minute to decide what we were going to do. Finally, Missy said she didn’t want anything to do with the planning, she just wanted me to figure it out for us.

So I made a plan. I was kind of in the doghouse, so I tried to plan the evening to be exactly how Missy would want it. One of her favorite restaurants is Benvenuti’s in Norman. It’s a great Italian place on Main Street. I figured we’d eat there and then go to a late movie, another of Missy’s favorite activities.

So I called Benvenuti’s to get a reservation.

The lady put me on hold for a minute, then came back and said they only had two time slots available — 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. I looked at the clock. It was 4:58 p.m. So, um, I guess we’ll take the 8. I was hoping for a little earlier than that but our movie didn’t start until 10 p.m. so I figured we still had plenty of time. (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing.” We would not, in fact, have plenty of time).

Since we had a little time to kill before our dinner, we decided to go to The Winston, a trendy little bar directly across the street from Benvenuti’s. It was a perfect night outside, so we sat out front.

A short while later I received this picture.

Evidently, my friend Brant had also elected to have a date night at Benvenuti’s. But instead of walking across the street and saying hi like a normal human being he took a picture of us and put it in a group text. Somehow it looks like I’m staring right at him even though I have no idea he is there and can’t see anything. Funny thing is, he ended up having a 5 p.m. reservation, so we would have seen them if we had chosen that time slot and then made it from Oklahoma City to Norman in two minutes.

Side note: Congrats to Brant and Abby on the beautiful baby girl they had just a few days ago!

Since we were directly across the street, it was quite easy for us to be at Benvenuti’s on time for our 8 p.m. reservation. I think we got there five minutes early. We checked in and stood right next to the podium while we waited for our table, which they said would be ready soon.

A few minutes later, possibly right at 8 p.m., another couple walks in and says they have an 8 p.m. reservation. Then they ask to speak to the manager.

Immediately, Missy turns to me and says, “I don’t know what’s happening but I feel like we are about to get screwed.” (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing”. We did, in fact, get screwed.)

We were paying close attention when when the manager comes up to them. They point toward the bar area and say they’d like a table in there, because they are Oklahoma State University fans and OSU is playing Texas and they want to watch the game while they eat. We definitely did not hear every word of the conversation but that was the gist of it.

Fifteen minutes go by. Nobody has gotten a table. Now I’m getting a little bit worried about our movie plans. Then one of the hostesses (not the manager) goes up to them, and they are whisked off to a table right in front of us, in the bar area close to the TV.

Immediately I look over at the podium, where two hostesses are talking about the situation. Before I can open my mouth, one of the hostesses — the one who checked us in — says, “You’re Mr. Franklin, right?” I say yes. The other hostess says, “I asked them if they were Mr. and Mrs. Franklin and they said yes so I took them to their table.”

Then the first hostess says, “You should have gotten the first table. You both had 8 p.m. reservations but you checked in first. Let me talk to the manager.”

The manager comes over and says, “I’m sorry about that. Let me get you a glass of wine on the house.”

I tell her that normally we wouldn’t care but we are trying to make this movie. She says there should be another table available soon, and in the meantime we can drink for free.

I opt for a beer instead of the wine, and unfortunately another table does not come open soon. Nobody is leaving this restaurant. By the time I finish the beer, I have sat in the lobby long enough to be considered a camper, but I’m definitely not a happy one. The manager brings me another beer and says they will rush our food so we can make the movie. That’s a nice gesture but this isn’t the kind of restaurant you want to be rushing in and out of. It’s a great place with a great atmosphere and great food. They are certainly factoring the experience into their pricing, so I’m not pleased with having to choose between rushing our time there or missing the movie.

While we wait, Missy and I are debating how complicit this couple is in the whole affair. It was pretty annoying having to stand eight feet away from them while they got their food and watched the game. Did the hostess ask them if they were the Franklins, and they knowingly lied because they could see where the table was and it was where they wanted it? Did the manager instruct the hostess to give them the next available table when they talked to her?

We saw the whole thing go down. It was somewhat noisy in there, and Missy thought they never heard the hostess ask if they were the Franklins. She thinks there’s a good chance they never were asked if they were the Franklins, that the staff made that whole part up after they could tell I was unhappy. She thinks the manager figured it would be no big deal and gave them that table ahead of us since it was in their desired location.

Normally I would agree with that, and it’s certainly possible. But after the couple was seated and I went over to the podium, the two hostesses were already in the middle of a discussion about the whole thing. And the manager was not directly involved in any of the seating process, nor was she even up front during the time in question. To me, the hostesses seemed to be genuinely sorry that they seated the wrong couple, and I don’t think they are good enough actors to pull off that scene deliberately.

So, then, the real question is whether the other couple knew they were stealing our table. We didn’t get our table until a few minutes before 9 p.m. So the restaurant screwed that up pretty bad either way. Had we gotten the first table, the other couple would have had to wait an hour past their 8 p.m. reservation.

Apparently Benvenuti’s is about as good at holding reservations as this fictional car rental company from “Seinfeld.”

Ironically, the table that came open almost an hour late was directly next to this other couple. I was determined to use my poker skills to determine whether they knew they stole our table.

I stared them down. The dude pretended he didn’t see me, that he was too locked into the football game on the screen. That’s some BS. Men know when another man is staring them down. He’s just a coward.

The chick wore it all over her face. She was staring at me before I could stare at her, and she was trying to figure out if we knew that she knew that they had stolen our table. She might as well have admitted it out loud.

It seems fair to point out two mitigating factors, although these don’t in any way change the fact that these Gatsbys 100% knowingly stole our table. One, I was one old fashioned and two beers deep by this point. Second, it’s entirely feasible that this couple could have knowingly stolen someone’s table without knowing it was ours, since we had checked in before them and we didn’t cause a scene at the front when they got our table. We had no interaction with them whatsoever. So maybe the chick was just getting freaked out by a stranger giving her husband the stink eye, but probably she was having a hard time enjoying herself because she knew she was eating fruit from the poisonous tree, having sold her soul for a seat at the table where she could watch OSU lose to Texas.

We decided to just order pizzas, which could be made pretty quickly. They did indeed come quickly and were great. This kept the tab much lower than usual and also allowed us to make the movie on time (technically we were a few minutes late but we got there during the previews). I have to say, the pizza was delicious. Everything I’ve ever eaten there has been good.

The movie sucked. The plot to the dinner mystery was more entertaining.

Got some yummy leftovers from my prosciutto pizza at Benvenuto’s. Bet they tasted better than that loss to Texas, you thieving jerks.

Poker Innocence

“How’d you end up the other day?”

This was Thursday. Someone was asking me whether or not I had won in Tuesday’s poker game.

I thought for quite a while and came up with a complete blank. No idea. Less than 48 hours later and it was completely vanished from my mind.

Likewise, I was recently similarly flummoxed by someone who asked what cards I held on a particular hand. He described the cards on the board, the previous action, how much I bet…and I could not give him an answer because I didn’t remember any of that.

Sometimes, when I’m entering my results on my computer, I’ll look up and see a big number and it will come as a surprise. “Oh yeah, that day was brutal. I couldn’t win a single pot.” Or “Oh yeah, the deck just smashed my head in that day. I couldn’t lose a pot no matter what I had.”

I realize that some of this has to do with getting old, but I’m hoping that’s not most of it. The thing is, I have clear and precise memories of specific hands I played 15 years ago. And I even remember the exact amounts of a couple of my earliest big wins.

After I couldn’t answer my friend’s question about how my session went two days prior, I figured this was as good a time as any to document my poker origin story and recall some of those fond memories. Gotta do it now before I completely lose my mind.

As I wrote in this earlier post, I grew up playing all kinds of card games. I inherited a great card sense and general game strategy from my dad. It really didn’t matter what game we were playing, I regularly beat my family and friends at all of them. And I was in no way generally smarter than any of these people. I’ve just always enjoyed games and strategies and been pretty successful at them.

My first exposure to poker came with the movie “Rounders.” It came out the year I graduated high school and I still remember watching it then for the first time with my high school girlfriend. I was more enamored with the acting and the movie itself than I was with the game of poker, however. Back then there were no casinos with poker rooms in the state of Oklahoma, and I didn’t know anyone who played. Also, I was broke. That tends to hamper one’s poker career (although I know several people today who don’t let it stop them!)

Matt Damon and John Malkovich in “Rounders”

In college, I remember having a poker night once or maybe twice with my roommate Keith and a few of our friends. But we were so broke that we played with small change. It was literally a penny-ante poker game. You knew it was a big pot if there were quarters in it; most of the pots were just pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think any of us won or lost more than $5. We were much more into dominoes and PlayStation football back then, and we didn’t give poker any serious thought.

In 2003, ESPN aired Chris Moneymaker’s fairy tale run from Nashville accountant to World Series of Poker main event champion. I wasn’t watching from the start, but as people began talking about it I joined in. Missy and I were dating at the time and she liked watching it with me.

So yeah, I got into poker thanks to “Rounders” and Chris Moneymaker. Real unique poker story.

By 2003, I had graduated from OU with my journalism degree and was working in Lawton at the newspaper. In other words, I was STILL COMPLETELY BROKE. But, since I had no wife, no kids, and no expensive bad habits, I was able to scrape together enough to play some micro-stakes poker with my friends.

Mike Carroll organized the first actual poker games I ever played in. We’d usually do a $10 tournament and there would be cash games afterwards. You know, the silly dealer’s choice games like between the sheets and 727. I would just lose my $10 in the tournament and then either serve as the dealer or just leave, because I couldn’t even afford to play in cash games where I’d have to risk another $20 on top of my $10.

I was starting to develop quite an affinity for the game. I read several poker books and watched the dumb poker strategy shows that used to come on cable at 1 a.m. Even when I wasn’t any good, I was confident that it was something I would get good at fairly quickly because of my natural card sense. I had started playing competitive bridge when I moved to Lawton in 2002, and I was already pretty good at that despite it being a more difficult game than poker. So I stuck with poker even while going through the normal growing pains. I never thought it would be a career for me but I knew I could make some extra money doing it.

Before long I was posting some wins in our small stakes tournaments. I remember being elated one night when I won the tournament for $50 and then used that money to jump into the cash game where I won another $100. That night alone erased all of my previous $10 losses and put me into the black. I saved my profits and built my first tiny poker bankroll.

It didn’t take long for me to start preferring the cash games to the tournaments, although I never did care for those crazy dealer’s choice games because my fragile bankroll couldn’t withstand losing $80 on one bad card in between the sheets. So I still played way more tournaments than cash games, and began getting some regular wins.

Around this time is when Oklahoma changed its gambling laws and poker rooms started popping up around the state. At first there was no poker room in Lawton, but there was one in Randlett at the Texas border on I-44. It was about a 40-minute drive from Lawton.

I remember being extremely nervous the first time Mike and I went down there to play. I bought in for $100 in a $1-$2 no-limit hold em game and essentially blinded out. I didn’t get any good hands and didn’t have any more money to add on. I lost the $100 and went home sad, completely unaware of the fact that you shouldn’t even play in that game if you only have $100.

Another Red River Casino trip with Mike provided one of my favorite poker memories. We went down for a small stakes tournament. I don’t remember the exact buy-in but it was around $60 to $80. This was in the middle of the poker boom so there was lots of participation in tournaments like this. Long before the money bubble, I was down to just a few chips and had to go all in with a bad hand. I was dominated but got lucky and won the pot. A hand or two later I did the same thing, getting lucky again. Then I started getting hands that were actually good and before I knew it I had way more chips than anyone else. Mike was also doing well and eventually there were just three people left — the two of us and a random guy. I probably had 90% of the chips and they had the rest. They agreed to give me the first place money and split second and third evenly between them. My payout was $1560, which seemed like all the money in the world to me at the time. I don’t remember how much Mike got but I do remember having a celebratory beer at the casino bar and being on Cloud 9.

Soon they opened the casino in Lawton, and I went a couple nights per week after work. I didn’t get off until midnight so I’d only get to play from then until 3 a.m. when the poker room closed. Man, those games were crazy. You’d see some wild stuff every single day.

I shudder to think about how much money I could have won if I had actually been good at poker at this time. I wasn’t bad by any means but I just played extremely conservatively. It wasn’t a bad strategy considering how little money I had but I definitely left a lot on the table by sticking to my strict guidelines for which hands to play and how to play them.

In contrast to that, my poker bankroll management was extremely reckless, although I was completely oblivious to that fact. All I knew is that I was winning pretty regularly, so why wouldn’t I just keep playing higher and higher stakes? The only smart thing I did was keep my poker money completely separate from my real-life money.

After I had won a couple thousand dollars in the $1-$2 game, my friend John McGavic said I should play in Buddy Williams’ private $2-$5 game. I asked him how much money I needed for that and he said $200. Well, I had $200! What I didn’t know until I arrived was that $200 was the minimum buy-in. So I brought exactly $200 to that game, and that was probably about 10% of my entire poker bankroll.

Less than an hour into that session I was all in for my whole $200. That single $400 pot changed my life. I had already realized how short my money was in that game since several of the other players started off with $500 or $1000 and presumably had more in their pocket if they needed it. I had nothing else. Had I lost it I would have left and never come back again, at least for a long time. But I won that pot and won $900 that night, which was easily my biggest cash game win ever.

More important than the money was the fact that I met Buddy that night. He ended up being my poker mentor and teaching me so much. I tried to give him a proper tribute in this blog.

I became a regular in Buddy’s game and soon was so passionate about poker that I was playing all the time. Spike Seals became my poker partner in crime, and we would close down the room in Lawton and then occasionally even drive up to Riverwind where we could play until the sun came up. Breakfast at IHOP in Norman at 9 a.m. and then back home in time for a little sleep until I had to work again at 4 p.m. that afternoon. Wish I had that kind of energy these days.

A short night back then was simply quitting at 3 a.m. when the Lawton room closed. Of course we’d almost always end up at either Whataburger or, on a super successful night, The Junction for some amazing late-night Korean BBQ. We would always discuss strategy and helped make each other better at poker. Or sometimes just make fun of the crazy people.

Considering how often I was playing and how reckless I was with my bankroll, it didn’t take long to get to the point where 30 seconds in a poker game could have a much more serious impact on my net worth than 40 hours at my job. One year, I had to drive to Tulsa to cover a playoff football game. Buddy had been telling me about the $5-10 game at Newcastle Casino that ran every Friday. He thought I should play in it. In fact, I still shouldn’t have even been playing $2-5 with my bankroll at that time. But because I didn’t know that, I decided to stop at Newcastle and play for a few hours on my way to Tulsa. I bought in for $500 (the minimum in that game), lost it, rebought for another $500 and lost that too.

I was completely distraught on my drive to Tulsa. I had just lost probably half or a third of my entire poker bankroll in two hands. Furthermore, my job still paid only about $28k per year, which meant my bi-monthly paycheck after taxes and deductions was about $650. I had lost almost two full paychecks in a couple of hours.

I had started playing those $10 tournaments with Mike in late 2004. By the end of 2005 I had about $4k in my poker bankroll. I wanted to marry Missy but with my low-paying job I couldn’t afford a ring with my paycheck, which was going towards food and rent. So I blew the entire poker bankroll on her ring, which I gave her when I proposed on Christmas in 2005. I didn’t know what would happen with poker, but I knew that Missy was more important. I figured I could run it back up in the $10 tournaments, but if it didn’t work out I was prepared to give up poker. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get to play once I was married anyway.

That same year, my grandpa gave me a $500 check for my Christmas present. He usually gave us $100 but that year he gave us more. He had terminal cancer and would only live about six more months. He would never know how much he truly gave me with that check. I cashed that $500 and used it to start over with a poker bankroll. I remember being nervous those first couple of sessions playing $1-2 at the casino, knowing that if I was unlucky on that $500 and lost it that it would take me a long time to be able to play anything other than the $10 tournaments.

Fortunately I was able to run it up and soon was back playing $2-5 (far sooner than I should have been I’m sure). Missy and I were married in the fall of 2006, and she was very supportive of my frequent after-work trips to the casino. I’m sure there are a couple of women out there who wouldn’t care for their new husbands going to the casino and not getting home until 3 a.m.

We bought a house across the street from Spike, on the West side of town. This was the opposite side of town from the casino, about a 20 minute drive. The move ended up beginning a new and short-lived phase of my poker career, online poker.

Pretty much everyone in the United States was already playing online poker by 2007, so we were late to the game. You couldn’t beat the games at the Lawton casino, but you also couldn’t beat the convenience of online poker. Spike and I put $200 ($100 each) onto Doyle’s Room and created the rising star known as jmcenroe (a nod to Spike’s favorite tennis player. And yes, we often said “You cannot be serious!” after getting an unlucky card on the river.)

A couple of nights per week, instead of going across town to the casino, we’d just play online at Spike’s place. Jmcenroe ran his $200 into about $4k playing mostly cash games, but then he got into a bad run of cards and maybe just a little bit of tilt and lost half of it. We decided to just cash out the $2k for a tidy profit of about $1k each. Naturally, in keeping with online poker site tradition, it took several months for our check to arrive in the mail.

I decided to put $200 of my own onto Poker Stars, and the cycle repeated itself. I ran it up to over $5k in a pretty short amount of time, then lost more than half of it in one night.

In hindsight, that night was pretty funny. At the time it was shocking. I started out playing $0.50/$1 but lost a couple of buyins there. Soon I went to $1-2, then $2-4, then $3-6, then $5-10. Every time I lost I just jumped into a higher stakes game figuring I’d get even there. Obviously I was playing terrible by the end. I didn’t even realize how much I had lost until it was over. At that time I would have been upset over a $500 loss at the casino and I had just lost six times that amount in a couple of hours.

I immediately cashed out my remaining $2k and woke Missy up crying with my confession and guilt. I think she was more upset that I had woken her up than she was with the monetary loss. Anyway, that was the end of my online poker hobby.

I stuck to casino play after that, jumping into the weekly $5-10 game that had just begun at the Apache Casino. It felt like I couldn’t lose in those games, and being unknowingly reckless with my poker bankroll was paying off big time.

From 2007 to 2009, I made more money playing poker than I did at the newspaper (a low bar, I know). Finally I made the jump and did poker full time while doing sports writing on a part time basis.

I was extremely fortunate with both my luck (playing games I wasn’t bankrolled to play) and my timing (coming up in an era where there were crazy games 7 days a week and tons of money to be made without being great at poker).

I never thought I’d do this poker thing for more than 10 years, and I don’t know how long I’ll stay in it. I still enjoy it, but part of me wishes I was still as passionate about it as I was when it was just a hobby.

Circle of Life

It was bedtime, and I was trying to get Hawk into his jammies.

“Hawkie, would you hand me that night time diaper right next to you?” It was literally an inch from his right hand.

“Daddy, it’s my birthday so I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.”

I told him that if he wanted to have another birthday, he’d hand me the diaper.

And so ended an emotional 24 hours for yours truly.

Friday the 13th was both my son’s fourth birthday and also the day of the memorial service for my Aunt Shirley.

Technically, she was my mom’s aunt, but we’ve always called her Aunt Shirley. The Christmas card they sent our family was always inscribed, “Love, A. Shirley and U. Forrest,” as if Aunt and Uncle were their actual first names.

She was my grandma’s sister. My grandma died when I was six years old. Nothing could replace her, but Shirley certainly reminded me of my Nanny in many ways. They definitely looked alike, with those distinctive Kurz features that were also passed down to my mother. They cooked many of the same recipes, things that are still Thanksgiving staples in our house. The meatloaf was my favorite entree and the pea salad my favorite Thanksgiving side.

They both had a fondness for Wheel of Fortune. Back when I was little, Channel 9 in Oklahoma City used to have a phone number you could call when you knew the answer to every puzzle. When that show aired every evening (5:30 p.m.? Can’t remember for sure) Nanny was in her chair in front of that TV religiously, and she was picking up the phone and calling as soon as she knew the answer to every puzzle. I don’t think she ever got through and won the prize, it was probably rigged anyway. I don’t know whether Shirley used to call the hotline or not but I know she was a big fan of the show.

My favorite shared attribute of theirs is their sense of humor. They both had a very dry sense of humor which was passed down to my mother and to me.

Just a few months ago, my mom had hip replacement surgery at McBride up in north Oklahoma City, close to Shirley’s house. I stopped by and visited. She seemed to be doing great. I know she has had some physical problems but mentally she was very sharp, especially for someone just half a year away from turning 90. But only a month or two after that, she found out she had an advanced cancer and decided against treatment.

I have to stop here and praise my mom. She visited Shirley every single day, sometimes making two trips per day. She was up there for several hours at a time and it wasn’t good her hip to be sitting in uncomfortable chairs for that long. But she never complained about it. Between mom and Shirley’s daughter, they provided constant companionship during those hard final weeks.

Her service was on Friday, and there were several moving moments. Two of my cousins (technically second cousins) shared their thoughts, which made the connection between Shirley, my grandmother and my family seem even more real. Also, my brother used his immense musical talents to sing “How Great Thou Art,” which was very touching.

We held off on Hawk’s fourth birthday party until the next day, and it was a lot of fun. He wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese, so we let the kids play all the games they wanted for an hour before coming back home and eating pizza and Missy’s delicious birthday cake.

Maddux (in the mismatched blue pants and orange shirt) and Myra (purple dress) enjoyed dancing with Chuck E. more than Hawk (standing to the left of Myra), who quickly exited the stage.
Hawk was much more into this game.
Missy’s half chocolate, half vanilla cake was great as usual.

I looked back at some old pictures from when Hawk was a baby, and it seems kind of crazy that we don’t have any babies anymore. We’ve always had a baby! At least one! Hawk is smart and mature enough to be in pre-K already but Missy and I are glad to have him around the house all day for another year.

I loved watching him and the other kids play games and have so much fun at the party. At night, trapped in my own thoughts, it was depressing to think about how fast life happens and how quickly it vanishes. But there’s nothing I can do about any of that, except try to make the most of each day and enjoy the time I do have with the amazing people I get to call my family and friends.

Boycott Football?

It’s a hard time in history to try to enjoy anything.

You’re not allowed to make fun of anyone, and you’re not allowed to watch anything written, acted, produced or directed by anyone who has sinned. A recent study found that two in three Americans have been Me-too’ed.

I can’t even make the above statement without adding a disclaimer that sexually harassing people is totally not OK.

I recently watched the latest Dave Chappelle special on Netflix. I loved it, mainly because he goes out of his way to make every single viewer feel uncomfortable at least a few times. In doing so, he exposes the hypocrisy of the entire present-day culture, where you’re allowed to be as mean as you want to people you philosophically disagree with but can’t say anything to anyone else. Chappelle just scorches everyone.

While I wholeheartedly approve of everyone taking themselves a lot less seriously, I am having a bit of a personal crisis over the great game of football.

The other day there was a great story in The Oklahoman about Rickey Dixon. Dixon was a national champion and All-American at OU before playing several seasons in the NFL. But because of football, he now has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He’s only 52 years old but his quality of life has steadily been declining for the six years since he was diagnosed and it seems he doesn’t have much time left.

It’s not an isolated case. In the past 15 years or so the long-term toll of football has become more and more evident. We’ve learned a lot about CTE and the brain damage caused by football, which leads to ALS, dementia, migraines, severe personality changes, and other side effects that can best be described as no bueno.

If every single football player had these symptoms, nobody with a conscious would watch football. But of course that’s not how it is. Many ex-players are fine. And football is undoubtedly safer than it’s ever been before, although it will take several more decades before the current generation of football players is old enough to examine what kind of difference better helmets, less hitting in practice, and stricter penalties are having.

Where do we draw the line? If we can all agree that we shouldn’t watch football if 100% of players are facing ALS or early-onset dementia, where is the tipping point? 50%? 25%? 10%? 5%? 1%? Does it make a difference if the players with these bad outcomes made life-changing money because of football? Should I boycott college football but not the NFL?

Prominent author Malcolm Gladwell is among those leading the charge to boycott playing or watching football. I have a couple of friends who have decided to join him.

Personally, I find it much harder to watch football games that don’t involve OU or the Philadelphia Eagles. No matter who is playing, I hate seeing guys laying on the ground writhing in pain. Nowadays it’s enough for me to turn the channel if it’s not one of my teams.

Nevertheless, I enjoy watching my teams play now as much as I ever did. I’m sure that’s partly because both of my teams have been really good lately and entertaining to watch. OU is winning Heismans and breaking offensive records like nobody’s business. The Eagles have won a Super Bowl and the “double doink” game in the past two seasons. But there’s also a nostalgia involved. I can’t imagine a day when football is completely canceled and Missy and I are walking on the OU campus on a Saturday and looking at six-foot weeds growing on Owen Field, nary a soul in sight. Football is such an integral part of the experience of attending that school.

Football is also an integral part of the American Sunday experience. My dad didn’t even have a favorite NFL team, but every Sunday after church he parked on the couch and we watched whatever game was on TV (unfortunately this always involved the evil Dallas Cowboys). Now that I’m the dad, I love killing a Sunday afternoon by parking in my big recliner and watching the Eagles or the Red Zone channel.

I’ve never been a fan of boxing or the UFC, simply because those sports seem barbaric to me. The whole goal is to hurt a fellow human being. It’s not that far removed from a time when people crammed into the Colosseum to watch lions rip apart slaves or prisoners. At least in football, the goal is move the football into the end zone. People getting hurt is merely a byproduct of that, not the actual goal. Still, I’ve seen a handful of boxing/UFC pay-per-views with my friends, purely for the social aspect of it. Is that wrong?

My dad was ahead of the curve when it came to football parenting. He wouldn’t let me play, specifically because of the long-term health risks. Even before I had two boys, I’ve said they won’t play football. There are lots of other sports out there that won’t scramble their brains, and of course the overwhelming majority of football players will never even get a college scholarship from the game, much less a lucrative NFL career. Is it OK for me to watch a game I won’t let my sons participate in because it’s unsafe?

Yes, I understand the whole “there’s risk in everything” argument. I accept the risk of my son tearing his ACL playing basketball because that can be fixed with little-to-zero long-term effects. I accept the risk of dying in car accident or being gunned down by a madman in public because you can’t live life being scared of everything that could possibly go wrong.

Football has always been in third place on my list of favorite sports. I would say the CTE revelations have widened the gap between football and my top two sports, but I still can’t get there as far as boycotting it completely.

To me, football carries too great a risk to allow my sons to play. And yet I still feel OK about watching other people play for my entertainment.

Is that hypocritical? I really don’t know. For better or worse, that’s just where I am with it right now.



If you clicked on this link and have not moved on by this point, it’s safe to say you’ll read anything I write. I mean, “Books”??? How boring is that?

The inspiration for this post actually came from the biggest sports news of the week. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly retired from the NFL. I was reading a story about Luck, and it quoted an NFL executive who said that during the pre-draft process before Luck was chosen as the #1 overall pick, teams interviewing him asked for his favorite hobby. His answer was reading books, and the executive in the story said that was the first and last time in his three decades in the business that a player had given that as his answer.

Books certainly wouldn’t be at the very top of my list of hobbies, but it would be pretty darn close. I’d probably list pickup basketball number one, followed by bridge. The bronze medal would go to watching baseball but books would be a top-five finisher for sure.

Mom says I was constantly wanting books read to me as a child. I seem to have passed that trait onto my own kids, particularly Maddux. As far as reading them myself, the first type I latched onto was the kids’ mystery novels. Like Nancy Drew and such.

By the time I got into junior high, my sports fandom was starting to seep into my book choices. I would go to Southern Oaks library off Walker in South Oklahoma City and head straight for the nonfiction sports section. Once there, I almost exclusively read baseball autobiographies. I still remember factoids from Rickey Henderson’s, Kirby Puckett’s (hasn’t aged as well), Dave Dravecky’s, Orel Hershiser’s and of course Ryne Sandberg’s. In 2019 I now find these to be the lowest form of sports nonfiction, since the athletes themselves do none of the writing and the stories are all whitewashed to make them look infallible. But 13-year-old me didn’t know that and found these books very informative and entertaining. I also have to say that, based on Spike Seals’ recommendation, I read Andre Agassi’s autobiography a few years back and was very impressed. It’s probably the best sports autobiography I’ve ever read despite the fact that he pretends he only did meth three times. Nobody does meth three times. The only three options are never, once, or too many to count. But despite that flaw it’s a great book and one I would definitely recommend.

In college, most of my reading was forced upon me by professors. I still got my Sports Illustrated and went through that every week but that was the extent of my leisure reading. Perhaps because of being flooded with non-fiction books during the school year, I went through a phase during summers in college where I read almost exclusively fiction. This was back when John Grisham was on top of the world, and I gobbled up several of his books until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. I also read many James Patterson thrillers until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. In hindsight, that’s probably the reason I’ve mostly stayed away from fiction in the 16 years since then.

Once I moved to Lawton, I got back into the nonfiction universe, but still stuck mostly to sports. My favorite book of that era by far was Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. In Lawton, these were the types of books I gravitated toward. Still in the realm of sports but not autobiographies. I reviewed a few books for the Constitution and enjoyed doing that. I also picked up my poker habit down there and read several poker strategy books, most of which I would now laugh at. I definitely learned a lot from Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, which somebody bought me. I believe it was my lovely bride-to-be Missy.

In general, I’m opposed to owning books. I can’t explain it any better than Jerry Seinfeld, so I’ll let his bit stand for me on this topic. In the case of Super System it actually helped to have the copy around so I could review the sections each time I tried a new form of poker (like Omaha hi/low). Every form of poker not named Texas hold em was new to me at that time it so actually made sense to keep that one handy.

But other than that, I prefer to just check them out at the library and return them when I’m finished. It’s free and I don’t have a worthless object on my hands that I’ll never read again once I’m finished. I’ve tried reading a few books on Kindle or on my phone but it doesn’t take long before my eyes start hurting. I also just like the feel of a book in my hands better than an electronic device.

Now that we are back in Oklahoma City, I usually go to the very same library I grew up in, Southern Oaks. Sometimes I’ll go to the Pioneer Library, which is equidistant to that from our house but has a smaller selection. My tastes have evolved somewhat over the last several years. Sports books only make up about one-third of my catalog now. The two best ones I’ve recently read in that category are Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax and Jay Jaffe’s breakdown of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Usually, however, I gravitate toward history books. Missy makes fun of just about every book I bring home. I’ve recently read about the War of the Roses (in England several centuries ago), the Osage murders in the Tulsa area about 100 years ago, and the United States’ miscommunication with and mishandling of both Native Americans and Mexicans when we were expanding westward.

Occasionally I’ll grab something theological. I really love Francis Chan, and Rob Bell’s book on the Bible was great.

A new (to me) genre that I’ve been more and more into lately is the memoir. I try to find memoirs not of famous people but of seemingly normal folks. In a sense that’s what I’ve tried to write with this blog, a memoir written in one chapter per week, bouncing all over the place. I’m too intimidated by the thought of putting it all together into one huge thing that actually makes sense, so this is my compromise.

Currently I’m reading a book that combines three things I enjoy: memoirs, history and journalism.

The book I’m currently reading. Shout out to Ryan Chittum for being on my bookmark from the 100th anniversary celebration of the OU newspaper.

My next book will also be a memoir, and from my all-time favorite author.

Back when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated as a teenager, Rick Reilly was the king of the sportswriting universe. He got the back page of the magazine every week to write whatever he wanted, and he was brilliant. I loved him (and have read a couple of his fiction books) but I was especially impressed by the wordplay of Steve Rushin. He’s a genius when it comes to puns, plays on words, alliteration, palindromes, and all that jazz.

He’s written several books since leaving the magazine and they are all amazing. After a great fiction book and a couple of nonfiction books he dove into the memoir game with Sting Ray Afternoons. I loved it despite the fact that it covers the 1970s, of which I lived a through a mere 50 days. His follow up to that covers the 80s, which I most definitely lived through. Nights in White Castle just came out and I’m very much looking forward to it.

If you made it to the end of this post, I love you. I’d also love to hear any book recommendations you might have, either through the comments section here or on Facebook. Thanks in advance!