Life After the River

“I didn’t count the days.”

“Well, I did. Every one of’em. Mostly I remember the last one…a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out.” – Rick Blaine, Casablanca, 1939


Let’s be real, guys – 2016 was a very rough year for a lot of us. Just like a series of bad runs at the tables, it can leave you questioning everything from your sanity to your basic purpose in life as bad beat after bad beat comes down on top of you. Pretty soon you start second-guessing yourself. Your ability to make sound judgment calls disappears. Sometimes a piece of your sanity goes along with it. That’s the moment you get to reunite with our old friend, Mr. Tilt. You make stupid decisions, get too busy beating yourself up over them that you make more, and the cycle continues. You’ve crashed and burned your way into another perfect day…another perfect night…another perfect year.

I’m coming out of this year at a loss – loss in poker, loss in people, and loss in love. I’ve had friends and family pass on in more ways and more numbers that I’d like to count. My poker bankroll from this year is in the red for the first time in a while, and love, as Amy Winehouse cautioned, has been a losing game for me this time around.

So, sitting here – broken, disappointed, and philosophically inclined – where do we go from this?

Here’s a rough plan to help you come back after that bad beat (or other form of loss).

Remove yourself from the Situation

A crippling loss or defeat can leave us too emotionally invested to think clearly. When you’re hit, sometimes it’s not possible to recover in the moment. You’ll need to take a step back and cut your losses. You’re not quitting. You haven’t lost. You just need time.


This step can take several forms. I know some poker players who will take a walk around the table or the poker room after getting hit with a bad beat. They say that it gets rid of bad luck. What it actually does is give them a short moment to remove themselves from the situation and see if they can keep on playing. If that doesn’t help, a further withdrawal is needed – maybe cashing out and not playing anymore that night. The same strategy applies to emotional loss – get yourself away from the situation. Don’t talk to your ex. If you’re an extrovert, get quality time with friends. If you’re an introvert, go somewhere alone to recharge. Regardless, keep this image in mind: you’re a fighter who just got hit and your guard is down. Remember Ronda Rousey in UFC 207? Don’t be Ronda. Get your guard up and remove yourself from this defeat. Don’t just stand there and absorb damage.

It’s Time to Heal

A lot of writers and self-help gurus may tell you that this is the time to forgive, the time to feel good about yourself. That’s not me. Sorry if you came here looking for your participation trophy because I threw it in the trash where it belongs and set it on fire. No rest for the wicked, folks.

If you’re a bad person, you’ll need to face it – but not yet. You aren’t ready to start making judgment calls and decisions. You’re beat up with bruises all over and your face is still bleeding. Give it a rest. The self-recrimination can wait a day or two.

What you can do at this point is focus on healing your wounds. You’re down. You’re hurting. Time to get out the antiseptic and bandages. You will survive. There will be another fight, another game, another love. Your preparation for that next experience begins now. Wash the blood off your face and bind those wounds up. Don’t think about your ex. Don’t think about your bankroll. Those thoughts are for tomorrow. Right now? Get out the ice cream, the weights, the whiskey (if you aren’t in AA) and get relaxed while your brain sorts this out. You aren’t doing this because you deserve it. You’re doing this because you need it.


You lost him/her. They’re gone. That bad beat, while unavoidable, could have been mitigated by smart play; and the bad calls you made while you were on tilt only exacerbated the situation. You pushed yourself too hard too fast for that competition and ended up with an injury as your consolation prize. In any case, now is the time for acceptance. Your significant other is out of the picture. Your bankroll has evaporated. Your jaw is broken and you won’t be fighting anytime soon. Getting lost in the wat-ifs is for the weak. Are you weak? I didn’t think so.

Question: You know why acceptance – while hard – is so important?

Answer: Because now you can recover.

Recovery here isn’t about resting up. Recovery is about coming back stronger than ever. You need to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself who you are – not who you want to be. Who. You. Are.

Are you weak? Admit it

Are you scared? ‘Fess up.

You’re getting ready for a comeback, and you can’t do that if you’re still lying to yourself about anything. Tell yourself exactly what you know you are. Now you know where you’re actually starting from.

Now that you know who you are – or at least you’ve got the semblance of an idea – it’s time for you to decide who you want to be. Forget repairing – you’re a canvas, a work of art, and you have been torn down the middle. You don’t sew a painting back together. You repaint it more vibrantly than ever on a new canvas and with new brushes. This is your own personal resurrection and must be done in your own style, your own brushstrokes. You see, this crisis hasn’t destroyed you, it’s given you a chance at rebirth. How many people besides James Bond get the chance to live more than one life? If you’re looking for a rough framework of how to get started on this, read on.

Make a Plan

Just like building a house, you need to write out plans and lay a solid foundation before you start cutting lumber. Don’t think that your life is any different. You know who you were; who do you want to be – really? What do you believe? What are your values? Don’t make it too complicated – start with something simple like this and build on it. You’ll find that all you need are a few solid parameters that define you as a person. The rest will build itself.

Reevaluate Your Taste

Have you ever tried sushi? What about a fine Cuban cigar on a quiet beach before sundown? This juncture in your life is the time to start trying new things and having new experiences. Go kayaking. Take those scuba lessons. Train up and run that 5k you’ve always wanted to test yourself on.


I should mention – whatever you do, don’t waste this time skulking about in dive bars looking for the next nightly thrill – at least not in your local area. You’re looking to get out of a rut, not assuage your pain. Seek new adventure and you will find far more interesting people and relationships along the way. At worst, you’ll have had some good times and brand new travels that you can use at cocktail parties. You may find a whole lot more than that.

That’s being said, don’t lose hope for 2017. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a good year!

Away from the Table: My Best Friend’s Wedding

While those new to the felt may not be cognizant of this need yet, it is imperative for all poker players who spend a good deal of time playing to step away from the action and de-stress. This can be done in a nice outing, an expensive cruise, or a vagabonding trip around the world – the important thing is to focus your attentions on something besides cards, chips, and odds, thereby preventing burnout.

For me this past weekend my “time away” was the wedding of a really good friend of mine up in Ann Arbor, MI. Typically I don’t do weddings – I’m just not a huge fan of emotions, expectations, and long ceremonies – but this time it was different. They had a beautiful ceremony, then spirited us away by limo to what has to be one of the most fun-filled receptions I’ve yet to encounter. There was an open bar and, as is my style, I probably had more Glenlivet in my system than blood by the time the reception wound up and I was headed to the afterparty.

For those of you who enjoy classy bars and speakeasies, let me highly recommend The Last Word, a charming little place in downtown Ann Arbor that serves some quality liquors and has a very unassuming yet classy atmosphere. Additionally, an amazing post-drinking breakfast spot would have to be the Golden Egg, an Ypsilanti eatery with definite Greek undertones. I enjoyed a stunning Mexican omelette, replete with chili, and a side of gyro meat to complement my pancakes and coffee before hitting the road.

Not everything valuable comes in the color green. Make sure to enjoy life away from the tables as much as you enjoy your time at them.


Criticism, Recrimination, and Coffee


I had roughly $1100 to my stack and pocket 5’s in the hole. Riding my big blind (BB) in a semi-aggressive $1-3 No Limit (NL) game deep in the American South, I felt comfortable calling the token raise/reraise preflop from the two players still in the hand. When I saw the flop of 10-5-2 rainbow, I felt even better about it.10-Amazing-Tips-For-A-Successful-Poker-All-in-Strategy

The other two players – the Small Blind (SB) and the Button seemed to like it just fine as well. SB throws in a simple best of $40 – chickenfeed. I snap raise to $80 only to get a smooth call from Button Man and a reraise to $200 from Small Blind. Without a second thought I pushed all in only to face a fold from the raiser and a deceptively quiet call from the Button Man. I felt some worry but still put him on maybe AA or KK.

I was wrong.

In what is – for me – a rare occurrence of Set vs Set, the Button man flipped over 10-10, a hand that left me felted with nothing to my name but a sardonic smile at the vagaries of life and poker. Later on, in the privacy of my hotel bar, I mulled the situation over in my mind. Was I wrong in my play? Should I have noticed that the man on the button, while usually loud and gregarious, had gone suddenly silent in the middle of that hand? Maybe I should have set a financial limit – say $500, that I was willing to go on 3-of-a-kind with pocket 5’s. Maybe I’d been too aggressive, too confident, in the opening play of that hand.

You know, it’s not just in poker that we face situations like this. Situations where, in the cold light of day, we re-think our actions of the night or the week before, loading on criticism, judgment, and self-recrimination to the burdens we already bear in our chosen lifestyles. How could you have done this? What were you thinking? What does this say about you as a person, about your legacy?

You know what? Cut it out. Ditch the judgment, the Monday-morning quarterbacking, the attempt to force yourself to redo in the present the decisions you were put to in the past.

You know what I’d do if I looked down at my hand and saw three 5’s again? The same bloody thing. I’d push my stack into the middle and devil may care what happens. Because that’s poker – and that’s life. We make decisions based on the information we have at the time, and in order to continue living with a modicum of happiness, we have to stop flogging ourselves with the information from the future.

When you face a situation similar to mine in your near future – and I guarantee you will – ask yourself one basic question:

If faced with that exact moment again, would I act differently?

Not with the knowledge of tomorrow, not with the level head of today. What would you do in that exact moment? If you give yourself an honest answer, then pour a drink with me and let’s celebrate the fact that we’re human beings. Life isn’t perfect and neither are you. Let’s find the beauty in the imperfection. 




A Guide to Good Drinking Poker


“I don’t drink much, and neither do most good poker players.
And I NEVER drink when I play.
No top player drinks while playing. 
– Doyle Brunson
A general rule of thumb among poker players – be they professionals, aspiring amateurs, or hoodie-wearing douchebags – is that alcohol and poker don’t mix. But last time I checked, the majority of us didn’t start playing poker for money because we just wanted to follow the rules and take what life gives us. Here’s your cutthroat analysis of how to mix poker and booze while still coming out ahead:

The Risk Assessment

As with anything, we don’t just dive in headfirst without checking out the pros and cons. Since we’re skeptics here at the Bourbon Straits, we list the cons first:

Con: Decreased Level of Awareness

While booze definitely makes us happy and makes (me) want to party, it’s still a depressant. In a game of poker, where situational awareness and attention to the action is paramount, this can present some significant problems.

Con: Impaired Motor Skills

Having impaired motor skills at the table might actually be hilarious and would play into one of the advantages of having booze at the table with you, but after the table is dead a whole new game starts: it’s called getting safely home with your bankroll before you get robbed. Stumbling around like a jackass while in possession of a large wad of cash is the equivalent of putting a flashing sign around your neck that says “I’m a target.” Know your limits and don’t cross them. You’re in this for the long haul.

Pro: Chameleon Effect

While drinking isn’t as common in casinos, it is ridiculously commonplace in extremely soft home games that you will make absolute bank on. Being the one guy at the table who is a teetotaler is a serious red flag that can affect your table winnings and your chances of getting invited back. In fact, for home games don’t just drink the booze – bring the booze. Showing up to your friend’s house with a quality bottle of bourbon or a case of beer is a classy move that will guarantee you a spot at the table, not to mention a place in the money.

Pro: Table Image

In the well-known book Small Stakes Hold’em, Winning Big with Expert Play, authors Miller, Sklansky, and Malmuth discuss the importance of cultivating your table image. Looking tough, intimidating, and professional is for the movies. It’s best to appear friendly and relaxed – even to the extent that you look like an easy target. This is where alcohol helps. Multiple times at the tables I’ve had my drink called out by fellow players. A friendly, “Hey-o! What you drinking there, man?” as an alert to the others at the table that they had a drinker – possibly a sucker – in their midst. My suggestion is roll with it. Advertise the fact that you’re there to drink and have a good time, then sit back and let the table heavies smash themselves against your solid play. This is the key advantage to making alcohol a tool in your poker playing repertoire. Use it as another cover to deceive those around you and conceal your true play style. Then take their money.

Player’s Considerations:

Pick Something You can Sip: You’re trying to look like a lush, not actually be one. Pick a quality liquor that you can sip slowly and make last.  Sure, you can order up a club shot or a margarita on the rocks, but over time the shot gets warm and the rocks melt, leaving you either nursing a soggy drink or trying to beat the buzz in the middle of a good hand. Avoid this dilemma. Find a quality liquor you like and learn to enjoy it over time.
Extra Expense or Table Gratis?: You’re a poker player, and you’re on an expense account. Find out if the poker room you’re playing in makes you pay for your drinks or if they are free to players. If you have to pay, make sure to add this to your list of poker expenses along with gas, food, and hotels. Don’t ever forget that you’re in this for the money.
Have the Money AND the Fun: The best way to look like you’re having fun is to actually have it! No matter how dangerous the game, make sure you’re enjoying yourself when you play. Doing this will let you play longer without burnout and add quality to your life both at and away from the tables.
Disclaimer: As always, be safe when drinking alcohol. Don’t be stupid and don’t drink & drive. Need I say more on that?

A Gambler’s Ritual

It was a quiet night at the roadside Waffle House. I’d come in to grab a quick gambler’s breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee before checking out the NL tables at the nearby Ameristar. The coffee was strong and good – it usually is when the joint is nearby a major highway. The hands on my watch read 1:35 AM. I stood up and dropped some cash on the bar as I pulled my pea coat tighter around myself. It was time to get started.

No matter when you decide to play poker, never skip your gambler’s breakfast. I call it that because, as any serious player knows, your schedule will often be dictated by the action – not the clock. At some places I’ve frequented, some of the best table play could be found 7 o’ clock on the dot; other spots aren’t even worth hitting before almost midnight. Regardless of the time, I have one hard and fast rule: Never play on an empty stomach.

Now whatever your choice of gambler’s grup may be – steak & eggs, yogurt parfait, a short stack – look for an establishment that is nearby (if not inside) the casino. This keeps your transit time to a minimum and lets you partake in peace. Believe me, you’ll have enough stress once the cards are in the air. If you’re gearing up for a lengthy session, keep it light – sometimes I’ll just grab a quick two eggs & coffee – so you can stay sharp and invested as the hours roll by and pots are taken down.

But most of all? Enjoy it! You’re playing poker, Buttercup. It sure beats working for a living.

Where Were You?

Do you remember? Was it a good time in your life – full of high spirits? Or was it a bad time, deep down in the doldrums of life where the monsters live, where terror and peril lie?

Where were you when you decided to start a blog?

Some of you do it for money – some for the love of writing or someone who writes. Hell, some of you just write because you’re a fan of someone or something. But the dedication, the focus – where did it come from? What drives you to keep writing, even when, in some cases, there is no one there to read it? What is inside you that makes you keep coming back to the keyboard?


This blog will be about three things – Travel, Poker, and Whiskey. Not necessarily in that order. I hope that you enjoy it.