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Daniel - Poker Journal

Catching My Breath

01 Feb 2005


Man am I behind. Iíd planned on entering a journal entry after finishing third in Tunica, and days later this is the first time Iíve had an opportunity to. I havenít been able to spend any time on the computer lately and Iím afraid to open up my e-mail box at this point. A lot has happened since Tunica so this journal may get a little wordy:

The WPT Final- Iím extremely happy with the way I played. I feel like my game plan worked and I was a little unfortunate on that last key hand where I set a trap for John. John moved all in on me with a straight draw, my favorite hand actually the 10-7 off suit. While he did get lucky on that hand I was very impressed with his approach once we were three handed. He understood that from an experience and skill stand point he was climbing an uphill battle against Chau and I, so he decided to take more risks and try to get lucky in some big pots.

His plan worked well as he went on to beat Chau and add a cool $1.5 to his bankroll. Not bad for a 23 year old kid!

So after the tournament I went to my room totally comfortable. Sure I was disappointed not winning but I was also very realistic, understanding that I'd been pretty lucky over the past year and a tough loss here and there is just part of the game. If every "tough loss" I get nets me almost $400,000... well, I can live with that.

I decided to kick back and watch a movie. I'd already seen Ray and Friday Night Lights so I thought I'd try King Arthur. The movie just didn't do it for me. I'm not big on action scenes, I find them pretty boring actually. I'm generally more interested in films that focus on character development rather than unrealistic fight scenes. If you've seen one head get chopped off by a sword you've seen em' all. I never really felt connected to any of the characters and overall felt like it was a waste of $9.99.

Eric Rosenberg and Mark Napolitano asked me to join them for a drink downstairs and while I had a lot of work to catch up on I just wasn't in the mood. I thought it would be fun to hang out for a while and let loose. The conversation ended up turning to poker and I think I rattled off strategic advise for over two hours without breathing. Whereís a tape recorder when you need one!

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The next day I flew back to Vegas hitching a ride to the airport with Mark Napolitano. Once there we ran into Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Layne Flack, Scotty Nguyen, and a few other players I'm sure I'm forgetting. The flight saw us get into Vegas around 9:30pm and I was anxious to see my little buddy Mushu.

I went straight to my mother's apartment and picked up the little guy. I then drove home and was too exhausted to write, watch Tivo, or do anything for that matter. Besides, the next morning I was scheduled to fly to LA for the day.

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7:00am and my alarm clock is about to get a punch in the head... "Shut up already! You know poker players don't get up before noon!" Well my stubborn alarm clock wouldn't stop so I rolled out of bed and head to the shower. I left the house on an empty stomach on my way to the Burbank airport.

The purpose of the day trip was to attend a charity event that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey were hosting.. Woody didn't end up showing up to the event but Matthew was there in support of the kids.

I had a chance to talk to Matthew and was genuinely impressed with him as a person. It was clear to me that he wasn't there for publicity or to look good, he was there because he genuinely cared about these kids at the Lodge.

He told me stories about visiting the kids and about how all they really want is for somebody to listen to them. Before the charity event started there was a video presentation done by the kids at the Lodge thanking everyone for their donations and for giving them a chance to get their lives straightened out.

Then Matthew took the stage and delivered a speech explaining what the Lodge does for this kids and why they are there. He said something like, "Basically all these kids have bogeyed in life. They had a chance to make some decisions and made some poor choices. They're just kids though and the Lodge hopes to help their parents learn to be better parents and teach these kids how to get back on the right path. He went on to say, "I know all of us have been in the dumps before making bad decisions, but we all deserve a second chance." Amen to that.

After that it was time to play some cards! The poker tournament raised over 60,000 for the Lodge which will really help out. For fun, they added a bounty to my head as well as Phil Gordon's and Matthew's.

I generally do very poorly in these charity events because I find it impossible to take them very seriously. I wanted to stick around a while today though since it was such a positive environment.

I ran into Mimi Rogers there and she immediately said, "Make sure you stick around for at least half an hour this time I have some questions I want to ask you." The last time I'd played with Mimi I made yet another one of my infamous early exits.

So I get involved in a hand with "Ralph Malph" from Happy Days were the flop comes 9-8-3. Yes, the same flop that crushed me in Tunica. I got all of my money in with 10-10 against Ralph's A-9... 9 on the river and I was now free for the rest of the afternoon, "Sorry Mimi, but I actually kinda, sorta, tried this time. Oh well, I'll catch up with you in LA."

It was probably 2:00pm at the time and my flight didn't leave till 8:25pm. I decided to call my two high school buddies Reggev and Oren to spend some time with them.

They were actually like my second family as a teenager. Their parents accepted me like a son and I really missed those days. When I used to hang out at their house they would often speak Hebrew and after spending so much time at the house I actually learned a lot of the language. They were all surprised to see that I still remembered a lot of what Iíd learned.

When I got to Benda and Aviva's house in North Ridge "Little Stavi" who was now 16 years old was practicing with his garage band. I went to give him a hug and did a double take... "Whoa! When did you get so big!" I remember when Stav was in diapers staying up late with the boys while we played tournaments on Nintendo. That kid just wouldn't sleep.

So when I see this kid, that little brat I remembered, I actually looked up to him... literally! 16 years old and already approaching 6' 4". Later that evening before I was off to the airport Dana and her new husband arrived. Dana just got married recently to what appears to be a great guy named Colin. They seem happy with each other and it's great to see my "little sister" so happy.

I was so glad I got to spend some quality time with my "adopted family", I couldn't think of anything I would have rather been doing. Unfortunately the fun had to end as it was getting late. Reggev and Oren drove me to the airport and we shared goodbyes.

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Once again when I got home I had no energy to write. I stopped off at the Bellagio on the way home and almost fell asleep there. The next morning I woke up and tried to get "some" work done but there was little time. At 5:00pm I head over to Mori Eskandadi's house for a dinner party/poker experiment.

Not sure if any of you have heard but NBC will be airing a heads up tournament with 64 entrants that will be filmed in March but air on Saturdays in June. Several players were invited to the house to play a heads up tournament with various structures to get a feel for what works.

I drew Howard Lederer in the first round and beat him in about 45 minutes. My next opponent was "supposed" to be a cake walk as I was playing Jennifer Harman's husband Marco. Marco just learned how to play poker less than a year ago but it already a winning player in heads up sit n' gos.

He'd already beat Erick Lindgren and his unorthodox approach had me baffled on several occasions. I was no match for Marco as he advanced to play against David Grey.

Determined to end the night as the biggest winner in the house I privately offered David a wager, "How much will you lay me if I bet on Marco?"
"I wouldn't lay anything" he replied.
"Ok, I'll bet you $20,000 then even money." David agreed and I had a bet down. Then I was bombarded with people wanting a piece of my action! Poor David, he's been a successful professional player for over 20 years and nobody had much confidence in his ability aside from him.

As I expected, Marco dusted off David in about 35 minutes and I left Mori's house $15,000 richer.

From there we thought we'd make a night of it, so Jennifer and my new "horse" Marco, along with Carlos Mortenson and his wife Cece, E-DOG and I head over to Road Runner's for a few drinks.

The conversation flowed and we were all having a good time (I have pictures to prove it). It was getting late when I realized, "Uh-oh, I have to get up early tomorrow."

We got out of the bar by about 2:00am and I needed to be at the Bellagio by 10:15am.

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Now people ask me this question all the time, "Did you ever think poker was going to get this big? Did you ever think you'd be signing autographs and taking pictures with fans?" Well I'm actually one of few who fully expected it.

However, what I was asked to do on this day i never would have believed in a million years. The president of Kraft Foods Dave Johnson asked me to be a guest speaker at a conference. Imagine that? Me, talking to people that had all studied marketing in various colleges and universites. The whole scene was surreal for me.

The theme of the conference was something to the effect of, "Making big bets, knowing your odds and applying them." I was obviously supposed to be the expert on the subject and was asked to share my thoughts on what it takes to stay ahead of the competition and how Kraft Foods could do the same. No, I'm not making this up!

One of the things I shared was something like this, "It's important to adapt to the changing environment. In the poker world over the last few years we've seen an influx of online players that have changed the way the game is being played. Several old school thinkers that were very successful in the 80's and 90's haven't spent enough time adjusting to the new wave of internet player. Their results have suffered greatly as a result. I on the other hand decided to play with these players online. I tried to understand how they think and it's one of the key things that has separated me from those stubborn old school thinkers. You always have a choice: stay stubborn, or adapt to the ever changing surroundings you're presented with."

I was genuinely nervous going up on stage for this particular event. This wasn't your typical poker environment, it was a huge company and a very serious conference. It was important that I handled it with an even higher level of professionalism than I'd ever had before.

I left the stage to a loud applause and felt like the presentation went extremely well. My thoughts were reinforced when president Dave Johnson mentioned that he'd gotten great feedback about the presentation and asked if I might be available to speak again Wednesday, this time to 1500+ employees.

Now as I mentioned, going into this conference I was nervous. All of these people were well schooled "business types" with me being the wild card. I was worried that I might not fit in, that I might stick out like a sour thumb.

Should I leave my suit unbuttoned or buttoned? I'll just look to see how they do it. Should I drink my water from the bottle or have it poured into a glass? I'll just do what they are doing. Tie or no tie? Would it be inappropriate for me to crack a joke? Where should I stand? Where should I put my hands? To cross my arms or put my hands in my pockets?

I was trying so hard to not look stupid when it finally dawned on me. I just need to be me, and hey if they don't like it... oh well. Knowing that they were indeed impressed by what I had to say was such a relief you have no idea!

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I wrapped things up there at about 3:30pm and it was off to my next appointment. Chad Brown and I were to do the voice overs for the semi-finals of the Ultimate Poker Challenge show at 4:00pm.

Chad and I had done several shows together already and we had good chemistry so I felt like this would be a piece of cake. One problem being, I still wasn't over the sniffles from Tunica. Barring an untimely sneeze here and there things went rather smoothly and we taped two shows and were done by about 8:00pm.

Totally drained and exhausted I head straight for my couch. Plopped down there for a little while, soaked in some Tivo and am headed to bed. Over the last few days I've been pushing myself so hard it's taken a toll on me. I'm spent.

To top things off, the personal assistant that I was so eagerly anticipating had some family issues and won't be able to take the position. So, that leaves me back at square one: a box full of e-mails, mail piling up, phones calls to return, and a heap of other unfinished tasks that will consume my time over the next few days. Not to mention a few more scheduled appointments tomorrow and every day for the next week

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