Monday, November 26, 2007


Quote of the Day: "Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving." -- W.T.Purkiser

The view at sunset, looking across the Snake River from Idaho into Oregon

One of the benefits of getting remarried is that you gain a whole new set of in-laws. In my case, I have been blessed throughout my life with nice in-laws. So I was looking forward to getting to know Tash's family better over this past Thanksgiving weekend. Gene and Celeste live in Meridian, Idaho, just west of Boise. Her brother, Loren, and his wife, Kristin, joined us from Utah. Despite some chilly weather, we all had a pleasant time.

I can’t understand why there are all those mother-in-law jokes out there. Having a mother-in-law is a good thing. In fact, the I.R.S. confirms that fact by letting you claim your mother-in-law as a deduction even after you have divorced her child (provided she meets the other qualifying criteria). Indeed, the in-law relationship is not dissolved by divorce. Who knew?

Anyway, it is said that Adam was the happiest and the most fortunate man in the world, because he didn't had a mother-in-law. Some people at the local bowling lanes frequently joke about mothers-in-law. For example, the hidden pin in the 2-8 spare-leave (as well as the 3-9) is referred to as the mother-in-law pin. Supposedly, that’s the one that always stands behind the other. “Mother-in-laws are like seeds,” they say. “You don’t need them for anything, but they come with the tomato.” Of course, I would never joke about my wonderful new mother-in-law like that. Some people are so ignorant...

We had a spectacular dinner of turkey and vegetables. My new sister-in-law is a vegetarian, so she had tofurkey (or faux turkey). It’s a loaf of vegetarian protein that serves as a healthy alternative for those who don’t eat anything that ever had a mother-in-law (OK, enough already). The only problem that we encountered was timing everything to be ready at the same time (and between football games). Somehow, it all worked out.

Celeste, Tash, Kristin, Gene and Loren ready for dinner

On Friday, the six of us toured the Idaho wineries in a region of the state known as Treasure Valley. These are shown below with captions explaining the highlights. Gene drove so that Tash and I could feel free to sample the different wines. He's a good person, my new father-in-law!

Ste. Chapelle winery was built in the style of a French chapel, with cathedral windows, high ceilings and wooden beams. We bought a bottle of their award winning 2005 Winemaker's series Merlot. I had it with dinner this evening. Very nice!

Our next stop was Hells Canyon winery, owned by Steve and Leslie Robertson. The small winery is noted for its artistic labels and colorful names. Here, Tash poses in front of a poster featuring the artistic label for their Crooked River Chardonnay.

Leslie Robertson introduced us to their watch kitty,
"Vinnie Mouse Patrol", shown here after sampling the free soup. His formal name is Viognier (pronounced vee-oh-n'yay). Leslie directed us to our next winery (Williamson Vineyards) so that we could sample some liquid Viognier. We purchased a $30 bottle of Hells Canyon Idaho Merlot Reserve, which we will save for a special occasion.

Williamson Vineyard was our last stop. We had a pleasant conversation with Roger and Mike Williamson, shown above "pouring" my barrel tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yum.

The original 80-acre Williamson homestead was started in 1909 with the planting of a few fruit trees. Eventually it grew to over 700 acres of orchards and row crops, including delicious cherries, apples and freestone peaches. Four generations of Williamsons have worked on the farm. Read more here.

Tash with Mike Williamson, one of the 4th generation of family members to work on the original homestead.

Emily Williamson (daughter of Roger and sister of Mike) sold us three bottles of wine on the way out: one red (Syrah) and two whites (Reisling and, of course, the Viognier). We're set for wine for the rest of the year.

So a man meets a genie. The genie tells him he can have whatever he wants provided that his mother-in-law gets double. The man thinks for a moment and then says, "OK, give me a million dollars and beat me half to death." Now that's just dumb...

Here's something more to the point:

Thanksgiving Morning
As I open my eyes in the early morning,
The sun shines through the window.
The smell of baking turkey fills the air.
I put on my slippers and crawl out of bed.
After opening my door, I see my mom in the kitchen.
I come out of my room and help to prepare.

Later on we all sit down at the table,
My family, friends, and me.
After saying Grace, we all pile food on our plates.
The last of the dirty dishes are washed,
And the left-overs are put in the fridge.
Everyone is so full; our Thanksgiving dinner was great!

-- Anonymous

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Quote of the Day: “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in focus.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tash and I are spending Thanksgiving this year with her parents in Meridian, Idaho. This will be quite a change for me compared to the past two years at Easton Mountain in upstate New York. My children are all on the east coast and I miss them very much. But, except for that, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. This was the scene on Monday outside the front door of the house where I will have Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner at Easton Mountain in 2005. I was part of the volunteer staff that prepared and served the meal.

Thanksgiving at Easton Mountain in 2006. I also spent time with the Lasorda family in Cambridge, NY, in both 2005 and 2006.

I liked the way another blogger spent last Thanksgiving, so I thought I would share.

Gobble, Gobble, Happy Turkey Day. Don't forget to thank God for all of your many blessings.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Eddie heads back to NC

Quote of the Day: I thought before that pineapples were a decoration for hams, but I found it to be super fish food and I was a minnow for the sharks in the bowling alley. -- Eddie Koopman
Frank and Eddie meet again at Retsil, WA, June 2007

One year ago this past Friday, Eddie Koopman walked off a plane at Seattle-Tacoma airport and into my life. I nicknamed him "Easy Eddie" and wrote of his exploits in my blog. I even allowed him to be (so far) my one and only guest blogger.

Prior blogs concerning Eddie Koopman:
Easy Eddie, November 18, 2006
My Inner Donkey, November 21, 2006
Guest Weblog, November 29, 2006
Die Fledermaus, November 30, 2006
Leave the Driving to Us, December 12, 2006

As I write this, Eddie is on a bus somewhere between Denver and Kansas City. He is heading home. He has new eyeglasses, new teeth, new medications and a new attitude. I am very pleased at the progress he has made.

Ordinarily I would leave my comments at that. But I promised him that I would post a message in my blog from him so that he could thank some of the people who have helped him during the past year. Now that I have read his words, I am somewhat embarrassed to post them here. But I promised. So here goes. Except for correction of a few typos and some editorial changes that did not change the substance of his message, these are Eddie's words...

by Eddie Koopman

One year ago almost to the day I had the privilege and honor of meeting a man who became one of the best friends I have ever had in my life. Frank Niro and I had been in contact for some time while playing together on PokerSchoolOnline.

In 2005, I suffered a stroke and it made me unable to work and hold a job. The same year I also had a large pine tree decide it was tired of standing and it landed in my bed next to me taking out the roof of my home. Frank responded with aid just like many others who were in the school at the time.

Time went on. Unable to work, my rent got further and further behind and I was about to become totally homeless. I was now about at wits end and seriously considering stepping out in the front of a semi on the highway outside my house. Even knowing my chances at employment were slim to none, Frank (who I had never met in person) suggested that I leave North Carolina and start my life over again. He suggested that I come out to Seattle, assuring me that my chances of getting my life back together were good.

So in November last year he sent me a plane ticket and told me to come on out. He knew full well this was going to be difficult to make work, but he never seemed to care.

Last November 16th (one day before I would become homeless and be seriously considering suicide), I flew out to Seattle. Frank and his friend, Chef Billy Town, met me at the airport. I had no idea where I was or what this wonderful man’s plan was for me. I guess he didn’t either; he just wanted to help…

He told me that his friend Delilah, the radio personality, was potentially looking for someone to work as a fund raiser for a charity she formed called Point Hope. After looking at the web site, I told Frank I would be happy to help out, as anyone would, because she was trying to get clean water and other needs to young families in Africa.

Frank and Billy drove me from the airport and took me to the Days Inn hotel in Port Orchard, WA. The hotel was very expensive and Frank also gave me money to cover my meals and anything else I needed. Frank then showed up the next day and told me that he was planning to go East to spend Thanksgiving with some friends in New York and asked if I would like to come along. He suspected I would and had already booked me on Amtrak. Of course, I really liked this idea because I did not want to be alone for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We boarded the train in Seattle. Because of a history of blood clots, it is inadvisable for Frank to fly on a plane. So, he prefers the train. It was my first time ever on Amtrak.

Eddie and Frank at the train station in Seattle, Nov. 2006

It was quite long but a fantastic experience. When the train stopped in Chicago, we had a layover of several hours. Frank was as hungry as I was, so we took a cab to Harry Caray's restaurant. Frank treated me to my first steak that almost cost as much as a cow.

For dessert I had a baseball, which was made from chocolate mousse and ice cream. It was a first for me. I wanted to keep it because, like the steak, I think I could have sold this baseball on e-bay and got enough cash for a new car. After a dinner that I will never forget, we caught a cab back to the train station, re-boarded the train, and tossed and turned in our beds as we continued our quest for New York. During the trip we continued to play poker on Frank’s notebook computer. Once we got to our destination, a driver friend picked us up taking us to one of New York’s most beautiful remote locations called Easton Mountain Retreat Center.

We checked in then brought our luggage up a rather large hill to a motel style dormitory room. Wow, what a trip it was! I will never forget it.

The next few days we spent getting settled in and enjoying the pure beauty of the place. Frank took me with him on small trips to the village nearby. The first stop was a barbershop so I could get a haircut. I prefer the bald look. So when hair grows on my head I go and get it shaved.

Thanksgiving came and we had a wonderful family style dinner with the other guests and the owners of the resort. Chef Billy flew out from Seattle to join us for the Thanksgiving meal. On Friday, Chef Billy offered to make breakfast for the entire community. But they already had it covered. They had no idea what a treat they missed! Once Delilah’s restaurant opens and he becomes famous, they will be sorry that they passed up his offer.

Frank kept on his teaching of a game we both love: poker. He put some money in my Bugsy’s online poker account. One night I sat down at the computer and one of the other guests who had an interest in the game began to watch me play. He was learning too. He was a real nice guy and a lucky charm for me. I ran what Frank had put in my account up to five hundred that night, mainly by showing off to this guy.

Frank then told me that, since he was already on the east coast, he would like to go for a visit in the Boston area with his family and friends. He told me he would go back to Seattle from Boston or Hartford and asked me how I would like to return there. I was really starting to feel a little guilty about how much money he was spending on me. So I thought about it and told him that I would like to see the country and leave the driving to Greyhound.

Well, I wrote a trip report on this bus trip earlier for Frank’s blog. It was not as advertised because Greyhound couldn’t stay on schedule with a gold plated road map. I arrived back in the Seattle-Tacoma area more than a day late.

Frank already had reservations and a prepaid room at the lovely Vista Motel. It was an older place and wasn’t quite the same as the Days Inn. But, of course, it was only $250 a week (and worth it too).

He got me in the room, and left to go back to his bunkhouse on Delilah’s farm, where he spent part of each day writing his memoirs. I can’t wait to see his book finished because my story is really boring compared to some of the ones that he told me will be in his book.

Anyway, he made sure that I had money to meet any needs I had. Frank did not particularly like the clothes I was wearing when I arrived. He came back to the motel and took me on a shopping trip to the mall so that I had some clothes to interview for a job. He redid my entire wardrobe top to bottom.

Downtown Seattle, Washington, looking southeast, with Mount Rainier in the background on the right.

As the days went by, Frank suggested that I use the buses across the street to go where I needed to go. I had never seen a ferry before and I was afraid of getting lost in Seattle. So I didn’t go out much other than to the poker room across from the motel in an old bowling alley. I found out quickly how to get my butt kicked playing games I never had heard of like crazy pineapple. I thought before that pineapples were a decoration for hams, but I found it to be super fish food and I was a minnow for the sharks in the bowling alley.

Frank was busy writing and helping Delilah plan a restaurant that she had been thinking about opening (where Chef Billy will be the head chef). I did not see him for a while. The rent on the room was coming due, so I started to call Frank. This is when I found Frank hates phones. It’s a residual effect, he says, of all those years as a hospital administrator when he had to be on the phone all day long and was constantly being interrupted.

It literally came down to the day the rent became due before he showed up. I had found a couple of jobs in the newspaper that interested me. Frank told me he would take me to Seattle to apply for them. He then handed me a folded piece of paper telling me go to the office and pay my rent. I unfolded the piece of paper and it was a check for one thousand dollars, signed by his friend Delilah. I took it to the office and noticed a sign on the door with big hand-written black letters: no checks.

I went in anyway and gave the check to the owner. The owner of the motel took the check and gave me a receipt for a month’s rent, no questions asked. He said, “If Delilah is paying your rent, we will take her check”. Delilah is known around the country and the world. I should not have been surprised that she is revered in the community where she lives.

I went back to the room. Frank gave me food money from his pocket, making sure my needs were met. I mentioned an electronics show and sale in Tacoma where laptops were on sale for under $500. Without hesitation, he drove me to the show, opened his wallet again, and I became the proud owner of my first laptop computer. Then he gave me his printer/scanner…and a boatload of software.

Frank continued training me in poker, bringing me stacks of poker books to read from his library. He lent me his wireless Internet card so that I could play online. He began to get me some live play by entering me in tournaments at the Clearwater Casino.

To train me to play better, he offered me a bounty on his own head. In other words, if I lasted longer than him, then I made money. If I knocked him out of the tourney, I made more money. I cashed on both during these trips and was ecstatic the day that I made it to the final table and won my entry fee back.

But that was very far from the last step. If I made a mistake and he saw it, I would hear about it all the way home. When Frank discusses something that he has a passion for, make no mistake…you will hear him clearly. I began referring to him as the Bobby Knight of poker coaches. But I admit that I made some bonehead plays. It took a while to sink in, but I definitely learned a lot on those trips home.

The coach wanted to see me get more experience in live play. So he took me to a small casino in Bremerton called Chips. He would hand me fifty to one hundred bucks and tell me that I could keep whatever I won. My live game was decent and, with that motivation, I never had a losing session at this casino.

I began applying for jobs and first went to a company called Tele-Tech. I managed to get hired for Sprint customer service. At Delilah’s insistence, Frank also drove me and showed me the Washington State Veterans Home in Retsil, WA. He told me that he had promised Delilah that he would no longer give me cash because it wasn’t going to help me in the long run. She felt that I should be in Retsil where I could get the help I needed.

I protested but I could tell that Frank was committed to connecting me with the people at Retsil. He helped me fill out the application for the home. The rent would be free because I was a veteran. But there was a problem: a very long waiting list...

While working at Tele-Tech I ran into a woman who needed a roommate. I talked to her and the rent was definitely good: only $250 a month.

That was in January of this year. Frank then began talking about someone he had fallen in love with. “Her name,” he said, “is Tash, and we are planning to get married.”

Later, he came by the motel and gave me another $500, telling me that he was getting married and would not be able to help me anymore. He said that I needed to get myself into Retsil. Of course, I was worried for myself but very happy for him. If there was anyone who ever deserved happiness in his life, it definitely is Frank.

I took the money and paid the woman at work for the rent and moved in with her. Within days of doing so, she got a notice that her apartment was being sold off as a condo and we would need to get another apartment. The lady and I found another apartment, so I went with her and signed the lease for the new place. I was in mild shock that my credit report was actually accepted.

The apartment was low rent housing in Bremerton. We needed to come up with $600 each to move in. In the meantime, I lost my job at the telemarketing company and did not have my share. I tried to contact Frank and managed to fill his voice mailbox. Then I got a job at the local mall doing surveys. I still had not quit on myself.

Moving day came. I still did not have enough for my share of the new apartment. The lady told me that I would need to go someplace else. Then came move out day. By this time, Frank and Tash had moved to Oregon and were unavailable to assist me. I left carrying my bags up the street to a state park. I made myself a lean-to and set up housekeeping. I now was officially, if only temporarily, homeless. And it was raining and freezing cold outside. I tried voice mail again and still no answer. I remembered Frank’s last words: I had to get into Retsil where I could get the help I needed.

So, reluctantly, I began the trek up the hill to the Veterans home at Retsil. I would sneak in for meals and hang out with the other veterans. One of them saw to it that I did not run out of cigarettes. He gave me cigs each day. But no one knew I was homeless. The place still had no rooms available. I had gathered discharge papers and was pre-qualified, but I had to wait my turn for a spot.

I continued to sneak in for meals for a couple of weeks. I slept in the woods. When it rained, I locked myself in a public bathroom and sleep there. Inevitably, I got caught sneaking in for meals. It was ironic, they said, because most of the residents usually run AWAY from the mess hall. They asked why I did it and I told them I was homeless, which they could easily see. They ran me off and told me not to come back until they called for me. I was coughing and sneezing while I talked to them. They checked me out and determined that I might have pneumonia.

As I left the property and dejectedly headed back the woods, they told me to come back. They found a room for me. They gave me a room in the infirmary and began giving me 24-hour a day medical attention. The care was better than I would get in any hospital.

On March 2, 2007, I became a permanent resident of the Retsil home. It was warm. It was dry. And the food was decent…a lot better than the Vienna sausages I had been stealing and eating in the woods.

The so-called "Town Square" at Retsil, where I spent many, many hours picking up cigarette butts and other trash. It looks like a college campus or a resort in the photo but, in reality, it felt more like a prison. Still, it was "home" for eight and a half months and I am much better now than when I arrived. Most people leave in a horizontal position, so I am very grateful. -- Eddie K.

During the next few weeks, I was sent to see more doctors than when I had my stroke two years ago. They got me over the illness and began to work on my other physical problems. On regular medications they brought my high blood pressure back to stone normal. I could not see well and I broke a tooth (one of the few remaining) on a piece of meat. So it was off to the dentist for me. The dentist pulled the rest of my teeth and set me up for the surgery that I needed to handle dentures.

I finally got my new prescription eyeglasses and a mouthful of new teeth in early October. Meanwhile, I called the local cable company and had Internet service put in my room.

Frank started me doing poker stakes for him online. He and his wonderful wife, Tash, introduced me to two great web sites, and The Donkey websites. From both these sites I started getting stakes from players to play my wonderful, life saving, game of poker. I have made a few dear friends from these sites. If some of you are reading this, thank you so very much. Frank also included me in the so-called BAP stakes he was running and told me to send him my Internet bill. I no longer expected it, but here he comes still doing what he could to help me.

This summer, he and Tash drove up from Oregon and brought me more poker books and some cash (so I could at least buy a Pepsi).

More recently, I began to get tired of living here and watching people die. I applied for a special grant so I could leave this place. With my new teeth and new glasses and proper medications, I feel that I can be a productive member of the work force once again.

Well, I got the grant. That’s the good news. At first they were sending me to a Vets home in Las Vegas. But I could not do the paperwork without being there in person so that fell through. I contacted my old landlord who had wanted to toss me out in North Carolina. He agreed that I could come back there, so long as I could pay the rent. The State had said they would pay it, at least initially. So now as I write this I am two days away from what could become the longest bus ride in history to a homeless shelter! I leave on Friday, November 16 (exactly one year to the day since I arrived here). By the time you read this I will be somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, or further east.

Once again, Frank has stepped up to the plate. He deposited a couple hundred dollars in my bank account for food money on my 4-day bus ride. The government also gave me $15 per day food money for four days on Greyhound. I’m not going to worry about the rest. I have my health back and all the energy I need to get things on track. I will get my old job back when I get there. If not, I am capable of working day labor. Somehow, I will get what I need from that.

Well, all in all, I can honestly say that it has been the most wonderful year of my life. I say this because, not only have all my hopes and dreams been realized, I have met someone I am damn proud to call my friend. I could not name one person in the world who would reach out to a stranger like Frank has done. There is no way I can put into words what his help has meant to me. I mean, I could say “thank you”, which I have many times with tear-filled eyes.

Delilah and Tash, I know you will most likely read this. Thank you both very much as well. To Phil and Valley, I hope you will read this too. Thank you for being my backers on The Donkey Farm.

Most of all, Frank, thank you again for what has really been the trip of a lifetime. Without your assistance and insistence, I would have been another bug on some trucker's grill. Now I have my second chance at a life that I came so close to ending.

This, for real, has been the trip of a lifetime.


Final Note: I appreciate all the positive feedback, but this isn't about me. I wouldn't have been able to help him if Delilah hadn't helped me.

Before I got in the picture, people on PSO like HERMES and Kailyn31 and missouridave and many others that I don't even know about gave over $2,000 to woodstied. A PSO member (BUSCHMAN) even gave him a new bed.

People on NeverBeg and the Donkey Farm gave him stakes with no expectation of getting any money back. They, too, wanted to help Eddie.

Let's celebrate together that Eddie is back on his feet. Let's give Thanksgiving for all of our gifts. Most of all, let's remember that every day is indeed a gift.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!


POSTSCRIPT: I heard from Eddie each year through 2013 on my birthday. It was the only contact I had with him once he moved back to North Carolina. Sadly, Eddie passed away in his sleep on November 30, 2013, at age 62. Rest in Peace, my friend.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Christian Parent Warning

Quote of the Day: "But upon closer review, it becomes abundantly clear that both this movie and the man behind it have a very certain anti-Christian axe to grind." -- Matt Barber

This morning, our church bulletin contained the message below..."There is a movie you will NOT want your children or grandchildren to see: THE GOLDEN COMPASS. It is written by Phillip Pullman, a proud atheist who belongs to secular humanist societies. He hates C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and has written a trilogy to show the other side. The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and their parents in the hope that they will buy this trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please. Nicole Kidman stars in the movie so it will probably be advertised a lot. This is just a friendly pastoral warning that you won't hear on regular TV."

The Alethiometer or Golden Compass. Instead of seeking true north, the needle on the alethiometer supposedly seeks out truth itself.

Wow. I have not seen the Chronicles of Narnia, nor have I read Pullman's trilogy. Click here to go to the movie's website and view the trailer. I will read any e-mails, pro or con, that are sent to me at, and will reprint those that I feel will shed additional light on the subject. The movie is scheduled for release on December 7, 2007. Here is the Wikipedia entry for THE GOLDEN COMPASS.
I didn't see anything in the trailer that was particularly offensive. Neither was there anything to make me want to see it. But, as Tash pointed out, it is probably the trilogy itself that is disconcerting. Seeing the movie may lead kids to buy and read the books. Of course, this isn't the only evil out there seeking to mislead our kids. But, like I said, I haven't seen the movie or looked at the books. I'm passing on the message to my readers so that you can make your own assessment.

I found this article by Matt Barber on dated November 15, 2007: The Golden Compass Has no Moral Compass
This is the essence of Mr Barber's message:
"With The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman shares his heart with us — a heart that says, “There is no God.” And he clearly wants to influence your child’s heart as well. This movie’s creation — or chance materialization, take your pick — has a specific agenda. It is clearly targeted toward unsuspecting children with the furtive goal of enlisting the next generation..."

Friday, November 16, 2007

How about some chess?

Note: I have been asked many times why my blog has chess in the title but not much content about chess. Good question...

I'll try to include a couple of chess positions each month. Here's a king + pawn endgame from my friend Susan Polgar's blog. It is Grandmaster Boris Gulko's turn to move (he is playing with the white pieces). Can you determine the winning move(s) from this position? I'll add the details next week.

What's the best move? Your choices are...
A. Kc3
B. Ke3
C. f3

If you are a student of the game and would like a free chess book, e-mail me the correct answer by Thanksgiving (and try to resist the temptation to use a computer). My e-mail address is Don't send me your mailing address unless I send you a response and tell you that you won. I am also willing to send your prize directly to your chess coach, if you prefer, so that he or she can present the book to you. If I get multiple correct answers, I will choose the best analysis (with Susan Polgar's input, if necessary) Then I will post your winning reply here. Good Luck!!

Hint #1: (11/17) Sometimes there is more than one "correct" move in a position. The important thing is to choose a PLAN that will lead to your GOAL. In this particular case, you are a pawn ahead. So the goal is to reach a WINNING POSITION. If you can envision a position that is clearly winning for you, and identify a series of moves that will lead you to that position, then go ahead and choose the move that initiates the series. Remember as the implementation of your plan proceeds to take the time to update your evaluation each time your opponent moves.

Hint #2: (11/18) The tools commonly available as you try to win King + Pawn endgames are OPPOSITION, TRIANGULATION, OUTFLANKING & ELBOWING, PAWN RACE, PAWN PROMOTION, ZUGZWANG and SIMPLIFICATION. You also need to be alert for additional tools at the disposal of your opponent: DRAW BY REPITITION and STALEMATE. Try to identify each of these tools as they come into play in this endgame.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pendleton Trip Report

Quote of the Day: "George from Washington, was a little nervous. We were chatting away and he was going to muck his hand after a bet on the flop. Rather, he mucked the chips that were in his hand. He tried to catch them but they landed on the table. The ruling; it was a raise ... and he won the pot!" -- from Susie Isaacs' Official Blog

Two-time Ladies World Champion Susie Isaacs is shown here in Seat 8 of our 9-handed Limit Hold'em tournament table (I was in Seat 2). Next to her, I assume, is George from Washington, who was mentioned in her blog.

Pendleton, Oregon, is noted for its annual Rodeo Round-Up. I spent the past weekend in Pendleton at a round-up. No, I haven't suddenly acquired a love for rodeo at this stage of my life. It was the 2007 Poker Round-Up held at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino that brought me there.

Still, to be honest, I went as a horse... a whole horse this time, not just the back end. A horse in poker is someone who is staked by one or more backers into a tournament in exchange for a percentage of the winnings. I have staked other players before, but this was my first time being a horse (or "hoss" as my friends back in Boston might say) in a live poker tournament. It was pretty exciting. The purpose of this week's blog is to share some of the details for the benefit of my backers and anyone else who may be interested.

I left on Thursday from Oregon City and covered about half of the 238-mile journey before stopping at the Shilo Inn in The Dalles. This picture shows my motel on the right, with 11,237-foot Mount Hood (about 40 miles away as the crow flies) looking majestic in the background.

First of all I should give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that I was staked by friends I met on a web site called, an online poker community that connects poker players who are looking to be staked with people who are looking to back them. The site hosts hundreds of staking offers every week, and their automated system makes the whole process fairly simple. In a sense, it's like fantasy baseball for poker, but with a lot more variety and fun.

I have been staking people and receiving stakes for about six months, and have had modest success in online poker tournaments at Poker Stars and Bugsy's Club. Getting staked for live casino tournaments is rare on NeverBeg because of the difficulty in monitoring such events. Fortunately, I have built up enough trust in the community that several players were willing to give me a shot. That trust, though, can be tenuous.

About two months ago, when Tash & I went on our honeymoon to San Diego, I almost lost all my support in one fell swoop. I started playing some stakes the night we returned, but I had problems connecting to the site. The next day we had numerous errands to take care of so I didn't update my stakes until the following day. By then, people were calling me a thief and posting nasty messages and cruelly negative comments on friends' blogs. It was a nightmare to clean up. I'm sure some of that crap is still out there. Like everything else dealing with people and their money, communication is essential to success on

In any case, it all got resolved and nobody was hurt (as far as I know). And all of my backers for Pendleton continued to support me. So, late last week, I packed my bags and headed east to play three consecutive daily tournaments beginning on Friday, November 9th.

I thought I was in a remote location when I won my first poker tournament in Tunica, Mississippi, in December 2004. The Wildhorse Casino (entrance pictured above) is even more remote. It is located on an Indian reservation in the foothills of eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains, an hour south of Walla Walla, Washington, and 4 hours west of Boise, Idaho. No offense to the locals but, for me, it defines the phrase "middle of nowhere".

The three tournaments that I played in averaged more than 500 entrants (or runners, as they are commonly called in the jargon of the poker world). Im sorry, but it's hard for me, an old marathoner, to refer to mostly overweight middle-aged men and women (myself included) as runners. In any case, I came close to the money on Day 1 and got unlucky thereafter. I'm sure I could've played better. But, except for the last hand of the last event, I'm not sure where.

Day 1, Event #3, $200 + $10 buy-in Limit Hold'em:

I lasted 7 hours but went out in 55th place of 397, which was 19 places short of the money. I played most of the day on a table with Susie Isaacs and for a short while with Chip Jett and Tom McAvoy. I went out with a straight, losing to a full house. I was pretty short stacked by the end, either way. I had QJo and two opponents were in the with pocket nines and the other with A-rag. The board was 8-T-7. A nine on the turn filled my gut shot and I thought I was going to triple up. But it made a set for one opponent. Another 7 on the river sent me home.

I am a collector of quips. Before this tournament, I knew Susie Isaacs only for her great quip: "Poker is Skill -- Life is the Gamble". It is from the title of one of her books. Susie Isaacs won the Ladies World Championship at the World Series of Poker in 1996 and 1997. The following year she finished 10th in the WSOP Main Event. She has written over 500 magazine colums and at least five books about poker and life.

Susie is a wonderful ambassador for poker, especially for women poker players. I bought one of her books for myself and another, Queens Can Beat Kings (subtitled: Broad-minded Poker for Winning Women), for my wife Tash.

Event #3 $200 + $10 Limit Hold'em (11/9/07) - Top results

Day 2, Event #4, $300 + $10 buy-in No Limit Hold'em:

There were 649 players entered in this event. I played well early but went out in brutal fashion with about 20 tables remaining. The big stack in the cutoff position raised my big blind three times in a row when no one had acted before him. The first time I folded A3. The second time I wanted to call but had 94. The third time I found Ac Qh in the hole and re-raised. He moved all in and I called. He had Queen-Ten of diamonds. The board was K4T with no diamonds. The turn was a Q so I needed any ace, any king or any jack to double up. No such luck...a three came and ended a long day. The player who moved into my seat from another table when I busted was Kenna James. Unfortunately, I never got to play a hand with him.

Event #4 $300 + $10 No Limit Hold'em (11/10/07) - Top Results

Karina Jett, shown above, finished fifth in Event #7, Ladies No-Limit. As can be seen in this photo (where she is scooping a monster pot), Karina is also a formidable cash game player.

Day 3, Event #5, $300 + $10 buy-in No Limit Hold'em:

661 players entered the Sunday tournament. I played seven rounds (more than 3 hours) but only entered the pot voluntarily on four occasions. The other hands I played were all blinds where I didn't call any raises and didn't bet after the flop. The four hands I played were KK, 77 (on the button in an unraised pot), AQ, and AK.

I knocked out two players in the process and managed to build a nice stack (5,500 chips from the starting 2,000) despite playing so tight. Eventually, though, I had to take a calculated gamble.

Early on, my KK won about 1,000 chips when a lady raised 3x BB (150) under the gun. I re-raised 450 to make it 600 to go and she called. Everyone else folded. The flop was all low cards. She checked. I bet 600 and she called again. Another low card came on the flop. She checked. I moved all-in and she folded.

I folded a lot of hands between then and the next playable hand. I got a pair of sevens on the button near the first break (end of round 3). Five players saw the flop for the minimum, including the blinds, so I was able to limp in cheaply with my medium pocket pair. With a set or no bet mentality, the flop came 4-6-7. The blinds each checked, the third player pushed all in for about 1,200 chips. I re-raised all-in and we were heads up. He showed pocket kings and I won a nice pot.

I had a brief reuinion at the break with "Oklahoma Johnny" Hale, pictured on this commemorative chip that he gave me when I scored in the money at the 2003 World Seniors Championship at Foxwoods (Connecticut). On Monday, he finished second in Event #6, the 7-Card Stud Eights or better tourney. Today he gave me a reality check when he invited me to the first Super-Seniors (60+) poker tournament to be held next spring in Reno. When I responded with the wrinkled forehead look he calmly said, "It's for anyone born in 1948 or later, so you qualify don't you?" Oh, right... thank you, Johnny, for reminding me.

A few hands later I got lucky when the player to my right made a big raise (5x BB) before I had a chance to bet my pocket fives. I was annoyed when the flop came T-5-2. But I breathed a sigh of relief when the orginal bettor's A-J of hearts hit the nut flush on the river on an unpaired board. Whew... I could've lost a lot of chips on that hand.

After the break I doubled up on the first hand I played in an hour. I had A-Q on the button and called what I thought was a streal-raise from the cut-off. I considered re-raising to force the blinds out but didn't want to commit any more chips to the pot in case I found myself against a big pp or AK. The blinds folded anyway, so we were heads up. The flop was K-J-9.

He bet half the pot and I raised the amount of his bet to define my hand and try to get a free card on the turn. Luckily the free card wasn't necessary. The turn was a ten and he pushed all his chips in the middle. I called and my straight was higher than his (K-Q). He had me covered, so he was still in the game.

After that, the same guy got really aggressive and started moving all-in on nearly every hand. I don't know his name but found out later that he cashed in this year's WSOP main event and has two bracelets from prior years. Eventually he built his stack up to 6,000 chips, a few hundred more than me. With about 325 of the original 661 players still alive, we both had more than the average stack (a little more than 4,000). No doubt, I should've stayed out of his way. I knew he was a ticking time bomb...

Here's where my discipline broke down. I was dealt AK in the big blind. Nobody bet until the small blind (still the same guy) raised 5 times the big blind. I saw him make the same raise with JJ and with the A-J of hearts that won with the flush that I mentioned earlier. I re-raised and he immediately pushed all-in. I thought for a very long time about folding but eventually talked myself out of it with the reasoning that I was getting 5 to 2 odds, that I could have him dominated if he was holding another AJ or something like it, and that a pocket pair would be a coin flip.

In my mind (and my heart), I dismissed the possiblility that he could be holding pocket aces or pocket kings because I had one of each in my hand. Nope, I thought, this was a small blind vs. big blind confrontation and I needed to stand my ground. Wrong! He turned over pocket aces and I was a dead duck. After Q-T-4 flop and a K on the turn, I had two outs to win and four more to chop. No such luck.

Event #5 $200 + $10 No Limit Hold'em (11/11/07) - Top Results

Among the well known poker players in Pendleton were Susie Isaacs, Chip & Karina Jett, Kenna James, Marsha Waggoner, Oklahoma Johnny Hale, former World Champion
Tom McAvoy, Barbara Enright, Vince Burgio, Chuck Thompson and Howard "Tahoe" Andrews. More pros are expected to arrive for the $1,000 buy-in main event on November 17.
The photos above show one of the three playing halls at Wildhorse Resort & Casino. The main room, pictured here, is most often used as a Bingo hall. Below are shots from my scenic trip home along the Oregon Trail.

The Columbia River forms much of the border between Washington and Oregon. Here, near the village of Umatilla, the river turns to the northeast and into Washington state.

The Columbia River Gorge in north central Oregon is nearly the same today as Lewis & Clark found it more than 200 years ago. This photo was taken near the Indian village of Celilo, which is one of the few places that has changed dramatically. It is a few miles from the site of the ancient waterfall and fishing grounds buried by the backwaters of a dam built in 1957 at The Dalles.

These giant wind turbines sit on top of a hill in Arlington, Oregon, overlooking a massive landfill where trash from metropolitan Seattle is shipped more than 200 miles by truck and train before being buried here.

Next blog: Easy Eddie is heading back to North Carolina this week with new teeth, new glasses and a new attitude. My blog dated Monday, November 19, 2007, will give an update, in his own words, on Eddie's year in the Great Northwest. Look for it this coming Monday.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hall breaks Olympic Trials marathon record

Quote of the Day: "Ryan Shay was a tremendous champion who was here today to pursue his dreams. The Olympic trials is traditionally a day of celebration, but we are heartbroken." -- Craig Masback
Ryan Hall, shown here in a blue singlet at the starting line in New York on Saturday, set an Olympic trials record. His friend and competitor Ryan Shay, standing next to him, collapsed and died after 5 1/2 miles.

The most important 26.2-mile race in New York City this past weekend was not, in my opinion, the ING New York City marathon. Instead, the NYRRC staged the latest version of the men's Olympic marathon trials to select the USA men's team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Californian Ryan Hall won in the time of 2:09:02, remarkable not only because it was a new olympic trials record, but more so for his blistering 1:02:45 second half. Dathan Ritzenhein (2:11:07) and Brian Sell (2:11:40) were the other qualifiers. The U.S. began using trials rather than committees to select its Olympic track and field athletes in 1968.

2008 USA Olympic qualifiers in the marathon: Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell. Hall coasted around what had been thought of as a slow and difficult five-loop course, breaking the Olympic trials record with his winning time of 2:09:02. Ritzenhein was second in a personal best of 2:11:06, with Sell third in 2:11:40.

Hall's performance was clearly not a fluke. Earlier this year he became the first American to break an hour for the half-marathon (59:43), obliterating the old record of Mark Curp set in 1985 by a minute and 12 seconds. He followed that up in London by running 2:08:24 for his first official marathon.

Ryan Hall shown above running in his initial 26.2-mile race, the 2007 London Marathon, which he completed in 2:08:24.

The trials course was moderately difficult. However, the cool weather provided favorable compensation. After 2,000 meters on the city streets, the race entered Central Park for 5 loops of up-and-down terrain on the RRC 8K championship route (run in the opposite direction from the championship). The fast time, coupled with the fact that the event was held more than 9 months prior to Olympic race, means that Hall has a legitimate shot at earning the first men's Olympic marathon gold medal since Frank Shorter at Munich in 1972.

The 35-year absence of an olympic men's marathon gold medal has been partcularly disheartening for U.S. runners. In a sense it has been the running version of "The Curse of the Bambino". After all, America is where the running boom started. As pointed out by Kenny Moore in his fabulous book, "Bowerman and The Men of Oregon", Frank Shorter was capable, in 1976, of breaking Australian Derek Clayton's world record of 2:08:34. And after Shorter retired, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar were the top ranked marathoners in the world for much of the next decade. So what went wrong?

The 1976 event in Montreal was won by an East German Waldemar Cierpinski by less than a minute over Frank Shorter (2:09:55 to 2:10:46). Don Kardong of the U.S. finished 4th, just three seconds behind bronze medalist Karel Lismont of Belgium. We know for certain now what many at the time suspected: Cierpinski's win was tainted. This is what Kenny Moore had to say about the matter:

"Twenty years later, Shorter and Kardong would take grim satisfaction when Dr. Werner W. Frank of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg began uncovering documents kept by East German physicians and coaches who'd conducted the country's doping program. The documents showed that Cierpinski was on androgenic steroids in 1976. 'I mean, I always knew,' Shorter would say, and now I knew for sure.' "

By the way, Clayton's 1969 record has been beaten 312 times. Hall's London performance was the first time it has been done by a native-born American. The newest world record is 2:04:26 set by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia on 9/30/07 in Berlin. He improved upon Paul Tergat of Kenya's 4-year-old standard of 2:04:55.

By the time the 1980 Moscow Olympics rolled around, Bill Rodgers was in his prime. A world and olympic record seemed his for the taking. In 1979, he was ranked by Track & Field News as the world's top marathon runner. Then President Carter decided that the U.S. should boycott the summer Olympic Games because the U.S.S.R. had invaded Afghanistan. (And, by the way, where are we now?) In any case, Bill Rodgers' best shot at Olympic gold passed him by.

The 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. In retaliation for the U.S boycott in 1980, 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies including the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany (as well as Libya and Iran), boycotted the Los Angeles Olympic Games. It was the first time that a women's 26.2-mile marathon event was held and it was won, famously, by Joan Benoit of the U.S.

But the men's side was a different story. The medals were taken by Carlos Lopes of Portugal, John Treacy of Ireland and Charlie Spedding of Great Britain. All three finished under 2 hours and 10 minutes. The first American was Pete Pfitzinger who finished 11th in 2:13:53. Alberto Salazar was a disappointing 15th in 2:14:19. The third U.S. runner, John Tuttle, did not finish.

The 1988 Olympic marathon in Seoul, Korea, was won by Italian Gelindo Bordin (2:10:32) and once again the U.S. was shut out of the top 10. In fairness, some of the American athletes reported stomach problems from eating the food at the Olympic village. Pete Pfitzinger was again the first U.S. finisher (14th in 2:14:44).

Belayneh Dinsamo of Ethiopia broke the existing world record when he finished the 1988 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:06:50. Since that time, the running world has pretty much been dominated by the runners from sub-Saharan African countries. Gebrselassie and all three of the Kenyans will be Hall's chief competition in Beijing, assuming that Khalid Khannouchi doesn't run.

Ryan Hall, Khalid Khannouchi and Meb Keflezighi, shown here at an earlier race, were the pre-race favorites to take the three spots on the 2008 USA men's marathon team.

Khannouchi, the American record holder (2:05:38), was born in Morocco. Now 35, Khannouchi has been nursing a variety of injuries the last few years. He finished fourth this past weekend and is officially listed as the first alternate for the team. Dathan Ritzenhein has indicated that he may run the 10,000 meters at Beijing instead of the marathon if he earns a spot on the team in that event. So there is still a chance that Khannouchi might compete in Beijing.

Five runners have broken 2 hours and 6 minutes in the history of the marathon. Khannouchi has done it three times. He set the world record (2:05:42) in 1999 running for Morocco and did it twice in 2002 as an American citizen. It is ceratinly possible, given the opportunity, that he has one good race left.

One of the pre-race favorites for the trials was Meb Keflezighi, winner of a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens behind Stefano Baldini of Italy. Keflezighi has been unsuccessfully lobbying the authorities to allow runners who win a medal in an Olympic event to get an automatic seed onto the team for the next Olympics. As recently as two weeks ago he was suffering from a stomach virus which interfered with his training and brought him to the starting line a bit weakened. He ran out of steam late in the race and faded to eighth place in 2:15:09. Still, he sobbed with appreciation as the fans chanted his name during the final mile.

Despite the optimism surrounding the results, the biggest news of the race was the death of Ryan Shay. Shay, a Michigan native residing in Arizona, came into the race with a personal best of 2:14:08. He went through the 5K mark in 16:53 looking strong, but collapsed from an apparent heart attack at 5 1/2 miles.

Ryan Shay of Michigan (2:14:29) winning the 2003 U.S. Marathon Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.

Medical attention was immediate but Shay was probably dead "before he hit the ground", according to the cardiologist who initially treated him. Family members reported that the 28-year-old had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart as a teenager and, more recently, was told that the condition might soon require a pacemaker. You can read more here.

Ryan Shay and his wife Alicia were married this past July. She is Alicia Craig, a champion 10,000 meter runner who recently graduated from Stanford University. They met at the 2005 New York City marathon. Like everyone else that has any connection to the running world, my heart as well as my prayers go out to Alicia and the rest of Ryan Shay's family and friends.

<---Alicia Craig Shay

Alicia Craig Shay is a qualifier for the Women's marathon trials by virtue of her sub-33:00 10K performance at the 2007 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Like the men's event, the race will be staged the day before a major marathon, in Boston, on April 20, 2008.

Starting and finishing at the traditional Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, the Olympic trials race will feature a specially designed course that tours historic Boston with a one-time loop that passes Boston Public Garden, Boston Common, the State House and Beacon Hill.

The runners will then traverse four scenic loops of approximately six miles each proceeding down Commonwealth Avenue, crossing the Charles River into Cambridge using the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, running east, then west along Memorial Drive. Runners then return from each of the core loops via Massachusetts Avenue.

The early favorite in the women's marathon trials has to be Deena Kastor of California. She ran 2:19:54 in London last April and owns three of the top 10 qualifying times at this distance. Her chief competion will no doubt come from Jen Rhines of Pennsylvania and Elva Dryer of Colorado. Rhines is the only American woman other than Kastor who has run a sub-2:30 during the 2006-07 qualifiying period. Her 10K speed (31:19) is superior to all of the other competitors. Dryer posted 2:31:48 at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and was the first American female finisher at Sunday's ING New York City Marathon in 2:35:18. Finally, you can't rule out the 2004 trials winner Colleen De Reuck.

Colleen De Reuck --->

Born in South Africa, De Reuck became a U.S. citizen in 2000. The 2008 trials will be held a week after her 44th birthday. Yet, her 2:33:08 finish in Chicago in October 2006 indicates that she is definitely not yet over the hill.

Alicia Craig Shay will probably not be at the women's marathon trials in Boston. More likely, she will looking to earn a spot on the team at her best distance: 10,000 meters. In April 2004, she broke Carol Zajac of Villanova's 12-year-old national collegiate 10K record with a time of 32:19.97. Ironically, in the same meet, Dathan Ritzenhein of Colorado set an American collegiate men's 10K record with a time of 27:38.50.

The 2008 U.S.A. track & field Olympic trials will be held at Hayward Field in Eugene Orgeon next June. The women's 10,000 meter final is scheduled for Friday evening, June 27, 2008. I intend to be there watching and cheering.

The fastest all-time American marathon runners (each listed once in order of their best time):
1. 2:05:38 Khalid Khannouchi (native of Morocco), London 2002
2. 2:08:24 Ryan Hall, London 2007
3. 2:08:47 Bob Kampainen, Boston 2004
4. 2:08:52 Alberto Salazar, Boston 1982
5. 2:08:54 Dick Beardsley, Boston 1982
6. 2:08:56 Abdihakem Abdiraham, Chicago 2006
7. 2:09:00 Greg Meyer, Boston 1983
8. 2:09:27 Bill Rodgers, Boston 1979
9. 2:09:31 Ron Tabb, Boston 1983
10. 2:09:32 David Morris, Chicago 1999
11. 2:09:35 Jerry Lawson, Chicago 1997
12. 2:09:38 Ken Martin, New York City 1989
13. 2:09:41 Alan Culpepper, Chicago 2002
14. 2:09:53 Meb Keflezighi, New York City 2004
15. 2:09:57 Benji Durden, Boston 1983
16. 2:10:04 Patrick Petersen, London 1989
17. 2:10:05 Phil Coppess, Minneapolis 1985
18. 2:10:06 Ed Mendoza, Boston 1983
19. 2:10:15 Jeff Wells, Boston 1978
20. 2:10:19 Tony Sandoval, Niagara Falls 1980
21. 2:10:20 Garry Bjorklund, Duluth 1980
22. 2:10:26 Craig Virgin, Boston 1981
23. 2:10:29 Kirk Pfeffer, Fukuoka 1980
24. 2:10:29 Mark Plaatjes (native of So. Africa), Los Angeles 1991
Some Others (not a complete list; additions welcome):
2:10:47 Brian Sell, 2:10:54 Chris Bunyan, 2:10:55 Kyle Heffner,
2:10:59 Ed Eyestone, 2:11:07 Dathan Ritzenhein,
2:11:16 Don Kardong, 2:11:17 Jack Fultz, 2:11:24 Mike Layman,
2:11:25 Randy Thomas, 2:11:33 John Lodwick,
2:11:35 Malcom East, 2:11:36 Kenny Moore & Dan Schlesinger,
2:11:40 Rod DeHaven, 2:11:43 Pete Pfitzinger,
2:11:50 John Tuttle, 2:11:54 Steve Hoag & Shaun Creighton
2:11:59 Dave Gordon, 2:12:01 Dennis Rinde & Daniel Browne,
2:12:05 Tom Fleming & David Hinz, 2:12:13 Paul Pilkington,
2:12:25 Dean Matthews, 2:12:26 Mark Conover,
2:12:27 Fernando Cabada, 2:12:30 Robert Hodge,
2:12:34 Trent Briney, 2:12:42 Eric Mack,
2:12:43 Steve Spence, 2:12:45 Peter Gilmore,
2:12:49 Duncan MacDonald, 2:12:51 Steve Plasencia,
2:12:54 Jason Lehmkuhle, 2:12:58 Keith Brantly,
2:12:59 Ric Sayre, 2:13:05 Mark Coogan.

Progression of Marathon World records since 1965:
Haile Gebrselassie 2007 Berlin 2:04:26
Paul Tergat 2003 Berlin 2:04:55
Khalid Khannouchi 2002 London 2:05:38
Khalid Khannouchi 1999 Chicago 2:05:42
Ronaldo da Costa 1998 Berlin 2:06:05
Belayneh Densimo 1988 Rotterdam 2:06:50
Carlos Lopes 1985 Rotterdam 2:07:12
Steve Jones 1984 Chicago 2:08:05
Rob de Castella 1981 Fukuoka 2:08:18
Derek Clayton 1969 Antwerp 2:08:34
Derek Clayton 1967 Fukuoka 2:09:36
Morio Shigematsu 1965 Chiswick 2:12:00

The women's marathon in Beijing will be held on August 17, 2008. The men's marathon is scheduled a week later, on August 24th.

As always, your comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. Please send them to me at