Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Comfortably Numb

Things have quieted down significantly since the end of the WSOP. Work is slow this week, so I am concentrating on trying to get my neck/arm fixed. And though the pain is mostly gone, the numbness and tingling in my hand continues. Weakness on the right side makes tennis impossible and most upper body exercise problematic. It has been this way for more than 65 days now. I saw the orthopedist today, and he generally agrees with what I have already surmised. But of course, it is his job to be thorough. So we took x-rays of my neck, which of course came back negative. In order to see disc damage, we need to get me into the MRI machine. We hope to have that happen in the next few days. This will confirm my suspicions and then we get on to the business of what to do to make me better.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Every Day I'm Shufflin'

The month of June seemed like it lasted a year. With the WSOP comes added business at all of the poker rooms, including the Mirage. I was working day shifts there 3-4 times per week, and working nights at the WSOP 6 times a week. This often meant a very long work day for me if I was scheduled at both places. On "double" days, I would wake in the morning around 930, get out the door by 10, and arrive at Mirage around 1030. My shift would last until 7pm, leaving me 1 hour to get out of the box and over to Rio for my 8 pm start time. Luckily the Rio is very close to the Mirage...less than a 5 minute drive. The problem was... my house is not close. So, despite needing a shower and change of clothes, there simply wasn't enough time to drive home and back. Luckily for me, my good friends were in town for a month and staying close-by. Just minutes away from both hotels, their RV park served as my pit-stop point on nearly a dozen occasions. Taking full advantage of this convenience, I turned the trunk of my car into a makeshift closet/medicine cabinet. I kept a small suitcase stocked with all the necessary clothes and toiletry items needed to get ready on-the-go. The RV park has private showers and bathrooms. They were more than adequate for my needs and kept in much better condition than what I expected. The only complaint was that it was about 90 degrees inside. That is because it was 110 degrees outside and the poor little air-conditioner simply could not keep up. My solution was to shave and brush my teeth before I showered. That way, I could immediately step outside into the dry heat rather than sweat in the sauna I had created. I would keep my car running, and finish changing in my passenger seat, with the air conditioner blasting. That is, unless Bree was home. Then I would hang out with her and the dogs for a bit before heading off for another 8+ hours of work.

The work itself at the WSOP was mostly enjoyable. Here is how it works: All the dealers assigned to a particular shift gather for a pre-shift meeting. I worked the 8PM shift along with another 100-200 other dealers depending on the day. At this meeting, the lead Dealer Coordinator starts with a roll-call in alphabetical order by last name. When a dealer's name is called, that person will have a choice to deal cash games, tournament, or single-table satellites, depending on which assignnments are available. There are only a certain number if spots in each area on a given night. Some are desired more than others. Often times, the satellite and tournament spots would fill up first, leaving anyone at the end of the list forced to deal the live cash games. Because of this, the DC will start the roll call with a different letter every day as the ensure that everyone gets a fair shot at their desired assignment throughout the series.

For most of the summer, my first choice was almost always "tournament". My reasoning was this: You get paid the same, no matter how many hands you deal. So there is no pressure to be ultra-fast, which often magnifies errors. There are regularly scheduled breaks for the players, during which time the dealer sits at the table and does mostly nothing. I would often spend this time meditating. and stretching my back. Also, since many of the tournaments are No-Limit Hold-Em, the players tend to take longer with their decisions, lessening the amount of hands dealt and the overall amount of movement required. All-in-all, I felt it was easier work that came with a guaranteed return.

My second choice was satellites. At a single-table satellite, the dealer is paid a flat rate for the duration of the 10-person tournament. Satellites generally last between 2-3 hours. It is customary for the winner to tip the dealer. Satellites can be very lucrative if the right person ends up winning. I have been tipped as much as $120 and as little as $10. A dealer can usually deal 2-3 satellites in a single shift. For those that like the idea of money-in-hand, but don't perform well under the pressures of cash games, satellites are the way to go.

The last choice is the Live Games. There are no guarantee of how well one might do financially dealing the cash games, but is almost certain that a dealer will be the subject of at least one angry player's spite. As far as tips go, it all depends on what string of tables you get assigned to. If its low to mid limit hold-em... you're usually gonna do pretty good. The game moves quickly and the recreational players are more likely to tip well, and less likely to throw cards at you or curse you in Arabic. The low-limit guys are usually just tourists out having some fun. They don't have bankroll rules and subsequently don't worry about the amount of money lost by toking the dealer. But, if you get assigned to the high-limit section, you can usually expect to make less and almost always be verbally abused. That is not to say that one cannot do well in the "snake-pit" as it was not-so-affectionately referred to by the dealers. Now and then you'd get a rich amateur that is perfectly happy giving the dealer a nice big tip for a nice big pot. One of my biggest stiffs of the summer came when I was dealing a $500/$1000 mix game that included PLO. I pushed a $117,000 pot to a player and he either forgot to tip me or chose to give me nothing. I will never know, as it is strictly forbidden to solicit a gratuity. By contrast, I was tipped $25 in a $1-$3 game after a player won $300. You just never know... and that's why I preferred not to roll the dice. When all is said and done I think it all averages out no matter what assignment I got... with tournaments being the least stressful, and for the most part downright enjoyable.

I dealt to just about every "Big Name" pro you can think of. Some behaved exactly as they did on TV, and others were surprises. On two different occasions I dealt to Mike Sexton and he was surprisingly grumbly and agitated. Erick Lindgren was super friendly, and even sprinted to an empty table to fetch me another dealer chair when mine sunk to the ground. I dealt Gavin Smith a cooler to bust him from 3 different tournaments. I felt bad for him. Tony Hachem is a real hothead. He seems to personalize things. Shawn Deeb was mostly friendly, and only slightly condescending. Adam Junglen is intimidating. Tom Dwan plays almost every hand no matter what the game is, somehow finds a way to outsmart almost everyone... oh and he runs like GOD. Mostly. Men Nguyen is mostly a cocksucker. Tony Ma is a gentleman. Phil Hellmuth is really tall. Daniel Negreanu is short. Erik Seidel almost never speaks. I think he is a robot sent here to destroy us. Steve Zolotow looks like Doc Brown from back to the future. Scotty Nguyen has a pretty bad stuttering problem and is almost never without a beer. Mike Matusow whines like a child when he loses. Ted Forrest looked like a skeleton at the start of the series and a whole lot healthier by the end. Lauren Kling is really hot. Tony Dunst is friendly and plays pretty tight. Eugene Katchalov raises often. Jerry Yang does not balance his range well. Doyle Brunson is old. Todd Brunson looks exactly like the "Comic Book Buy" from The Simpsons. Like.... exactly. Patrik Antonius is probably an alien. Sam Farha has lots and lots of high denomination chips and bets shitloads of them at a time. Robert Mizrachi is funny. Nick Schulman is self-effacing and likable. David Benyamine is HUGE. His wife is gorgeous. Elky dresses badly. Ben Lamb is a genius on a total heater. Jason Mercier is calculating and confident. Crazy Mike has calmed down a bit and is mostly fun to have at the table. Lars Bonding cashes often. Antonio Esfandiari is nice. Phil Ivey was noticeably absent, as were Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson.

Would I do it again? Hmmm... We will see. If it was a different shift without all the double duty and the nagging injury, I'm sure it would have been a lot easier. But one thing is for certain. Working the WSOP is a heck of a lot more profitable for me than playing in it has been. :)

I will dig through some photos and post them up here soon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dealing with Pain.

Well I made it. My last day at the World Series of Poker was Friday , July 15th. To say that I survived with life and limb would be true, but one limb in particular is definitely worse for wear. More on that in a second.

Let me start by admitting that I feel a bit foolish thinking I could maintain 3 jobs at once. My original plan was to work at the Golden Nugget on weekdays from 11am-7pm, and then head over to the Rio and work at the World Series of Poker from 8pm-4am, while picking up shifts at the Mirage on the weekends and any days off from the WSOP. I laugh now at the idea that I thought I could do that. At lunch, on the very first day at the Golden Nugget, I talked with a few of the other dealers. I learned that we would be paid somewhere between $5-$7 per down. (a "down" is a 30 minute period at each table.) That is not good pay for a dealer. At that rate it would hardly cover the cost of gasoline and parking. By contrast, the pay at the WSOP was between $16-$20 per down. It didn't take me long to decide that it simply wasn't worth the time and/or energy. I finished the day, but politely informed the poker room manager that I would not be returning. It turns out that I would not have been able to stay on anyhow, the pay notwithstanding. My boss at the Mirage reminded me that as an "on-call" dealer I need to have much more availability. So, I worked exactly one day at the Nugget and called it quits. I never would have been able to maintain that pace anyhow because...

One day before the WSOP started, things got complicated. While at the gym doing bench presses, I pulled some muscles in my right shoulder/back. Over the next day the area tightened up and went into spasm. The following morning, while getting out of bed, the tightness put direct pressure on my spine, and something popped. It felt like I had been shot. The pain was excruciating. I collapsed onto the floor. I wept in pain for several minutes before I managed to gather the strength to stand. I rolled up a towel and bit down on it to muffle my cries. The pain shot down through my shoulder, arm, all the way to my fingertips. After 10 minutes had passed and the pain had not subsided, I called my friend and asked her to bring me to the hospital. At the emergency room they injected me with Dilaudid, a painkiller. But it did little to make me any more comfortable. They took x-rays, which came back negative for any bone damage. I was then swiftly discharged with a sprained shoulder diagnosis, and given a bill. I did have a sprained shoulder... but that was lesser of my injuries. Over the next week it became apparent to me that I had persistent nerve problems. The pain continued, but I noticed that if I tilted my neck to one side, it would lessen to a tolerable level. Obviously I could not walk around all day with my head on my shoulder, so mostly I just dealt with the pain... and took shitloads of Advil. I started researching my symptoms on the internet. It wasn't long before I recognized what had happened. The key was the weakness, numbness and shooting pains through shoulder, arm, and all the way down to my right thumb, index finger, and half of my middle finger. This is indicative of a pinched nerve root. This video explains exactly how it works. An MRI is the only way to reveal the severity of the disc herniation... almost certainly located at the C5/C6 vertebrae, and the subsequent root nerve impingement. My problem was, I had no time to go to the doctor to confirm any of this. So I just had to deal with it. Literally. It was very tough going for the first week. Some days were better than others, as the level of inflammation around my injury would dictate the amount of sensation I had in my fingers. Some days I could barely feel anything in my index finger and thumb. I would sometimes drop or fumble with the chips. The cards would occasionally fly out of my hand erratically. If it became noticeable, I would explain my disability to those at the table. In large part they were sympathetic. But even with a gimp arm, I still managed to function fairly well, and with better efficiency than many of the other dealers. That says A LOT about the skill of the average dealer at the WSOP, but that is the topic for another post.

The first part of treatment for an injury of this type is rest. Unfortunately I could not give it the amount necessary as I had to work nearly every day... sometimes for over 17 hours straight. The injury also interrupted my exercise schedule. This has had a significant effect on my body. See, for the last 4 years, I have trained with weights 3 or more times per week, and played tennis or some other cardio activity just as often, if not more. As such, I maintained a very lean body composition. I suppose my metabolism had become used to this regimen. So, without it... my body began to dispose of the excess muscle. It didn't take me long to start wasting away. Within 3 weeks I had lost 7 lbs. Today I am down about 10 lbs of muscle mass from my torso and arms. I have high hopes that I will recover fully and get back into shape someday. For now,.I will have to continue to assure people that I am not dying. :) Having has a few days now to rest, I feel like the sensation and strength is slowly returning to my right side. I have an appointment with the Orthopedist next week, where we will get the MRI's and find out the exact nature of the injury. I may also see a chiropractor as it has become apparent that my frame is very uneven.

Enough about my arm. Tomorrow I will post about my experiences while dealing at the World Series of Poker.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This is the end

OMFG, I have an entire day off today. I will not spend a large portion of it writing a blog entry that covers the last 7-8 weeks. That will follow in a few days. Today I will relax and rest. My last day at the WSOP is tomorrow for Day 4 of the Main event.