April 9, 2005

Cruising for Cash: The 2005 Party Poker Million WPT Cruise

Some party

Way back in September I had won an entry into the Party Poker Million cruise through an on-line satellite so I went on the cruise rather than the WSOP Circuit event at the Rio that conflicted with it. Shortstack had a conflict as well and sent me off alone so I dusted off my sandy ego and booked an Alaska Airlines flight down to San Diego. This year's cruise was on a newer Holland America ship, the Öosterdam. The décor was nicer throughout than on last year's Ryndam, but they still had outrageous charges for Internet access: $0.50/min. in the cabin or $100 for 250 minutes using wireless access in the public areas. Royal Caribbean had several years ago gone to $100 for in-cabin access for the entire cruise. PartyPoker, a company that makes its money off people getting to them via the Internet, might at least have cut a deal if not comped the whole thing. I ended up spending $600 on Internet.


PartyPoker held a reception on the first evening with complimentary cheap wine by the glass. I looked for the usual complimentary martinis but didn't find any. CardPlayer Cruises boss Linda Johnson explained that we were to tip the dealers in the cash games on board because they weren't actually getting paid anything out of the $4/pot rake. She also mentioned that they were tacking on a mandatory $70/person service charge onto all of our bills, just because. With the exception of tea and coffee, all the drinks in the poker room and restaurant were extra. Some party.


I wondered what kind of financial troubles PartyPoker must be in to nickel-and-dime their best customers this way so I did some calculations. With 735 entrants plus eight no-shows, PartyPoker was collecting  $594,392 in juice (including 3% in lieu of staff tips but not including another $2100 per winner subtracted from the prize pool to pay for the cruise, surely more than the actual cost). But wait: that's not all! Sixty players entered the on-line semifinals for each cruise winner and each paid $16 in juice for a total of $960 per winner. If they started from a smaller sub-satellite they paid even more. Subtracting the 80 or so direct buy-ins, that's another $636,480! So not even counting the advertising value of this event, Party started the week ahead over $1.2 million. It was as if the couple next door had won the lottery and invited all their neighbors to a party but asked them to bring their own drinks and charged them for parking. I did get some logoed T-shirts and polo shirts but no nice denim shirt like last year – the cutbacks – and a couple of logoed beach towels I left on the ship.


Chicken man

I shrugged off my opinion of PartyPoker and decided to have a good time on the cruise. On board I ran into Gary "Benji" Lent and he attempted to teach me some limit Hold 'Em skills in time for the event. I had drawn day one of the two-day split start, table 14, seat four. I didn't recognize anyone at my table but seat one was a guy in a chicken suit who was wearing it on a bet. It was tough to get a read on him and the tournament directors finally made him take it off but his friends said he won the bet anyway. I started off rough, getting pocket Tens and Queens beat, but then made a Straight while defending my blind with Six-Trey offsuit. I went to the first break down slightly from the starting 10,000 at 9125.


From there I caught a rush, winning several small pots – well, you can't win that large a pot in limit – and got to 19,050 at the next break and then to 31,000 at the next. I busted chicken man, getting him all in preflop with my Ace-King of Spades versus his pocket Eights and flopping a King. My friend Gavin Griffin took seat nine toward the end of the day and I avoided him. I got to a high of 39.050 and finished the day with a nice 34,000.


The tournament ended at a reasonable hour so Benji and I went to dinner in the main dining room, where we were joined by tournament regular Dan Heimiller and a blonde 22-year-old lesbian tattooed stripper from Oregon. The tattoos were visible all along her left arm and she cheerfully told us, alternating between sipping a Bloody Mary and a glass of cranberry juice, that they go all across her torso and down her right leg. Apparently she was sharing two cabins with five young men from Eugene and they had brought her along in hopes that she would attract other, preferably heterosexual, 22-year-old women. But while most cruises have an overabundance of unattached females, this male-dominated poker charter was slim pickings so she ended up dining with us, perhaps comfortable in the avuncular warmth of Gary's and my baldness. Gary had the Mike Sexton New York Steak and I had a nice salmon without a celebrity name attached. Like last year, they named the dishes after the event staff and stars but I thought it was a little over the top to have (I am not making this up) "Shana Hiatt Red Snapper." We washed down dinner with a bottle I had brought aboard, the 2001 Nickel & Nickel Tench Vineyards Cabernet. It was sublime. They charged us $15 for corkage.


Day off

The second day, like the first, was at sea. I had the day off while the second half of the field started the tournament and I played some on line at great expense. I met up with Gary and Steven "Zee" Zolotow for dinner in the main dining room where we split the second Nickel & Nickel I had brought, the 2001 Rock Cairn. This one was yummy but not as lush at the Tench. Zee wanted to meet the stripper but she was nowhere to be found. An experienced cruiser, I suggested the most likely explanation was seasickness as I didn't think she could resist Zee's shining presence (his other nickname was "The Bald Eagle" in addition to Benji's and mine. The food wasn't bad on this tub, better than last year.

Limit is for suckers

Day three of the cruise we docked at Mazatlan, where I had been many times and saw no reason to visit again if I couldn't go to Señor Frog's and drink their nuclear margaritas, which I couldn't because I had to play that night. So I stayed on board and played a little on-line poker. When we set sail it was time to resume play in the tournament with the combined winners of the split day one. I drew table eight, seat nine, and who should be there but Gary "Benji" Lent in seat four. I didn't recognize anyone else but it didn't much matter as I got absolutely nothing to play. I was down to 19.500 at the break and soon thereafter we were all in the money for $5000 with 180 left. Benji got knocked out and I hung on to move up to the next cash level when it folded to me on the button with Jack-Ten suited. I raised and before the small blind could act, the little old lady in the big blind mucked her hand out of turn! Now the small blind could call with almost anything! I was furious but when he three-bet me I figured he had a real hand anyway. I called and the flop came Ten high. I put my last chips in and he called with Ace-Jack. I had been dominated before the flop but I caught my Ten on the flop to take the lead. But limit is about sucking and re-sucking and he hit the dreaded Ace on the river to knock me out in 111th place, cashing for the second year in a row for about the same amount, $10,426.

All over but the cruising

For the rest of the cruise I played some cash games in the poker room and some on line. Some of the guys got off in Puerto Vallarta the next day, including Benji, but Zee and I wore out the palm of the Maitre D' at the gourmet room, eating there most of the rest of the trip for a modest $20/person extra charge. I ran into the tattooed stripper again once, at the poolside bar on deck nine. She jumped up and gave me a big hug, then tapped her temple with her finger and said, "I like intelligent men." I glanced over to see who she was sitting with, a grizzled drunk near 60 with a cigarette between his fingers burnt down so far as to be close to searing the flesh. "That's nice," I said, and excused myself with a frozen smile.  I didn't see Shana at all, which didn't surprise me as I think she's keeping a safe distance after the magical chemistry we had during the interview at the WPT Invitational. I was happy to get off and catch the next Alaska Airlines flight back to Seattle, where my Shortstack picked me up eagerly in the black T-Bird. I had only a brief rest before the next stop, Reno.

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