Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lives worth Saving: Banned means BANNED.

This is an OPEN LETTER to the families of “Resorts World Gunman” JESSIE JAVIER CARLOS, as well as to all the families of the 37 who lost their lives as a result of the incident.
Do not blame Jessie.
Jessie is not alone in a sea of the hapless casino denizens who are subjected to the unfathomable stresses of a gambling addiction.  It is a deep deep hole where no soul can thrive.  Some make it out, some do not.
I write this letter because I believe Jessie could have had a fair shot at making it out.  I believe that the incident that took his life, and that of 37 others, should not have happened.
Do not blame Jessie.  Blame the casinos that allowed him entry after March 27, 2017.
Why is that date important?  Please bear with me as I explain.
Out of curiosity, upon release of the gunman’s name, I checked the PAGCOR NDRP – the National Database for Restricted Personnel.  This is a rundown of all the people that are BANNED from all PAGCOR-regulated establishments.  Not only does inclusion in the NDRP mean a person cannot play, it means he cannot even enter the premises!  This does not just apply to casinos.  A person on this list can’t so much as enter a Bingo hall!
Lo and behold, there was Jessie, banned – as per the request of family members – for one year, as of March 27, 2017.

So now let's review the larger timeline:

Pre-ban, Jessie went on a downward spiral from his gambling addiction.  The hole got deeper, and the only way out was to stop digging, first and foremost.

To stop the bleeding and begin the healing, Jessie's family took advantage of PAGCOR's Responsible Gaming Initiative, and filed for a ban on Jessie.

This could have been the turning point in the script.

The ban was executed on a national level, and Jessie was then included on the National Database for Restricted Personnel.  MARCH 27, 2017. 

Inclusion in PAGCOR’s NDRP – especially at the behest of family members – is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

As per protocol, this BAN ORDER was forwarded to all PAGCOR-regulated establishments.  It was now THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to enforce the order.

As of March 27, 2017, with the BAN ORDER in place, was Jessie a man that could still be saved?  We will now never know because the ORDER from the government was ignored by insensitive private casino administrators.

This was where the system was failed by negligence.  This was where the shackles came undone.  This is where a serious order was ignored, and a man that might have healed was allowed to disintegrate further.

There is a huge and provable likelihood that Jessie was able to keep playing - reports say he was still frequenting some major casinos – City of Dreams, Resorts World – well after the ban was ordered by PAGCOR.

This gave Jessie TWO MORE MONTHS of addictive and self-destructive behavior DESPITE his family’s – and PAGCOR's – efforts to save him from himself!

June 2, we can only imagine that the hole was even deeper.  Jessie finally broke, and the Resorts World incident was the result.

I cannot blame Jessie.

I am not saying he was a good guy, and I cannot say he was a bad guy.  All I know is that when you take away all reason, hope and support, a man will act upon things he only previously imagined.

I blame whichever casino - any and all of them - allowed Jessie to keep playing DESPITE the issuance of the national ban.  The establishments that continued to enable his addiction and allowed him to maintain contact with characters who likewise furthered him along the path of destruction – the circle of financiers who not only handed him the shovels, but are also suspected of making an M4 assault rifle available.

Those establishments fuelled his rage and desperation well beyond the point of intervention.  They enabled him to destroy himself, and 37 others with him.

Each and every casino that allowed Jessie entry after March 27 should be accountable for damages to Jessie’s family, as well as to each of the 37 families who lost a loved one as a result of Jessie’s meltdown.

As a matter of further proof of ongoing negligence regarding the NDRP, I must share more:  I cite as an example two more currently BANNED individuals who are allowed to frequent casinos as if the order did not matter.

These two people - banned for fraud - continue to make fraudulent dealings and misrepresentations within casino walls.  Witnesses will verify that one DIRECT result of these frauds gallivanting within casinos is the loss of an innocent’s livelihood.  A woman, a cashier who testified with the Pasay Police against the frauds, became a victim of vengeful propaganda at the hands of the banned individuals and was made to lose her job.

I must reiterate where the accountability lies:  The casinos who fail to enforce the ban.

I am not saying casinos are bad.  I am putting a spotlight on just one major and recurring oversight regarding the NDRP.  I personally believe in the good that the casino industry brings us on many levels, which is why I am also a staunch supporter of PAGCOR’s Responsible Gaming Initiatives.  We need to take all that good and regulate the bad.

"Pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 1869 as amended by Republic Act No. 9487, PAGCOR...promotes delivery of gaming services in a responsible manner.  This Code of Practice sets out rules and guidelines on Responsible Gaming for adoption by all PAGCOR-operated and licensed entities in authorized gaming establishments, in order to minimize potential harm to the individual players and the community..."

PAGCOR’s NDRP exists to prevent further damage when there are people who are out of control.  People who can cause serious damage.  To ignore the NDRP ignores the very essence of PAGCOR’s existence, and allows one mistake to undo everything we might have built.

As we can now see, the NDRP should have saved lives.

Let us hold those who ignored the NDRP accountable for the damage.  If people understood, and did, their jobs, this wouldn’t happen.

Footnote:  While proponent-enforcement is obviously lacking, and I highlight it here, PAGCOR can also do much better with the NDRP by doggedly requiring – AND EVEN PROVIDING – professional help for those cases where families come out to seek help.  It is a very small return and the least they can do for a person who has in all likelihood already given them so much.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Gathering of Gragarious Gentlemen

PokerstarsLive Manila
PokerStarsLive Manila, where men pit their wits against their peers on a stage of felt – hurling friendly invectives and clay missiles at their opponents.  The assailants dare their rivals to engage, but are more than content to see them flee.  Here, under the glamorous lights of a venue that dares to call itself a City of Dreams, a Gathering of Gregarious Gentlemen celebrate all the good things in life.

Bystanders marvel at the powerful presence of the affable association: More than thirty stately men – most of them standing six feet tall, and all of them giants in their own right – take their seats as the Tournament Director makes his announcement:

“Thirty seconds before the Jagus Poker League commences”

Like knights in the jousts of old, they look across the field at their fellow noblemen – with cards as their shields and a sharpened awareness as their swords.

This is the Jagus Poker League, and like the glorious full moon, it only happens once a month.


The operative word is not “Poker,” it is “JAGU,” and onlookers have wondered out loud at the meaning of the word.

Mahesh Mirpuri, the founder of the League, explains the essence of the word:  “There are really many interpretations to the word JAGU – for me it's happy go lucky.  It just means guys who want to have fun.”

This is not the first time Mahesh took on the role of community-fun-enabler.  “I have a basketball group called JBA which is Jagus Basketball Association…and Jagus Fantasy League which is our NBA fantasy basketball league.”

Nice Guys, Nasty Trash Talkers.
These other JAGU League counterparts have been around for more than five years.  They all align with the Mission of Mahesh:  for JAGUS to constantly get together to remember what life is about – fun, friends, family, fun with friends and family, and a whole bunch of other words that do not start with the letter f.

Like the word Poker – a game Mahesh has found to be a worthy transition from the physically punishing activity that basketball can be.

“I got the Inspiration to start JPL as I wanted a Tournament that was run very professionally and could be something our community could enjoy together,” recalls Mahesh. “My brother, who is part of a poker tournament that has been around for many years in Hong Kong, comes once a year to the Philippines to hold a game.  I was always the person that was helping them organize the game here, and my friend Manesh Mirchandani has helped as well.”
The JAGU Committee and Tournament Directors

Taking his cue from the success of his brother, Mahesh crafted a blueprint for what he wanted to do, and recognized that he could not do it alone.

“I approached Manesh as he is handling all of the back work of the casino and he is doing a heck of a job. Everything that is done via the casino is as smooth as silk because of him.”

Having on one side a partner who knew the gaming industry, Mahesh needed another to cover the side that would complete the experience.

“Rishi Mirani is one of the most organized people I have ever known, professional to the tee, Rishi has been making sure we all have awesome meals at every game.”

The initial trio of JAGUS mapped out the League’s objectives.  Rules were set, and events were scheduled.  The League was then populated with friends who would exemplify the JAGU spirit and help birth a tradition.

Kishore is a crowd favorite.
The result has surpassed all expectations.  The complexity and competitiveness of the game of poker melted away under the warmth of a small community simply enjoying each others’ company.

The bond forged in the monthly tilts proved to be so strong, it has given the entire group the confidence to take their game well into the future… even overseas.  The 2016 season is nearing its exciting conclusion, and plans have already been hatched for 2017.

“We started of the first year at 35 members,” says Mahesh, “and I look to grow that number to 45 in 2017.”

The JAGUs have committed to staging one game in Macau, opening up speculations of where they will be in the many more years to come.

“My dream is that this can cross even me,” Mahesh shares, “meaning if when the day comes that I leave the game of poker, someone will take the wheel and steer this train into the future.”

The secret to sustaining this is the JAGU spirit.  The ability to enjoy life in three-piece suits or shorts and rubber shoes.  Two key ingredients in the mix all times:  Camaraderie and Competition. 

Eat Together, Play Together, Live Together.

When put together, it is a beautiful thing to behold.  PEOPLE SHINE.

The cash prize and a beautiful glass trophy may be a shiny draw, but it is crystal clear that Prestige is paramount.  It takes eleven events to win a seat at the finale where one JAGU shines brightest as the year’s Champion.

People shine more when they have cool monickers – another JAGU feature that Mahesh insisted upon:  “We told all players to come in and give us their own nicknames.”

These nicknames are not just displayed in the Event write-ups or the League standings, they are evident at the venue – where drinks are served to JAGUS in glasses that bear their tags.

The Probinsyano
On the cusp of a Final Nine entry, Ravi “GOOD TIME” Gurnamal carries with him the reputation for bringing good times wherever he goes.

Finale contender Arvin “YEH MEN” Pessumal shouts “Yeh Men” whenever his unpredictable plays capture favorable results.

Ronnie “THE CLAW” Mohnani, who claws away your chips quietly, also contends for the trophy.

Amrit “THE PROBINSYANO” Gidwani, from Bacolod City, was the winner of the inaugural event in January 2016, and is one event away from determining his fate in – or out – of the finale.

Just like every JAGU Nickname has a backstory, every JAGU event is a story worth telling. It is a simple story about the celebration of a life worth living, and the camaraderie of a community worth growing.

The growing community of Jagus, with PokerStars Tournament Director Gil Alim.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Who invited the Ninja to Poker Night?

I used to have a regular Tuesday night basketball quorum.

It was a group of close friends attempting to maim one another for possession of a leather ball that most of us probably no longer had sufficient skill to throw into a ten-foot high metal hoop from more than six feet away. We beat the crap out of each other in long drawn out games, and afterwards slapped each other high fives for making everything harder than was humane.

It was a lovefest, and we did it every week for many many years until nature herself tore our favorite gym down.

Time to play something else.

So we shrunk our quorum to a core group of the closest friends and moved our weekly need to destroy each other into somebody's living room. This new exercise in bonding was called poker night, and it was a moral dilemma for me.

I play and coach poker for a living, and none of my friends had so much as read a poker book. Nobody invites a professional basketball player to a pickup game among out-of-shape cubicle dwellers. The few times I've seen that happen, everyone told the pro to stay at least twenty feet away from the basket.  So how was I supposed to play at poker night?

I'm not here to tell you how to win against amateurs - there are too many boring books on the basics of that subject matter. Let me summarize those books for you: don't play garbage hands, don't play unless you are last to act, stay out of multiway pots, bet and raise when you have it, fold when you don't.

In fact, I'm not here to teach you how to decimate your friends. I don't want you to rip their heads off and force things down their spines. Don't scalp them, just take a few hairs. Steal their handkerchiefs, and let them keep the shirts on their backs.

Win quietly.

The next few tips I share will hopefully show you how to beat the crap out of your friends without reducing them to quivering confused raisins of their former selves. These are your friends. You want them to like you. You want them to have fun. You want them to enjoy giving you their money.

When you win a pot: shut your mouth and do not open it again until the next hand has been dealt and concluded. If someone calls you a lucky son of a dog, just agree.  You don't apologize. You don't tell them what they did wrong. You don't make a list of the things you will buy with their money.

I like to trash talk when I score on an athletic twenty-year old kid in basketball. I like to tell that person he just got owned by somebody twice his age who can't even touch his own toes. Sometimes I tell him to invite his mother for the next game.

There is no room for that in poker night. Trash talking only works when you are needling someone who is clearly expected to have more ability than you. At the poker table - especially if you are the identified pro - you have to let them do all the talking.

Don't talk trash. Talk shop.

Wait, I don't want you to put your shades, headphones, and hoodie on either. "Don't talk trash" doesn't mean "don't talk at all."

Poker night is a gathering of friends. Your intent to take their rent money is your dirty little secret. So talk about everything else. Tell a long anecdote to mask the length of time you've spent folding every hand before the flop. Talk about how watching Batman fighting Superman is the new worst thing that ever happened to you - topping that time you fell tongue-first into a septic tank.

These are your friends, so before you can take their money, you have to be their friend. Friends like giving friends money.

So give some back.

After a big win, stack up your chips and plan on playing the next few hands, maybe without even looking. I'm not saying you should call a shove with a five and a deuce in your hand. I'm saying loosen it up more than a few notches temporarily, but don't drive a scooter into a freight train.

Imagine the pro baller at your basketball quorum taking bad shots every now and then.  These "bad shots" are not from half court, and they are not with eyes closed. They are reasonable shots that he nonetheless knows are unlikely to be good. They sort of make up for that one time he dunked on three of you.

Do the same thing on the poker table. Make some loose calls with middle pair in small pots and say "I thought I had you" when he shows you the winning hand. Make a hopeless bluff and show them you got caught.

Toss them small pots.

Some people like to toss their friends some chips back after winning a metric ton from them. They flick back a few chips and say something completely fake and condescending like "lucky chips, for you."

I hate that. Don't do it, ever.  Refer to my tip on keeping your mouth shut after a win. The simple idea is this: You do not want to say or do anything that reminds them you just won.

So instead of being the schmuck who chucks rebates at his peers, be the guy who makes "mistakes" - That's the guy who can win a large pot and still get invited next week. 

I enclose the word "mistakes" in quotations because they won't actually be mistakes. They are the hands that you don't mind losing, and in fact sometimes play badly on purpose. This is you paying income tax discreetly. This is the cost of sales. This is the price of advertising. This is what it takes to create the image of a guy who "ain't that great, after all."

Keep costs down.

Make it look good, don't go nuts. No half court shots. Pay with small pots only. I cannot say this enough so I have to say it again: SMALL POTS. 

So what is a small pot? If you are going to beat the crap out of your friends, you will need to recognize the difference between small, medium, and large. I can take a shortcut and talk about BB's, but I prefer to paint some pictures.

Whenever you raise from the button or cutoff on a pure blind-steal, that's a small pot.

When someone opens for a raise and you re-raise from the blinds with the intention of giving up if you get a call, that's a small pot.

When you limp in, call a flop bet, the turn goes check check, and you make a small bluff on the river with little to no hope of winning a showdown, that's a small pot. 

When it is an unraised pot and you call someone on the river with a weak hand - aka a bluffcatcher - that's a small pot. 

When you raise preflop and make one bet on the flop with the intention of giving up, that's a small pot. 

When someone else raises preflop and you call with a small pocket pair, intending to throw it away if you don't flop a set, that's a small pot.

If it's large, it's yours.

When you do flop a set and get your whole stack in because the other guy has aces, that's a large pot.

When you re-raise preflop with aces and intend to bet all three streets postflop because the other guy never lays down kings and queens, that's a large pot.

When you make your flush and two players made weaker flushes, that's a large pot.

The small pots, if you study them carefully, will happen to be ones that you might win as often as you lose. The large pots, well those should only happen when you have your opponent hopelessly dominated. You have it, they have less, and cannot let it go.

And then there was a Ninja.

Small, large...wait, where are the medium pots? 

Medium pots separate the amateurs from the pros. I like to call them Ninja pots - not because they are made and won with acrobatic moves and flying shurikens, but because they are made and won under the radar. 

Stealth wins. When you have a big stack of chips and nobody can remember how you won all that money, I know they came from medium pots. And I know you're a Ninja.

A Ninja floats: When someone raises preflop, you call. He bets the flop, you call. He checks the turn, you bet. He folds. Medium pot to you.

A Ninja three-bets: when someone raises preflop, you re-raise. He calls. You bet the flop, he folds. Medium pot to you.

A Ninja squeezes:  Someone raises preflop, three people call, and you re-raise it to an uncomfortable amount. When they all fold, medium pot to you.

The Home Game Recipe.

Win one large pot. Throw in a few small pots. Sneak in a few medium pots. Shake well with a lot of anecdotes, and season it all with a smile.

If you can get through the night without a large pot, then you've done extremely well. Shun the big showdowns at the home game. Let the big fishes have all the highlight reels. Kenny Walker was an NBA Slam Dunk winner. Tim Duncan is a many-time NBA Champion. Who would you rather be?

Remember, steal his handkerchief, not his shirt. By the time he realizes it is gone, he is more likely to blame himself for losing it somewhere else. This is how Ninjas get invited back to the home game.