Saturday, August 11, 2018

An evening with TILT POKER

In the midst of the hectic event that was the APPT - on an evening where over one thousand two hundred players had their game faces on for some serious and cold-blooded poker - two tables made for a stark contrast.

Two tables in a corner, where nineteen gentlemen from Hong Kong reminded some of us what the game used to be - and could still be - about:  good clean fun with the lads.

All the hostility and technicalities that now lace the modern poker game gave way to something more basic - the joy of making a good hand or a tough call...and then sharing it with your friends as you take their chips.

On this evening, a group that called themselves the TILT POKER CLUB was exactly the opposite of what their name suggested.  With this easy going energy and a lineup of slightly more well-lived players, TILT was the last thing you would have felt their company.

You had Manu Chulani and Kishoo, who, when they peeked at their hole cards, held them up so high, the other players struggled NOT to see them.  I believe I was at least three tables away when I saw Manu L hold up ACES for closer inspection... those aces did not hold up in the game, however, as Kishoo flopped a straight with Jack-Ten on a 789 Flop.

How about the Smiling-Assassin Sanjay N, who took the early chip lead by being so likable, the others seemed willing to lose chips to him?

The first move that might have been considered close to unsporting was a daring bluff by A-U on a monotone board.  With three spades on the flop, Ashok U pushed all his chips in with nothing but a gutshot.  It was a tough call for Ramesh aka "RED SEA"... but a call he was able to make, nonetheless.  His Top Pair sent AU packing at 19th place:  first one to have the option to enjoy an evening of blackjack, should he wish to do so.
The more ethical strategy of finding good hands and making a stand with them was not finding much cooperation from the poker gods either...

George's pocket Jacks could not dodge the Queen that gave the pot to Rajesh...

Rajesh's Top Pair could not dodge Ashok M's Open-Ended Straight outs...

Even in an Ace-King versus Ace-Ten matchup, the lesser hand came out ahead, and more players fell to the wayside.  At ten players left, vultures circled over Chandru's short-stack for what seemed like an eternity, before Sanjay eventually eliminated him and set the FINAL TABLE.

Sanjay, Rajesh and Bhagwan enjoyed significant chip advantages as the final table started, but a series of doubles ups from the shorter stacks quickly evened the field. Kumar came back from near oblivion, Andy doubled off Sanjay with AK v AQ, and Navin doubled off Rajesh.  Chip leaders were a thing of the past, and equality was back in style.

Something had to upset the balance, and two players each had their own something.  

ASHOK M's thing was an uncanny ability to figure things out.  In several situations, he thought long and hard and came up with the correct conclusions. 

He folded 44 and extended his tournament life when Rajesh could have easily eliminated him in a coin-flip with Ace King.
His patience paid off when he tripled up in a hand that crippled former chip leader Sanjay N.
His big stack got bigger as he eliminated Kumar by spiking an ace against his opponent's two sixes.

Ashok again used his instincts well and made a tough tough call with Ace Ten facing an all in bet before the flop from Deepak.  As it turned out, Deepak "only" had ace-eight, and Ashok became the first player to reach the 100k mark.  He was rolling...

His roll, however, grinded to a halt when Rajesh showed his particular skill - pulling rabbits out of hats.

Desperately behind with 66 versus Ashok M's Pocket Tens, Rajesh rivered a third 6 to double up.

He used those skills again when he fell behind to Bhagwan's Ace-Jack while holding Ace-Four:   With the board showing A-2-8-5, Rajesh held up three fingers as the river brought him... a THREE, and a straight! 

Now Rajesh, too, reached the 100k mark.
This was not enough to stop Ashok from picking up the pace again, and he ended up eliminating the last three players in a row en route to the win.
It was not a flashy game by modern standards, and although it had its share of TV-worthy moments, what made the game so enjoyable was that it was simply WELL PLAYED - Not with technical skills or bags of tricks, but with good old-fashioned manners and game spirit.

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.