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At Least I Got My Maltese Flag

by Xuan Liu |  Published: Mar 25, '11

Malta was the second last stop on my latest Euro trip and came after Paris and before Copenhagen. I was thrilled to be back in jacket-less weather for the first time since PCA! The island was warm and inviting in both climate and hospitality. The first thing I noticed at the airport, however, was the interesting dialect that was spoken - a fusion of Afro-Asiatic influences. I was amused that so many X's were used and giggled to myself while trying to pronounce various words.

During check-in at the boutique Hotel Juliani we were introduced to a refreshing and exotic beverage, a locally-made soft drink called Kinnie. It is made with bitter oranges and tastes like a hybrid between root beer and orange soda. I'm not really a pop drinker, but this stuff is legit. We even saw tourists taking back 24 packs of the stuff on the flight out of the country.

Anyhow after a quick nap and confirming the length of late-registration I quickly made my way over to the Casino Portomaso for a satellite to the main. The value was too great to be missed as anyone who has ever played an IPT will understand what I mean. The turbo didn't last long and I went home with one of six discounted seats. I also got a chance to shoot the shit with Claudio Pagano (no, he's not related to Luca), whom I played with throughout the IPT San Remo 1k event. He is quite the popular guy amongst the Italians, due to his always playful and friendly nature. Anywho, that night Claudio and his friends told me about this 24 hour joint on the island, which would be the spot for the nightly snack/drink ritual.

The next day would be the ladies event - a tournament I almost never sell action for and always skip off to with pretty high hopes but finish with my tail between my legs. I actually thought my luck was finally going to change near the end of this one - I had a quarter of the chips in play when we were 9-handed and 6 paid. Buuut I got ahead of myself and during dinner break I was peer-pressured to reg in the FTOPS 10-game with a lot of action bought. Yes, I was supposed to play this final table and a 1k mixed game event at the same time. WTF was I thinking?! It didn't seem so bad at the time, since the ladies event was a turbo and I'd be 1-tabling anyway, but it got super tricky when 1) the floor guy initially said I couldn't do that (then changed his mind for whatever reason) and 2) there was no connection from my new seat, so I had to run back and forth for a bit to another table. What a disaster. Long story short, I ended seeing about 20 hands total in the FTOPS and mis-read my all-in Badugi hand while in a live one, then busted the ladies event at the feature table without even cashing when this one lady (who was obviously maliciously making fun of me in Italian the whole time) decided to snap-call an all-in pot-size bet on the turn with J9o on a K97Tr board vs. my AA. I proceed to lose two more flips after the Q came and abruptly ended off the stage with empty pockets. Big sigh. At least this one camera guy on contract was kind and patient enough to interview me for some stuff he was shooting. It made me feel special but inadequate at the same time, since I have yet to win or even cash in a ladies event since WSOP last year and I've been playing my share.

Day 1 of the main was pretty awesome. I started off at a table sitting beside Marvin Rettenmaier and I think I rubbed off a bit of his run-good. He did say in Venice that if I taught him how to play mixed games he would teach me how to hit stuff. I ended the day top 5ish in chips for the two day 1s combined and felt pretty excited and eager to have an equally amazing day 2. I woke up early enough to have breakfast, get pumped, and pick out a decent outfit for the tables, since admittedly, this is part of the battle for a female player. As I'm in the shower, Dom pounds on my door and I wonder, "wtf, I haven't taken that long...", only to hear once I got out that we were getting kicked out of our very comfortable hotel. Apparently Dom thought he had booked for 4 nights when they were in fact completely booked for that final day so we had to check out asap. I had not anticipated booking, packing, cabbing, and checking-in to another hotel to be part of my Day 2 prep. Boy was I peeeeeeeeved. However once we got into our room at the Hilton I was in a much better mood. What an amazing view overlooking the flawless sky and rich navy blue water. There was even a full-moon that night which made the scene completely majestic and surreal. If I was still in my artsy phase I would've snap-painted a picture.

Ok, so I know everyone is just dying to hear more about my showing cards fiasco in the main. Well, maybe not since I feel like I'm beating a dead horse every time I talk about it, but nonetheless this entry would not be complete without a thorough analysis of the situation. Most of day 2 was smooth-sailing, until the last table I got transferred to nearish the bubble when I lose a massive multi-way pot on the flop with a set vs. flush draw. I rebuild a bit and then this hand happens: Seat 9, an old man who seems friendly but perhaps a little on the senile side, opens his hand on the river when his opponent is tanking on the turn to his AI donkbet on an AKQJ board. His hand is A4 & the floor comes over and his defense is that he heard his opponent say fold, and the other guy is obviously pissed because if he's tanking on that board he most definitely has A4 beat, but is now unable to call because the old man already showed his hand. I didn't actually hear anything from the guy but there were a bunch of reporters around as we were down to just a few tables and there's lots of Italian being spoken, so I couldn't be sure and was completely uninvolved.

Soooo this is my hand: same guy, who's overall very nitty but then does stuff like the A4 donk-shove example, opens, I flat with JTs from lp and it gets heads up. Flop comes JT2 gin he checks I bet 2/3 and he flats. Turn 2 and he has a psb behind. He check and I decided checking was the best option to induce hero calls and spazzes on the river, and control any over pairs he decided to take this line with. Note given stack sizes I am never folding, I started the hand with about twice his stack and averagish. River is a 4 brick and he snap-shoves into me. I am giggly/confused at the same time. Oh, I should probably also mention that Marvin had just come up behind me right before the hand started. On this river and because we are bubblish, I decided to take my time and flip over my hand in a playful (not slow-roll) way before I would say "call". It wasn't meant to be ill-natured, I really was rather amused and wanted to demonstrate this by adding some more character and plot to the already dramatic table, while showing Marvin behind me and giving the guy a chance to muck after I call. Basically in my head I thought I was being funny. You also have to understand that I'm used to cash games where flipping over your hand when completing the action is acceptable, so I didn't realize this was a big no-no especially after seat 9s previous hand. It wasn't the same scenario of course, but no one even mentioned that an exposed hand was dead - he scooped the whole pot! Anyhow, so right when I flipped over my hand, he started to flip over his. I quickly put my hand and yelled/signalled "stop", so he asked, "do you fold?" and I exclaimed "NO!". He then turned over his AK! LOL
So I announce that I call, but then he calls the floor over and we wait for a lengthy decision. The floor finally decided that I could have the pot in the middle but he would keep his remaining stack. I was also given my first poker penalty of a 1-round time-out. I was pretty tilted that the guy could get away with the same sort of shenanigans twice, but more so because I made such a stupid ridiculous mistake with chips in a tournament I should be taking more seriously. My brashness was at fault, and the drama was definitely self-inflicted. This fiasco cost me much more than his left-over chips. The actual bubble was super long - two and a half hours? - and I doubled up a shorty to became one myself, and no amount of shoving could get me back the stack I once had and put me in contention for good money again. If I had just standardly called he would've been out, the bubble would have busted earlier, and I would be in a good spot to go much deeper in that tournament. Sigh, at least I got my Malta flag with the min-cash. Apparently that's pretty prestigious.

Whew, got a little tilted at myself after typing that one again. Off to talk about some more shenanigans then. So Malta is also the place I met my first Scots, David "Harry Potter" Vamplew and Andrew "Some Guy" Ferguson. I knew the British had a special knack for being marathon drinkers, but these fellas don't mess around. Actually the first time I heard about them was when my roommate Dom drunk-texted me while he was still in Venice after his high-roller final table (a very prestigious 2-table sit-n-go), and let me know how much I'm missing out by leaving early - he just met two of the top-earning/only Scottish poker players and they're paying random Venetians to jump into the water for 200 euros a head. Sigh I wish I had extra bills lying around to wipe my ass with. The reputations that preceded them were pretty misleading. I mean, sure Some Guy can be a complete jackass at times (especially before he starts drinking), but overall his head and heart are in the right place (you should see how he talks about his girlfriend Claire), and Vampy is even more agreeable than the real Harry Potter.

Our last night in Malta was definitely not my classiest. To celebrate our various triumphs, we all decided to skip the FTOPS main and have some real fun. We first met up with the Scots at a fake Scottish karaoke bar. I guess they would know. We left soon after to a Texan-style steak place. I don't eat slabs of meat very often, but I have to admit this was the best steak I've ever eaten. Sadly, it would not stay in my stomach for long. After some grub we went to the bar district, "the intersection with all the red dots", as directed by our dependable friend Google. The street might have been a tad shady with their often open-concept hookah bars, strip joints, cops in street fights, and drunk people looking off various balconies, but we managed to pop into a bar with the cheapest bottles I'd ever seen - I think it was like 40e for a bottle of Absolut with 6 red bulls. Apparently there was too much blood in the washroom though so we had to leave. We propped over to a place a few blocks down with a guy in a horse head. They took pretty long to make our Mojitos but I enjoyed the music and watching the horse guy going nuts dancing and humping random things.

After this place closed down we bumped into this Swedish guy who was at my last table. He took a nice pot off me and told me to work on his name when I couldn't say it properly. I asked him to spell it but his Swedish accent sounded so exotic I couldn't understand the letters either, but apparently when I have some vodka in my system "Jaokim" isn't so tough anymore. We went back to the 24 hour place we went to most nights, and it was a hoot since we bumped into two other groups there, the super nice IPT dealers and floor people, as well as Claudio and his Italian friends, including Luca Moschitta, a well-mannered Pokerstars pro I played with at my second table of the day. Dom was already feeling loose enough to yell out, "HAHA, I took all your chips" to him as they walked in because hanging out with classy people is what I'm about. Needless to say I still thought the drinks were too weak and took the initiative to order some shots for everyone. I can only remember buying one round but apparently that was not the case. I really am not an alcoholic and can handle my liquor better than most. I enjoy it primarily as a social lube, but that night I hit a brick-wall drinking til 7 a.m. and found a true friend in Dom when he pulled my hair back as I was throwing up and didn't try to take advantage of me. The Swedes were lucky enough to go to the airport straight from the bar with their early flight, since heading to Copenhagen at noon was one of the most physically (and perhaps mentally) tedious things I've ever had to do. I continued to divulge some more pure vodka at the airport.

I actually would consider moving to Malta one day. It's quite the destination for expats - I met a very nice Swedish poker-playing lady, Anna. She was so supportive on my facebook during the main, I felt so warm and fuzzy to be rooted on by people I've just met, especially a woman, since many of them can be unnecessarily catty. I also met a Canadian expat whose girlfriend plays online, which was pretty cool. The weather there is also generally nice, the food is good at very reasonable prices, the people pleasant, there's poker, it's close to Italy, it's a good place to sail (something I intend on doing a lot of when the time is right), and it's tax-free!
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