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Vegas to Rosarito: Goodbye Kitty

She pointed to a giant stuffed piñata of Mickey Mouse when I asked her for a discount. In broken Spanish, I explained that I didn't want Mickey, I wanted the pink Japanese pop icon. She waved her hand to show us a zebra, a giraffe and dozens of multi-colored, balloon-shaped blobs adorned with ribbons and said, "We may be able to do something for you on a cheaper one ... " In poker, business, or shopping for paper mache, the rule stands: Never show what you desire most.

Jen Shahade - Hello Kitty.jpg

I left the store ashamed by my bargaining skills but triumphant in my refined taste, grasping a giant Hello Kitty piñata. Later we stuffed her with candy and presented her for the birthday of Jamie "AndtheLawWon" Kerstetter, who was also in Rosarito for the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker.

I came to Rosarito from G2E in Vegas, the world's largest gaming conference. I was on a panel on poker from a player's perspective, moderated by Marco Valerio with Antonio Esfandiari, Jay Farber and Matt Glantz.

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I was proud to represent women and also to be the token Internet nerd, giving insights from the perspective of a player who transitioned to more live poker only after Black Friday. I also talked about my plans to cross the border to play WCOOP, where many of my friends grind year round, including Katie Dozier and Katie Stone.

Jen Shahade - G2E badge.jpg

My neighbor on the flight from Vegas to San Diego ran the Mexican lottery and was also traveling from G2E. As he told me about dealing with government changes and the expected return of Lotería Nacional, I got excited about my own imminent turns of fortune in Mexico. I've watched plenty of lottery porn showing how winning a jackpot can make you unhappy. I, on the other hand, was quite ready to win all the races and take down a WCOOP. I would certainly not spend it all on bottles and shoes.

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My first couple days in Mexico were packed with horseback riding, group dinners with what seemed like all of the online grinders in Rosarito, running on the beach, and playing Cards Against Humanity and tipsy Taboo. I fantasized about the different lives I may have lived as the Pacific waves crashed and I baked cupcakes from scratch with Larissa, one of my hosts. "This is going to be a disaster," we predicted, as the moist yellow cake and trio of icings came out looking like a tear-out from Martha Stewart's Living.

Negative thinking can be powerful, especially when it comes to baking and bankroll management.

On my first day in Mexico, I single tabled a $109 turbo to test out my setup and found myself heads-up a couple hours later. I lost the battle, and though I won $3,000, I went to sleep unhappy with my heads-up play.

I had a chance to redeem myself in the following day's SuperKnockouts, one of my favorite formats (the main buy-in is equal to the bounty on every player). In the SuperKO WCOOP, I opened nearly every hand for a couple orbits, due to various factors like a player to my left who'd lost most of his stack and was down to 8-10 blinds. Most of the players at my table didn't seem to be paying much attention, and I isolated plenty of bounties opening and x-betting. As Kristy Arnett wrote in her PokerNews piece on playing "Poker Night in America", a female playing TAG must separate ego from strategy:

"I knew that the right approach was to play tight. There were a number of reasons I didn't want to do this, including the chip on my shoulder. I didn't want people to say, "Of course, she's playing tight. It's because she's a girl. She's scared." But I wasn't going to let my ego dictate strategy "

Playing like a maniac in the SuperKOs reminded me that a lot of my tight folds in regular MTTs are based on poker strategy and not an essential character flaw.

Planning my schedule for the rest of the trip, I decided not to play the WCOOP Main ($5000+200). I gauged interest and felt I could sell a decent chunk but hadn't played on Stars for a few months, and it seemed far more sensible to play in a dozen tournaments throughout the day with buy-ins up to $215. Pessimism (or math) meshes well with massive series like WCOOP or WSOP because the median players get crushed.

As I regged for tournaments such as the 8-Max WCOOP $215 and the $55 Women's Sunday, I added a last minute $215 Turbo 50-Seat Guaranteed to the WCOOP Main, which I hadn't noticed before. Just a few hours later, I was in the biggest online event I've ever played.

After a few minutes of harried texts and last minute transactions, I sold off enough of the event so that playing in the satellite wasn't atrocious planning.

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Despite a poor start, with just a few levels left in day 1, I had 120K, 6x the starting stack. I wanted it like I wanted Miss Kitty. And then came a nightmarish few orbits highlighted by a quasi-cooler and a painful fold with an overpair. I was finally eliminated back-raising eights into queens. I deflated on the couch as I watched Carrie cry for an hour on Homeland. I felt even more drained than I would after a big buy-in live event because I got so many critical hands in a short time.

The day before I left, we gathered a group of poker players and hired a driver to take us on a local wine tour. Later, as we were all buzzed from sunshine and Cabernet, Jamie (who finished 54th in the WCOOP Main) killed Hello Kitty.

Jen Shahade - winery girls.jpg

On my way back, I realized that the trip had taught me I'm not as much of a city person as I thought. The only two places I've ever lived have been New York and Philadelphia. I could get used to this quiet resort town, now a bit louder with the big personalities of so many young poker players. I was so relaxed that I could see things more clearly and felt more sympathetic and less judgmental. I'll certainly be back.

Jen Shahade - happy girls.jpg

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