I only came to Israel for long enough eat hummus in the Arab market six times, play three Sunday Millions and visit the Dead Sea once.
Upon landing, I took a quick stroll around Jerusalem, where I had a falafel and plenty of espresso. ("I would move to America," one Israeli told me, "if only it was possible to get a good coffee.") Then I registered the two tournaments I missed most - the Sunday Million and the $55 Women's Sunday. Why is it so important, several friends asked me, to play online poker when there is so much family and spiritual business to attend to? For one thing, there was a nice grinding view.
More importantly, as Stars Supernova Elite Max "Chisness" Chiswick told me, for many poker players, "when you travel you work, when you're home, you vacation." Like me, Max first came to Israel on a "Birthright" trip , where young Jewish-Americans, both secular and religious, tour the country on a free trip. Though I came back bloated, flu-ridden and with no extra friends, I had a colorful bank of images of Israel. We travelled by bus from the Negev desert all the way up North, where I could see Lebanon, the other part of my background and the origin of my last name, Shahade.
It's surreal that just a few years later, I set up a second residence in Israel and have been back four times. An Israeli magazine even did a piece on my career in chess, writing and poker.
We realized we'd be visiting Tel Aviv at the same time through my brother, Greg Shahade, who had coached Max years before. "My star short-stacking student," Greg said, who goes by "curtains" online. As we bounced from Tel Aviv cafes to nightspots, our Israeli friends talked politics, and Max and I figured out which friends we had in common.
We ended at a US-style diner, which served bacon as well as traditional Middle Eastern fare. Max missed American breakfasts, while I ordered shakshuka, a tomato based egg dish with fresh vegetables.
I struggle now for both a short-stack pancake joke and with seemingly trivial push/fold spots, years after learning about equilibrium ranges. And yet, professional short-stackers and turbo MTT grinders show that it's almost always possible to be more precise. I was reminded of this upon final tabling a $75 Turbo a few days after my unsuccessful post-landing grind. I was running so well that I was shocked when an anorexic ace-three jam did not get there against pocket tens, which left me in sixth place for three Sundays worth of buy-ins. At the time, I thought it was clear - I was on the button with 13 big blinds, both blinds were tight and the big blind had just under 10 blinds. I later investigated the hand and was surprised it was so close; because of pay jumps, open folding was right vs. many opponents.
I am far more relaxed in Jerusalem than in Philadelphia. In Israel, I wake up at 10:00 AM local time, but so many hours before anyone emails me. The five daily calls to prayer from nearby mosques and the stone architecture is inspiring and soothing. Despite or perhaps partly because of the political turmoil, the culture is more chill, and it rubs off on me quickly. One Israeli who lived in New York for five years said, "No one really cares what you do here, or how much money you have." And for my final Sunday in Jerusalem, it won't be my account balance on Monday morning but whether focus can match anticipation.
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