Wednesday, May 25, 2005

First tournament ever...and then the 2nd

I am writing this from my hotel room in Pasadena. Countrywide has sent me off to RING RING, our week of intensive classroom training. At the end of each day of training, we're having a poker tournament down in room 906. Last night was my first ever live tournament. We've had cash game poker nights at our place before, where everyone walks away with whats in front of them, but this was my first ever 9-handed tournament format game of Texas Hold em. No limit Texas Hold Em.

On the very first hand, the guy sitting next to me hummed and hawed, and I really got the impression he had no idea what he was doing. I had second pair with a solid kicker and a flush draw after the flop. I bet strong, he called.. well.. I went all in. All in on the very first hand.

I lost.

Yup. Busted on my very first tournament hand ever. I leaned back in my chair and tried to hide in the corner as it seemed like everyone was staring at the smart guy from the training class. He just lost all his chips on the very first hand.

We had already agreed that the first person to bust would be allowed to buy back in. That extra 20 made the payouts $100 for first, $60 for 2nd and $40 for 3rd. I played my next $20 very tightly and people lost around me. I recovered well and ended up in the money in 3rd place. I made both my original and buy in back. Despite what had happened originally, I am very proud of my 3rd place finish last night. One of the guys I'd beat had been in a real World Poker Tour even in Reno. He had won a sattelite tournament and was playing for a chance at TV and WPT final table or title. The guy who won was the guy who I had lost to on the first hand.

When I sat down to tonight's game, I jokingly thought to myself, "Now, don't go all in on the very first hand again". Tonight's Hold Em Newbie and I ended up all in again on the very first hand. A pair of 5's had flopped, and I had a 5 in my hand for the trips. Good kicker. Once again I was all in on the first hand, but tonight, I won. The exact opposite of the night before. Tonight, I won $20 on the first hand. It was a great tourney and I ended up 3-way with the WPT guy and the guy who came in 2nd last night. When I ended up head to head, the other guy had the chip lead. We played head to head for a while, both of us being very conservative. I started playing a little more agressively and it paid off. My heart was pounding like crazy as I realized I was in position to win my second ever tournament. I bluffed at few pots and he didn't call me. I knocked him out with a trips..and that was it... I won!!!

That $100 should cover my beers for the week.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Full Circle

Standing there on the corner of Larkin and McAllister, I looked at the two buildings accross the street with a vague nostalgia, a certain animosity and a new sense of accomplishment. I had come full circle. Not much had changed to the appearance of UC Hastings College of the Law in the 8 years since it became the site of my life's biggest mistake. It was still the same glass, metal and concrete as in years past. In previous years, however, it was hard to look at, like an old bully who had beat me up on the schoolyard. Now, finally, I felt like I could face that campus without shame.

I had just walked out of a meeting with the son of Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco's congresswoman and the minority leader of the House of Representatives. Sue, Tony and I were returning from our visit to the SF branch of CMD. Young Pelosi happens to be a sales manager with Countrywide. We had been talking about our business partnership which would involve deals totalling tens of millions of dollars. The office itself was on the former site of Stars Restraunt, accross the street from City Hall and the SF Opera House. I was involved with important stuff with important people in important places.

"Its a great feeling," I shared with my boss and coworker as I gestured accross the street, "That campus was where I went through one of the biggest disappointments in my life." We're really building a strong sense of "team" at my new office, so I had no hesitation revealing my emotions to these two. "Now, I stand here with two top notch mortgage professionals, knowing that I'll soon have more success and earnings than I would have had as a lawyer, and I really feel like I've finally overcome that disappointment. Its like I've come full circle." Sue beamed and Tony shook my hand vigorously, sharing in my optimism and sense of accomplishment.

Soon after I dropped out of law school, I received a gift from a family member of a "Big Dogs" t-shirt. It was basketball gear; something I'm always in need of, and a traditional gift from this family member. It showed Big Dogs playing basketball and the caption on the back read, "If you can't play with the Big Dogs, stay off the court!" If the person giving it to me had been there at the time, I would have thrown it back in their face. It seemed like it was meant as a horrible dig at me dropping out of law school. I felt extremely disrespected, but at the same time, I recognized that emotional depth hasn't been one of my family's strong suit, and there was a strong possibility that the person giving me the gift had no idea that message on it had so much personal significance. Its not like us to smile and give with one hand and then kick you in the stomach at the same time. I never knew if the shirt was intended to be the insult I took it as, or if the person simply saw the big dogs playing basketball without understanding how message would efffect me. I wanted to believe they were innocent as communicating through t-shirt slogans means a serious lack of connection. Although I suppose impersonalizing the resentment it created through Blogging isn't much that much better either. In any case, I stood there, 7 years later, on the site of the "court," with a sense of victory. I was on the court, running with the Big Dogs. Finally.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


About 150 or so of us sat at round tables in a hotel ballroom. All of us had come to take the Jeopardy test. I finished 12th. Unfortunately, only 11 had scored high enough to make it to the next round of testing. The other 139 of us filed out the door, smiling and laughing, knowing that eventhough we hadn't accomplished our goal of being considered for Jeopardy this year, we had fun.

On the elevator of the way down, someone sneezed. I said, "What is gezundheit?"

The test itself was very tough. 50 questions which got progressively harder. They asked us not to reveal the exact content of any of the questions, particularly on the net, as they don't want to have to come up with entirely new questions in every city they visit. I'll honor that request. The seating arrangement at the tables was very open, in that it would have been very easy to have looked over at a neighbor's answer sheet at any time during the test. I didn't look for any answers, but I did happen to notice that a some of the other folks at my table weren't writing anything for some of the questions. Out of 50 questions, there were only 3 or 4 that I had absolutely no idea. I'm thinking I missed about 7 or 8. As we were waiting for the grading to come back, I discovered through our conversation, that most of the folks at my table thought they missed many more than that.

They read the names of those selected to continue. We all waited with anticipation. No one at my table was selected, and as I mentioned, maybe 7 or 8 percent of the entire group continued to the next phase of testing. They didn't actually tell us our score at the end, so when I say I finished 12th, I should say I tied for 12th with 140 other people.

I had fun and will try again in a year or two.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wish Me Luck!

In an hour, I'll be heading out to a attend the Jeopardy auditions in San Francisco! Wish me luck!

In all modesty, I think I have as much generel knowledge (some would call it trivia, but I think that trivializes it) in my head as the average Jeopardy contestant. I just need to get a good draw of categories and be fast on the button.

The first step will be to pass a written test. 50 questions. I wonder what a passing score will be? If one passes, only then does one get to compete in a mock game, in front of the television lights - a screen test. From what I understand, Alex Trebek personally watches and chooses the constestants from the taped auditions. One doesn't even have to win the mock game, but it probably helps.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Another New Office

Yesterday, my new boss and I visited one of our CMD branches. My new position as a loan officer with Countrywide's Full Spectrum Lending Division is that of an Account Executive -CMD Dedicated. That means I specialize in borrowers with "interesting" credit and do so on behalf of our partners in the Consumer Mortgages Division (CMD). When one of my colleagues at CMD gets a lead that they can't qualify into one of their "A" loans, they are supposed to refer that business to the Full Spectrum Lending Division. If they do and we then fund the loan (we have loan programs for just about anybody), they get their full commission on that transaction, just like they had worked it themselves. I get my commission, and Countrywide gets to keep the bisiness within the family.

Its a good set up if everyone participates. The borrowers get their money. The "A" paper folks get paid, and I get my leads handed to me without having to solicit new business. For various reasons, however, many of the CMD loan officers are reluctant to give us their "B" paper folks to the FSLD. We're kind of like the red-headed step children of the loan world. Our rates are higher; much higher than a lot of these borrowers are used to. Another problem is that the CMD folks can still get paid under the table for their B paper loans they farm out to mortgage brokerages. Due to the relationship-based business model of the home loan industry, many of the CMD loan consultants trust their brokerage partners more than they trust me and my colleagues at the Full Spectrum Lending Division.

What we need to do is convince CMD that FSL can be trusted with their borrowers. Its kind of a weird set up. Most of us work in companies that have lots of divisions. My wife works at a big wholesale coffee roaster that also has a small retail coffee shop. Its kind of like her retail department not trusting the quality of the beans that come from next door at the roaster. It seems weird that one division of a company should have to work so hard to get the business of another division within the same company. Corporate has already told the loan officers of CMD that they have to use FSL. Its not so rigorously enforced because the "A" paper loan consultants are the lifeblood of the company, and no one wants to piss them off.

A lot of my time is going to spent in CMD branches, schmoozing the "A" paper folks. They'll ultimately form their opinion of me based on how I handle their clients, but in the meantime, I've got to build their trust. My boss is instrumental in this process as well, and she and I made our inaugural visit to my new primary CMD branch. The Downtown Oakland office of CMD will be the main office to which I am assigned.

The visit went well and they've already given me a big transaction to work on. Our formal introduction won't be until next week, but yesterday was a preliminary sit down between myself, the two branch managers and the #1 loan consultant at the Oakland branch. It went well. We all bonded. My boss did the full dog and pony show as to why FSL deserves the business we're already supposed to be getting, and I got to show my face a little bit so that people will get used to me. My wife even made homemade cookies for the branch.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A New Game

Putting together loans can be kind of fun. It's a numbers game. Increase the interest rate, and you lower the closing costs. Add points, and you can lower the rate. Lower the monthly payment by offering interest only, but then give up any equity building unless the price of the property goes up. What kind of pre-pay penalty period do you use? All these balances and tradeoffs. The possibilities are endless! I've always enjoyed puzzles, and thats what a lot of this is about.

I am still very much in training. I've got a lot to learn, but one of the nice things about our office is that we're brand new, and there's already business coming in. I've been the loan officer for half a dozen or so deals. No takers. So far, I haven't booked a single loan. Every one has fallen through. Given we are only expected to have about 10% of the files that hit our desks actually become funded loans, I'm not too alarmed by the fact that I haven't made any commissions yet, but it certainly would have been nice to have booked at least one.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Week One Completed

One week down. A career yet to come.

Except for that one summer as an intern at Zilog, this is the first time I've ever worked in an office. Its kinda fun at first. I got my filing system set up in my desk. I'm learning the computers.
I think I'm going to do well in this office.

I twisted my ankle hard yesterday. It was my first game in a week or more. Actually, I suppose it was my third because I played in three different sets of games at three different basketball courts here in the East Bay.