One of the joys of playing poker in various different locales is getting the local flavor of how the game is played across the country. The game is the same, more or less, but the details differ depending on where you are. In South Florida, as you may expect, the flavor is decidedly Cuban and no place more so than in Miami.
There are 3 poker rooms in the greater Miami area: Miccosukee Casino (an Indian casino), Flagler Greyhound Track and Miami Jai-Alai. I visited them all this past Saturday, and had an up and down time.
Miccosukee – This dump of a casino might just be the worst poker room I have ever been in. It combined the worst elements of every bad casino poker room I’ve seen so far. The list of bad traits is endless:
1. Out in the middle of nowhere, next to nothing, 7 miles West of Miami Airport.
2. Smoking is allowed in the casino
3. Smoking is allowed at the poker tables
4. The seats are uncomfortable.
5. The tables are dirty and dingy and lack in-table shufflers.
6. The room is run by the Spanish speaking descendents of Nazis. For example, they won’t let you near the tables unless you are playing in a game. I came early to put myself on a waiting list and they forced me to wait outside of the poker room. Inside, there is no place to sit. When I tried to sit at a poker table that was 7 empty tables away from the action, a dealer told me that management had decreed me to wait outside.
7. The dealers are also Nazis. When a player took a handful of chips in his hand and reached out over the table to drop one on the felt, the dealer informed him that he was committed to the entirety of what was in his hand. No warning. It was quite a scene.
8. No phone use is allowed at the table, strictly enforced by the Nazis. I witnessed a player glance at his Blackberry by taking it out of the holster and looking at the screen. He was told that his hand was dead and the dealer mucked his cards (he had a Big Blind in at the time). When he protested, the dealer immediately called the floor to defend his honor. Again, no warning.
9. I meekly lifted up my Ipod to the dealer and shrugged my shoulders. (Music?). I received a smile and a shake of the head, no.
Combine these worst of the worst traits with the fact that “English Only” at the tables is just a suggestion in Miami, and you have the makings for a really bad session. It didn’t help that I had a Cuban calling station to my left. An old man who played every single hand and got very very lucky ended up taking a whole bunch of my money. That and a bad run of luck dropped 3 buyins from my wallet in the space of 2 hours. An awful morning. A list of bad hands that did me in:
I have 89 in a limped pot. Flop is TJx. I call a small bet from a player and Mr. Cuban Calling station comes in along with one other. Turn is a Queen. I’m not worried about AK since no one raised PF and there was plenty of action at the table. To make a long story short, I got it all in against a guy who had K9. Oh, did I mention he was the initial raiser?
I have AcKc. I raise PF to $12. Calling station comes in with me and maybe two others. Flop is Tc9c3h. I make a blocking bet of $15. Calling station raises me to $30. I call. Turn is a 10. I know he had trip 10’s at this point. I check and he gets greedy and checks, like I don’t know what he has. River is Qc. I make my nut flush and I figure I’m going to gut him. I bet out, he raises me all in and I call. He has QT, like you didn’t figure that out already.
My 3rd buyin got dropped when I was able to limp on the button with J4o. Flop is 894. I bet out to see where I am and get two callers. I figure I’m going to need a 4 or a Jack to win this and a Jack comes on the turn. I bet, get a raise, decide he’s not playing QT for a gutshot and shove. He calls with…T7. The river bricks. I keep hitting the exact card needed to felt me and I wisely decide to stop giving this room any more of my time.
Flagler Greyhound Track – I steamed all the way to this room, about 20 minutes away, and was pleasantly surprised when I got there. The greyhound facility itself was a dump, as most pari-mutuel facilities are, but the poker room is actually pretty decent. It’s set on the ground floor with 6 big bay windows directly adjacent to the greyhound track. As the races are run, the dogs get within just a few feet of the windows and it’s really quite something to see them come around the bend right in front of you. A great view with lots of sunlight makes for a pleasant experience. The players here were more of the same of what I got at the Indian place, but they were more pleasant and the room was much much nicer. Clean carpets, no smoking, nice tables and just the hottest Cuban girl hostess seating people at the brush desk. Off to the side, next to the big windows, were six very comfy leather couches with TV’s along the wall so you could watch football or Jai-alai or horse races or whatever while you wait for a seat. Just a nice comfy room that was perfect for locals.
Having said that, these bastards felted me. Over and over. I felt a bit like someone was running a train on me. A Cuban train.
I have AJ and raise to $15 UTG at a 2-5NL game. I get one caller. Flop is AQJ. I bet 15, he calls. Turn is a Q. I move all in for 35 more and he calls with 8h2h, hitting his flush on the river.
I lose a string of successive hands like that before I come in for my 3rd buyin. The hands I’m losing are the kind where the other players apologize to me for my bad luck. Finally, I pick up what I think is a winner. 99 UTG. I limp in and someone raises to $12 behind me. 4 people call and someone re-raises to $40. I call and everyone else calls too. There are now 5 people in. I have $35 behind and I know I have to hit a set to have a chance of winning, but at least the pot is big enough to justify the original call. The flop is 789 with two clubs. Yay! I put in my last $35. The original raiser calls and someone else re-raises, $100 on top! I look at the guys to my left, who have been sympathetic to my plight, and shake my head. “I’m behind,” I tell them, flashing them top set. One guy’s eyes widened and he said, “No, you’re good.” Isn’t it cute when they’re naive like that? The dealer asked to see my cards (informal room, no?) and I showed her. She gave me the look like, ‘don’t worry, you’re good’. Poor girl. The original raiser called all in and the cards were exposed. Original raiser had KK, I have top set and re-raiser has JhTh for the flopped nut straight, which held up. My corner backers were shocked, so clearly they haven’t played poker very long. Hmmmm. That pot would have eased my losses on the day and instead I was down $620 in the span of 4 hours at two different card rooms.
I got up in a huff and went to my car to find the last card room in Miami.
Miami Jai-Alai – After having seen more than 90 cardrooms in my quest to see all of America’s poker rooms (patent pending), they tend to blend into one another. Cardrooms tend to be kind of generic with the same tables, the same cards, the same chips and the same people. But if you look closer, you can sometimes spot little details that make each room unique. At Indian casinos, there are frequently earth-tone color schemes that match tribal colors. Sometimes there will be a specialized logo on the wall. Other times there will be a unique layout of the tables. In other words, if you look hard enough, the local flavor comes through.
In Miami, the flavor is decidedly Cuban. The waitresses and players all converse in Spanish and the menu at the snack bar has lots of Cuban elements (Cuban sandwiches anyone?). In the Miami Jai-Alai room, there were two stamps of Cuban culture that were just a joy to experience.
The first was the Cuban coffee shots being given out by the waitresses. One girl would come around and ask if anyone wanted drinks. Normal. The other would walk around with a cup of freshly brewed café cubano and pour out shots into little plastic cups for you. I had at least three of them over the course of my session and it was a great pick me up. Like espresso except already sweetened.
The second local element was dominoes. The poker room at Miami Jai-alai is nice in comparison to the filthy building and dirty neighborhood it sits in. A real shithole this place is. But obviously, they wanted to make the poker room a little nicer. It’s just a bit above average in comparison to other card rooms, but in comparison to the rest of the facility, it’s like playing in a palace. The room is large and roomy and comfortable and divided into two parts. The front of the room has about 14 tables. The back of the room has another dozen or so tables set up for dominoes. At the time I was there, in the late afternoon on a Saturday, about 5 dominoes tables were going. I didn’t know if they were playing for money or how the house got paid for that, but it was a unique sight I haven’t seen in any other poker room.
The Cuban coffee must have done me some good, because my bad luck turned around nicely when I started playing. I was able to triple up my $100 buyin before leaving at midnight (the place closed down). Some memorable hands:
1. Got lucky on this one. Really lucky. I have AK in early position and raise to $7. 4 people come along with me which is way more than I wanted. Flop is Ac-9c-3c. 5 way pot with three clubs on board? Wow, I suck. I don’t have a club in case you were wondering. The BB bet $10 (weak ass bet on that board) and I raise to $40 because I want to know where I stand. I can get away from it now if someone shoves all in for $100 or so. Well, what happened is the guy to my left (a really nice art dealer from Spain) smooth calls (ruh-roh) and another guy goes all in for less! The turn is a non-club King and I lose my mind. Instead of being scared of the board, the top two pair turn my mind into mush and I decide that I’m good. I shove for $110. In hindsight, this was a brilliant play, but only in hindsight. Nah..forget that. I suck, but I’m lucky. The guy to my left who smooth called my big original raise folds. The BB tanks and then folds what he says later is the nut flush draw. The only other guy in the pot is all in and he shows AdTc but the river is a 9 and my top two are good! The guy to my left, the nice art dealer, slaps his head. Turns out he folded 33 for a flopped bottom set. But he assumed, since I was betting so strongly, that I had flopped the flush. Not a bad read from him, given I was betting like I had it, but he didn’t feel good about making the “right” move, folding the winner, and seeing a $200+ pot being pushed to me. He’s in a tough position with a set though, because anyone with a decent flush draw might call anything he does simply because of the nature of short stacked games. Which means he’ll never know he’s really good until he boats up.
2. I raise PF to 10 with AJo. Flop is JT6 with two hearts. It checks to me and I bet $30. Both players still in call me! Are they both on draws? Turn is the worst card in the deck for me, the Qh. It completes both the flush and the straight draws and leaves me with nothing but middle pair. First player checks, I check and the last player bets $30. The other player shoves for $60 total and I fold. First player calls and shows AK (no hearts) for the Broadway straight! The other player had 8d9d. Can you believe this crap? I bet pot on the flop, the first player calls with two overs (one of which is dead) and a gutshot. The second player calls with the up and down. Never mind that neither player HAD HEARTS so they both had maybe 6 or 7 outs.
3. I call a $15 raise with JJ. BB calls as well and I’m on the button. Flop is Jc-4d-3d. BB checks and the initial raiser moves all in. I call and the BB calls as well. Raiser has KK (no good!) and the BB has 9d2d (?!?!). My set holds up and I drag a nice pot.
I wouldn’t go back to Miami to play poker again since I’m actually closer to nicer poker rooms in Hollywood, but I’m glad I had the experience. In the end, I managed to not only wipe out my losses from the Miami trips with a 5 hour session at the Hollywood Greyhound poker room but I was even ahead $60. Hey, when you’re down $450 at one point, plus $60 sounds pretty good.