Friday, July 30, 2010

I am the law, bitches! I am a lawyer!

5:30 in the morning. Is there a more ungodly time of the day? It was at this hour that the alarm rang and Ali did something I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. She bolted upright, at 5:30am mind you, and got out of bed instantly. Without any prompting on my part. You see, it was Thursday, July 29th, 2010 and today was the last day of her official academic career. Today, New Jersey held their bar exam and, after taking the Multi-State exam and the NY Bar exam the previous two days, Ali would be finished with taking tests, studying and stressing out. She probably didn’t sleep a wink.

I, on the other hand, was resting peacefully when the alarm woke me abruptly. I struggled to consciousness and waited for my turn in the shower. We were out the door at 6:15a. I had taken the day off to drive Ali to the exam site in Somerset, NJ. We didn’t want to risk the possibility that public transportation would be flaky at that hour. Plus, the site of the test, the Garden State Exhibit Center, was not within walking distance of the Somerset train station. I didn’t know if there were going to be any cabs available going back and forth, so I bit the bullet and rented a car for the occasion. There wasn’t a lot of traffic going there and it took us a little over an hour to get there. I dropped Ali off to go register and went forth on my day trip. I had most of the day to kill before I had to come pick her up at 3:45p, and I had a car. Hmmmmm…. There will be poker. Oh yes, there will be poker.

Atlantic City was too far. It was still nearly two hours back and forth which wouldn’t leave much time for poker playing. So I decided to hit up the new game in town, otherwise known as the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. A mere 55 minutes from Somerset, the casino had just opened up a new poker room 11 days before and I was itching to see it. I made the drive out with little traffic and pulled up to the site.

Upon arriving from the direction I was coming, the first thing you notice as you close in on the casino is the enormous shell of a factory that is next to the main building. Actually, the casino building is dwarfed by the old abandoned hulk that lay next to it. This is Steel Country out in Lehigh Valley, and the Sands Casino is built on the site of the old Bethlehem Steel plant. At once, it is a sad reminder of the greatness that this country once had in manufacturing, and also serves as a notice that the old can be born again anew. I drove into the large parking structure and easily made my way onto the casino main floor.

The casino floor itself is quite large. It’s laid out in a single large rectangle, perhaps 300 feet wide and maybe 1500 feet long. The ceiling is very high, maybe 8 stories or so, and the steel beams of the structure are exposed, reminding you that this once the site of major steel construction. In the front half of the casino, the ceiling has hundreds of artfully placed red and orange cylinders hanging from overhead. The shimmering colors and the staggered heights of the light displays strongly evoke the look of molten steel pouring out of some long forgotten cauldron, forging the destinies of the thousands of families who used to work here. Now they forge quite a different destiny altogether. I’m a big fan of historical sites and I love when casinos, or any other operation, takes over a spot yet builds the history into their building’s character. The Sands Corporation (of The Venetian fame) deserves a lot of credit for keeping the character of the building intact, or at least as much as can be done within the confines of casino construction.
There is no hotel on site as of yet, but a May 2011 expected opening will see 300 rooms. There is also a 40 store shopping mall being built as well. One would expect, with 4700 parking spaces already allotted to the property, that 300 rooms will not be NEARLY enough to accommodate demand for such an impressive property (The Borgata, by comparison, has 2,800 rooms). However, given the location only 90 minutes from Manhattan and the proximity to many area motels, I would think it will be easy to stay close by if necessary. I recently found out that Zip Car has upped their mileage per day to 180 from a previous 100 or so. This make the prospect of renting a Zip Car for a weekend jaunt a real possibility. Sharing the cost of the rental (gas is included!) with 3 other visitors could be very cost effective for everyone involved. At this moment, the only bus service I’m aware of from Manhattan is from Transbridge Lines. Unfortunately, with no hotel room on site, it would very inconvenient to stay at a local motel for a weekend excursion. There are other issues with this as well, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

So I get onto the casino floor and immediately scope out the poker room. The ‘room’ is a gated off area with nothing more than a waist high rail keeping out the spectators. It is located on the left side of the casino about halfway into the room. The location is advantageous for several reasons. First, the bathrooms are close by. Not right on top of the poker area, like at the Borgata, but they’re not on the other side of the casino either. Second, the room is directly in front of the food court area. This makes meals convenient, obviously. The other thing making meals convenient is that there is food service at the tables! This was an unexpected treat to hear and I saw many a player ordering lunch delivered right to them as they were playing. Drinks were free, including beer although they served the beer in cups and not in bottles. The cups were plastic and large, a full 12 ounces. I don’t know if alcohol was free, but I’d suspect so. I arrived at the poker room at 9:20a on that Thursday morning, fully expecting the room to be dead as so many local casinos are on weekday mornings.


There were two 1-2 NLHE tables going and there was a list quickly building for a new table. I put my name on it and by the time I walked to the cage to get my chips (also located adjacent to the poker area), the table had been called. One of the major disadvantages of the poker room at the moment is that if you are not RIGHT IN the poker ‘room’, you will not hear your name being called for a new table. The brush desk, really just a small one person affair right at the entrance when you come in the poker area, has a microphone but it’s not hooked up to the casino’s main PA system. So if you wander off to play Pai-Gow (like I almost did), or even are tardy getting chips at the cage, you might miss your turn. Luckily, I was called and my table was underway with 6 players at 9:30a. It took another 15 minutes to fill the table.

My session did not start well at all. I bought in for $200 (max buyin was $300) and tried to get the feel of the table. The table was a mix between locals who normally played Atlantic City and newcomers who didn’t play poker well, or at all. I was in the 9 seat. Two guys sat in the one and two seats with $200 each and I could see immediately that they would be the fresh meat at the table. The Convention Guys (they were here on a business trip) didn’t know how much to bet, when they could bet or what the ‘blinds’ meant. A helpful local was helping them out with the rules while simultaneously trying not to drool. How bad were these guys? Convention Guy 2 (CG2), who looked EXACTLY like Milton from Office Space, after limping into a pot 5 ways, tried to bet $1 when it got to be his turn. A single dollar. He hadn’t made a mistake or anything. He wanted to bet a dollar. But he got the hang of the betting patterns real quickly. I was never directly involved in a pot with him, but CG1 and CG2 donked it up something fierce and ended up doubling their money by sucking out in the most awful ways that only a rank beginner can. How bad were these guys? Well, in one hand I can remember, CG2 raised pre-flop to $10 and got calls from a few people including Helpful Local (HL) and Friendly Black Guy (FBG). The flop was A23, rainbow. CG2 makes a continuation bet of $25. HL calls. FBG goes all in for $150 total. CG2 instantly calls for the $150. HL thinks for a few seconds but also calls for slightly less. I’m expecting to see at least one wheel, one two pair and a set. Right? That’s the only thing that could engender such betting madness. But no. FBG shows AQo. CG2 shows 55!! Really? You couldn’t put someone on an Ace there? HL, who just saw a big bet, an all-in and a call behind him, tables A4o. Holy Fuck! He’s got the worst possible Ace and CG2 has two of his outs! The 4 isn’t an out because it would make CG2 the straight. Right away, on the turn, a 5 pops! The river bricks out and FBG shakes his head in disgust. He played it perfectly and got cracked anyway. HL, meanwhile, shouts out “The Nuts!”. I decline to tell him the 46 is actually the nuts here. CG2, meanwhile, pays off the other guys like it’s all in a day’s work. He seems a little confused.
I, on the other hand, can’t get a damned thing going. HL and FBG are the two best players at the table! And one just called off his stack with top pair/weakest kicker and a gutshot draw! Into two players! How am I not rich?!?! But no. I got a succession of weak hands. The few strong hands I got, mostly AK and AQ paid off exactly zero times. My entire first hour was this:
ME: AK Yay! I raise in early position.
Table: We call.
Flop: Junk-Junk-Junk, no hearts.
Table: We bet. And raise. And bet some more.
ME: I fold. ~Waaaaaaah~

I ran through my first buy in that way and rebought for another two. The line at the cage can be daunting simply because the cage employees are completely clueless and obviously newly trained. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of another nice feature of this poker room, chip runners. When available, a runner will bring you new chips. Unfortunately, due to Pennsylvania state law, the dealers are NOT allowed to sell chips to players from their racks, so don’t ask. One of the dealers told me that the Mount Airy Casino, 45 minutes north of the Sands, got fined $25,000 a few days ago when one of the poker dealers was caught doing just that. Yes, it holds up the game when dealers can’t sell but you’ll just have to wait like everyone else. For the record, when you give the chip runner your money, you will NOT be dealt a hand. You can’t play ‘behind’ at all. Play commences when you have chips in front of you. I’m curious to what that means, though, if the blinds pass you. I assume you will owe the blinds just as if you’d gone to the bathroom. I don’t know about that one.

On my second buyin, I tried playing a little more loosely to see if I could win a big pot, I played suited gapers for limps and got frisky with a few marginal holdings. It didn’t work. I lost $70 by playing A8 with HL. He had raised PF to $10 and I called him. Flop was K83. He bet out $20 on the flop and I called. I had seen HL lose $200 in the last hour calling down with middle pair so I didn’t necessarily put him on a King. The turn was a blank (I think a 4). HL bet out $65. I got to thinking about it. I almost raised him, thinking it might be a raise or fold kind of situation. But my instincts were off and I didn’t believe him. I called. The river was another brick. This time he checked! I really thought he’d call anything I put in so I checked to and he showed KQ for the win. I was down to $130 of my second $200 buyin when I got into a pot with T7. I was on the button and HL raised to $10. HL had been very aggressive, raising with nearly any two cards in any situation. This time, he got a smooth call from Older Local Man (OLM), FBG, me and CG1. Flop was QT7. Bottom two pair is good, but the possibility of QT worried me. HL bet out $20, OLM calls, FBG folds and I pop to $65. To my astonishment, CG1 calls! This is a big bet for this table and is shaping up to be a big pot. HL calls! OLM calls! WTF?!?!?! Turn is a J. Oh crappies. I have only $50 left. HL bets out $30. The damned Jack made straight and flush draws, but there’s so much money in the pot that I feel almost obligated to call. OLM calls, I call and CG1 calls. I have $20 left and it’s going in no matter what the river is. My mind does the dance of Ten, 7, Ten, 7. River….3. HL bets$55, OLM calls all in for less as do I. CG1 calls. HL calls out ‘Jacks Up’ and flips over only a Jack. I guess it must be QJ or JT, which means I was good at the flop. I ask him to flip the over card and the dealer reaches over and throws up a… King. AngleShooterSaysWHAT? He had flopped an OESD which ended up being a pair of Jacks on the river. OLM turns over AA for the worst played pair of Aces I’ve ever seen in my life. And what did CG1 win with (you knew I lost this, right?)? What did he have that he called a bet and a raise with on the flop and then cold called the turn and the river with a flush and straight showing? 89. 89 offsuit mind you. He had flopped an OESD, turned the worst straight card in the deck for him and held on for dear life. Meanwhile, a $500 pot got pushed his way and I couldn’t understand again how I was losing to these idiots.


Part II to come later featuring – a nice comeback, an exhausted Alison, a long drive home, a dinner in Jersey City and last, but not least, my Sands PA casino resort recommendation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Skipping out of town - Part II

A funny anecdote about my sleepless Friday night. I was staying in W's room and as far as I understood, it was just me and her. I took the bed farthest from the window when I went to sleep. W was nowhere to be found, given her propensity to play until 5 or 6 in the morning. I went to sleep and was woken, groggily by the sound of what I assumed was W entering the room and getting into her bed. It was about 2:30a, which was about right. I promptly fell back asleep. About 4:30a, the door opened again. It woke me up once more (I wasn't sleeping well at all) and I was more than surprised to see W walking through the door! It was 4:30a. I got out of bed and wiped the sleepiness out of my eyes. Was I imagining things? I looked over at W's bed, and it was hard to make out in the half light, but I could swear I saw the blankets wrapped around someone's body. But if W was just coming in, who the hell was in the bed?!?! Turns out it was just DJ, who didn't have a place to stay that night. W had offered our room without telling me and I got a bit of a shock. Luckily, I've met DJ before (even if he didn't remember me) so I wasn't creeped out too badly. This contrasts with an event that happened a few years ago when W invited a complete stranger she had met at the table three hours earlier to share our room! I was NOT happy and slept with my wallet under my pillow. That hasn't happened since but I thought I might have been seeing a repeat! Fortunately not.

Ok, on with the story. I woke up at around 11:30a, refreshed and ready for a new day. Chris, Viv, Paul and Abbie were on there way down and had just hit the city, according to some texts I had received when I was still sleeping. W and DJ were still out cold. I showered and dressed and the two of them woke up and we all recounted last night's victories and defeats. I went down to the poker room to sweat Chris and Viv, who were already playing. Paulie and Abbie had gone to the Showboat to play cash and then the 2PM tourney. I wasn't playing at the moment because I had plans to see an old friend, Erin, who I had recently re-connected with on Facebook. Erin lived in my dorm at Hofstra and we had really great times together way back when. She grew up in Atlantic City and moved back there after college, so when I knew I was going to be there, I called her to have lunch with me and catch up after 18 years (old, so old). She arrived at 3:00p and we had a great time, eating lunch at Bread and Butter (awesome grilled cheese w/bacon!) and then walking around just shooting the breeze. It was 5:30p when I walked her back to her car and I felt really good about meeting up with her. She's very different than how I remember her, more mature I suppose. Still a lot of fun, but 10 years of marriage and a 5 year old daughter is enough to make anyone grow up.

At this point, half the day had passed by and I still hadn't been dealt a hand of poker! W was of the opinion that the entire group was going to go the Showboat to play the 7pm tourney, but Viv and Chris looked at me like I was nuts when I floated the suggestion. Leave their precious 2-5nl tables?!?! Hells to the no. I went to the Showboat myself to enter the tourney and ended up getting there about an hour early. I played cash in the meantime. The table I got was friskier than the usual Showboat table I normally play at. The players were raising and re-raising PF quite a bit and the action leaned towards heavy. I had bought in for $160 and chipped up to $180 or so when I blew my stack in one shot on a real cooler. I'm dealt AJ on the button. It limps to seat 8 who raises to $12. He gets a caller and I call as well. I think there might have been another caller too. Flop is AJ5. Top two, huzzah! It checks to seat 8 who bets out $30. I put him on AK and pop it to $65. It folds back to him and he flats. Turn is a brick. He checks to me and I bet $65 (about half my remaining stack). He shoves on me! I call and he shows 55 for the bottom set. Ouch. The river doesn't save me and I call for another buyin. I have to leave before I can get my chips back and I head into the tournament thrown for a bit of a loop. The cards are conspiring against me.

So it was W, Abbie, Paulie and I in the 7pm tourney. 52 entrants yielded a mere 5 payouts but it's still a fun structure. I had even worse cards than I did in the previous tournament and tried to bully again. It didn't work as well as last time. All 4 of us made it down to the last two tables when we started busting. Paulie was first, in about 18th place. I busted in 15th place. W and Abbie, meanwhile, were somehow sitting on the biggest stacks in the tournament! Or at least in the top 5. Rather than go back to the Borgata, I decided to rail them and provide as much info as I could about players I had had experience with. Due to a combination of aggression (Abbie is monstrously aggressive!) and lucky cards (W busted two big stacks with QQ>JJ and JJ>99), both of them made the final table with ease and were the 1 and 2 stacks coming into it. By the time they were down to 6 players, they each took out $20 for a bubble prize, which the short stack promptly collected by busting out with a marginal hand. Then they played for a while and W had a nearly 2-1 chip advantage over the next player. They discussed a chop at the break and agreed to ship W $1500 with everyone else taking $650. Everyone was happy about the outcome, especially the short stack who had about 2 BB's in his stack! I was amazed that they didn't wait until he busted to make a deal considering they were already in the money! If the short stack had busted in 5th place, he would have received $250 and the same deal could have been made with W taking $1500 and the other players taking nearly $900 each! Quite a difference. But I wasn't involved and I would have felt guilty about suggesting anything considering my deal FAIL at the tournament the night before. All of us, Paulie, Abbie, W and I, each had a 10% profit sharing arrangment, meaning we'd split 10% of anyone's profits should they cash (after entry fee and tips). Which meant I got about $60 back of a $100 tournament entry. Not too bad and I was really happy for my friends who crushed the tournament like it was nothing. Seeing W in her comfort zone with a big stack is something to behold. It doesn't hurt that she was getting hit by the deck when it helped, but she was playing very well. Abbie too. I'm very happy and proud of them.

W, predictably, hadn't eaten anything in a while and wanted to hit the noodle bar at the Borgata for a late night dinner with her friends Alan and Patty. I obliged, even though I wasn't that hungry. I just wanted to chat and break down the tournament in conversation. We had a great discussion about aggression and three betting, but you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Alan, for instance, seems to be a pretty competent player when you talk to him. He and his wife Patty are very nice people and Alan paid for the late dinner with black card comp points. So I really like the guy. But when someone tells you, with a straight face, that they have a 'system' for Blackjack and they're employing a card counting technique, you have to look at them with some suspicion. At least I do. I'm going to make this clear for my readers and anyone else who might be interested. There is no 'system' for any casino game. Not Blackjack, Roulette, Let It Ride, slots, video poker, or any other game the casino spreads (with the obvious exception of live poker). There have, in the past, been ways to game the system. Roulette, for instance, still uses a physical ball and wheel to choose numbers. There are documented instances of people having used the laser from a PDA (Palm Pilot or some such) to surreptiously read the rotation of the wheel and discover that a physical abonormality might slightly favor a particular number. Such small changes in the standard deviation could wipe out the house edge and throw it in the player's favor by anywhere from 2% to 5%.

Blackjack, years ago, had a similar exploit that was detailed in the movie '21'. By keeping track of the high value cards left in a deck, a player could exploit the advantage to the player towards the end of a shoe of cards. But this doesn't work anymore for the same reason you can't get away with the Roulette exploit anymore. The casino knows about it. Period. End of story. They won't let you anywhere near a Roulette wheel with anything that looks like a Star Trek Tricorder, and they won't let a big better onto a blackjack table in the middle of a shoe either. Lest we forget how the blackjack counting scheme works, a 'counter' counts out the deck and then silently signals the 'big bettor' to put down the real money when the shoe is in his favor. yeah, they won't let you do that anymore. Also, they don't go down to the end of the shoe anymore. The cut card is specifically left so that there could be as many as 100 cards left in the 450+ card shoe when they re-shuffle. This throws in enough variation so that the player edge from counting is wiped out.

So to all the gamers out there thinking they're getting an advantage off of some 'system' they bought off the internet or saw in a movie; You're being suckered. All of the true exploits are things we haven't yet thought of and it's going to take work and money to develop them.

Back to my story. I had dinner with these nice folks and was too tired to play poker as it was now almost 1am and I was still mentally beaten from not having made any money on anything so far this weekend. The noodle bar convieniently sits near the Pai-Gow tables at the Borgata. Pai-Gow is my one table game weakness as a poker player. I'm probably net up a bit playing the game over my lifetime, but mostly I just play to de-stress. There's not a lot of thinking involved, pots are usually split so I can be up in free drink money, and my routine of rubbing the table to get good cards and shouting 'MONKEY' at the dealer is relaxing. The tables that night had gone up to their usual Saturday night $40 minimum, which is more than I wanted to spend. I was about to walk away when I decided, "Fuck it". I'll put down $400 for 10 bets and see what I can do. To soften the variance a bit, I decided to play two hands at a time, which was a good strategy since I will usually not lose both unless the dealer has a monster (boat over Aces or some such nonsense). I did well initally, going up $100 in short order. I decided that +$200 profit would be goal before quitting and then an evil woman dealer came in. She beat the table mercilessly, with the worst hand being that my King Flush over QQ chopped, barely, (to an Ace flush and JJ). On that particular hand, my other hand lost, so a chop turned into a push and a loss. I went down $240 at the table before deciding to switch to another table. My luck would change considerably and I went on a run that was so nice that I decided to up my bet to $60 each hand. It was when I was up around $60 that I started playing the Dragon Bonus for $5 each. Normally, I know a sucker bet when I see it, but the bonus bet ended up being a good way to alleviate some of my losses. More often than not, I got three of a kinds or straights that paid me off. I was up around $80 when my big hand occurred. I got quad Aces on one of my hands and the dragon bet paid $125 on my $5 bet. In addition, the dealer made a Queen high Pai-gow and I won both of my hands. I counted it up and I was +$240 on my original $400! Enough was enough. I collected my money, got colored up (woo-hoo $500 chip!) and left.

I went to the poker room to say goodnight to everyone who was still awake at 3:00a (most everyone) and went back to the room and fell asleep. In the morning it was back to the poker tables. I played $1-2 NL and finally did well. I bought in for $200 in my first session right after lunch and played at a really tight table. It was boringly tight until a maniac took an open seat and started playing every hand for a raise. I sat tight and managed to flop a set of Ten's vs. his KK and doubled through him. Woohoo! I worked up to around $450 before the maniac busted and we were back to our boring ways. I racked up and cashed out, catching a late 1:30p brunch with W, Dj, Viv and Chris at the Borgata buffet.

When we were done with Brunch, we all went back and I sat at a super crazy 1-2NL table. Initially, there was just a single crazy maniac playing a lot of hands and successfully betting everyone off on innocuous flops by simply grabbing a handful of random chips in his stack and splashing the table. Then another maniac sat to his right and started playing back at him. It was the battle of the crazies and the action was intense. I successfully moved seats so I could be in position on them and the fireworks started. I bought in for $200 and was down to $60 at one point when I managed to triple up when Maniacs 1+2 and I all moved all in preflop. I had QQ. Maniac 1 had Ad6d. Maniac 2 had JTo. I faded everything to take it down and I was back in position again. Maniac one ran his $250 starting stack to $1400 at one point. Maniac 2 ran his $100 starting stack to $900 (!) by calling all-ins with bottom pair and catching up on the river. It was a luckbox extravaganza. I was able to double my stack to $500 with AA vs. Maniac 1's AJ on a Jack high flop. At this point, Maniac 1's girlfriend had sat behind him to sweat him and he managed to lose his ENTIRE stack in about 90 minutes. It's what happens to all maniacs eventually. Maniac 2, also, had dropped from $900 to about $200 when I doubled him by overplaying QQ. The action went like this. I was in middle position and I opened for $12. Maniac 2, re-raised to $25 from the SB and I called. My game plan, in my head, was to drop the hand if an Ace or King came on the flop. The flop was A95. Maniac 2 bet out $45 and I flat called. The turn was 3. He bet out $100 and I called again. I just didn't believe he had an Ace. I put him on JJ or TT. I got away from my game plan and I paid for it. The river bricked and he went all in for his remaining $65. I called and he showed AKo. He gave me a back handed compliment by telling me 'that was a good play. Normally I have shit there.' I didn't take it like a compliment and he racked up and left with $500 before I could get my chips back. By the time I had to leave, I was sitting on about +$100 profit for this little session and I eventually had to pick up and leave.

I drove all the way back to New York in Chris' car, with viv, Abbie, Chris and Paul in tow. Even though the trip took just over 3 hours, it was fun to have them on the ride and even better to spend time with them. My weekend ended up being about +$160 after expenses, which is never a bad thing when you come back from AC with more than you left with! Still can't get last QQ out of my mind though. Serenity now, insanity later.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Florida: All grown up

My life has been a bit hectic lately, but while I wasn't looking, Florida dropped it's $100 max buyin limit on poker! Evidently, the state has signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe (FINALLY!!!!) and now full on gambling is legal at the reservation casinos.

List of games and limits at the Hollywood Hard Rock. I can't WAIT to visit my dad for a long weekend.

Jersey to take over Atlantic City

Not a joke.

The state of New Jersey, under a proposal by Governor Chris Christie, is planning to take over the administration of Atlantic City (the gaming district only). The state will take over municipal functions like policing and garbage disposal and also plans to expand non-gaming facilities to compete with the new Pennsylvania and Delaware options. Gaming regulations might get re-written to make the action a bit looser (Razz on the way, anyone?). Basically, they are planning a complete overhaul in order to bring in more families and gamblers.

Bravo, I say. Governments motivated by money can accomplish miracles, although they can also destroy industries. Who knows which way this is going to go? Time will tell...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Article on Backgammon Hustling

Shocked, Shocked I am!

Skipping out of town

This past weekend, with the blessing of my far better half in order to give her room for her last push towards the NY/NJ bar exams in 8 days from hence, I made the trip down to Atlantic City with a larger than usual crowd of the usual misfits. Joining me in newly procured poker rate rooms at the Borgata were Viv, W, Chris (sporting a beautifully pregnant belly), Paulie and Abbie. Also meeting us down there to share in the festivities were DJ, and W’s friends Alan and Patty. I made the trip early on Friday, taking a 2:30p Academy bus from the Port Authority and plunging headlong in traffic that was unbearable. It took 3 hours to reach the city of the air conditioning and when we were in sight we were informed by the bus driver that we would be arriving at Bally’s instead of Caesars because Caesars wasn’t taking passengers. Why not you ask? It turns out that some sort of water main break had knocked out the air conditioning to Caesars, the Pier behind Caesars AND Trump Plaza. This unfortunate turn of events would ripple through the whole weekend by simultaneously filling up the Borgata hotel and depleting the city of gamblers. How? Well, Caesars and Trump Plaza promptly placed their hotel guests who were staying Friday and/or Saturday into new hotel rooms across the city. However, new guests who were arriving at those casinos Friday and Saturday nights as new guests cancelled their weekend reservations. It was the talk of the town this weekend.

The only person down there already when I arrived at 5:30p was W, who texted me that she was playing the 6:00p tourney at Borgata. After waiting a few minutes for a Jitney outside of Bally’s and seeing two full Jitney’s pass me by, I flagged down a cab and proceeded to the Borgata posthaste. After dropping my bag off at the bell captain’s desk, I caught W walking into the poker room and we both registered for the tourney together. I had no idea what I was registering for, I just knew that I wanted to play a tourney to get my feet wet for the weekend. As I found out when I was in line, it was a $150+$30 survivor tournament. The top 10% of the field get paid equally. 62 people ended up registering and the top 6 would get paid $1500 each. The 7th place finisher would get a whopping $21 (the remaining amount of the prize pool after the mandatory dealer tokes were taken out). On a side note, the next time you enter a tournament, do make sure you find out in advance how much of the prize pool gets reduced for dealer tokes. It’s usually anywhere from %3 to %5. And the poker rooms don’t advertise this very well to encourage people to tip on top of that. Personally, I usually give about %5 of my prize to the dealers, so if the room takes %3, I’ll tip 2% and call it even.

On with the story. We started the tourney and I started up. My second hand, I get AK. Blinds are 25/50 with a $10,000 starting stack and I raise it up to $200. I get a caller on the button, a Swede looking guy with a long scarf that reminded me of Dario Minieri, natch. The flop came down a very dangerous looking KQJ. Yes, I had top/top but I thought of all the holdings he could have that he would have called a pre-flop raise on the button with. KQ, KJ, QJ, AT, T9. Those are all reasonable flat calls on the button and I’m behind all of them. What’s worse, if he has any of those hands, I’m going to lose a good portion of my stack. Oh, and I’m out of position. And it’s the second hand of the tournament and I know *nothing* about this guy. So I check and he bets out $350. I call. Turn is an 8c. I check, he bets out $650 and I muck. I’ve already lost $550 and I don’t feel like hitting a card which is going to stack me, like a King. After the tournament, I caught up with him (he cashed) and asked him what he had. He said AJ. I don’t blame him for betting and, frankly, he’s in a much better spot with that hand then I am. The Swede, incidentally, was a fantastic player. As I saw later, he doubled his stack early on by catching a stone cold bluff with bottom pair. Bottom pair! The other guy was just a loud young gun who was trying to run over the table and the Swede called him down with A4 after flopping a 4. True, the young gun had given himself away a little by checking the flop and firing on an innocuous turn and river, but still. If the Swede had lost, he would have basically knocked himself out of the tourney. You have to have a big set of balls to risk your tournament life with a pair of fours. Just saying.

As the table images start solidifying, I start to accumulate chips using the only method I can; bluffing. My hands are crap, so I start raising in position and c-betting on scare boards (all low cards, Ace high on the flop, etc…). I chip up very slowly and at the first break, I’m sitting at $12,500. Not a stack to speak of, but I’m ready to storm the next levels. Unfortunately, I still don’t get any great hands I can use to stack anybody. I have exactly one hand in the next hour that I can use to bust a small stack. It’s JJ vs. his 89s. But by the end of the next break, I’m only at about $20,000, just below the chip average. Blinds are 400/800 with a $75 ante and I never really got above 20 BB’s anywhere in the tournament. The structure is just too fast for me to pick good spots. I go back into bluffing mode which serves me well when I have 89 in position. A Monster Dick (meaning he’s a huge dick, not that he possesses a big phallus, because I’m positive his phallus is like a grain of rice), whom we’ll call MD, limps in early position and I raise to $2700 on the button. It folds to MD who makes the call and the flop comes down 776. MD leads out for $4000 and I instantly shove my stack. He thinks for a few seconds but then folds and I get a little healthier. This is the largest my stack will be until much later.

I’m sitting to the right of a huge luckbox who reminds me a lot of Darvin Moon because he’s making enormous donkey calls and sucking out on people. I get KK in the cutoff and when it limps to me I pop it to $2500 (blinds still 400/800). Luckbox calls and one other player calls. Flop is AT8. It checks to me and I C-bet 4,000, reasoning that I have to represent AK here or I’ll be vulnerable to a big bet bluff by someone else representing it. Luckbox, who is the tournament chip leader with about 55,000 says, “All in”. It folds to me and, frustrated that an Ace came on the flop, muck face up hoping luckbox will do the same. He does, and flips up T8 off! I wouldn’t have been upset if he had turned over just about any Ace, but calling my PF raise with T8 off just makes me mad. I know this guy is gonna spew his chips to someone eventually; I just hope it’s me.

Later on in the level, with my stack down to a dangerous 10BB and the blinds at 1000/2000 with a $100 ante, I double up when I shove A6 in the cutoff. Darvin Moon Luckbox on my left quick calls with…A2. Ummm…wow. I flop a six and manage to eek my way into the final table. Unfortunately, I still can’t quite build a stack and I come in as the uber-shortie with something like 7 big blinds. Back when we were down to 13 players, I had started discussing a chop but there were too many players for anyone to seriously consider it. But now, at the final table, I thought I could get some traction. But I got a little friction from one person. Can you guess who it was? Yes, it was Monster Dick. MD was the second chip stack at the table, and he wasn’t hearing anything about a chop of any sort. Even when Darvin Luckbox decided to run his JJ into QQ and bust and then another short stack busted. Even when I tripled up to $45,000. All I had asked was for my money back, just $180. With 8 players left, if they had all reached in to give me $20 or $25, I would have been content. Instead, MD, upon hearing my proposition said, “Are you kidding me? You’re the short stack and I’ll call you with 7-3 off”. Like I said, a Monster Dick. Instead, with $45,000 and an actual shot at winning, but still the second shortest stack, I looked down at AQo. I was UTG+2 and the blinds were 4000/8000 with a $400 ante. So, with about a third of my stack size already in the pot, I open shoved and got a reshove from the guy to my immediate left (not MD) who isolated with KK. Bye Bye.

To add insult to injury, the instant I busted, the table started talking about a chop and ended up giving the 7th place finisher $650, with the rest taking home around $1350. I was livid and W had to walk me away from the table, consoling me as best she could. I had played 5 hours and was the true bubble of the tournament. It was one hand that brought me from the brink of starting off my weekend with a huge profit to starting it off instead with anger and resentment. Fortunately, I was self-aware enough to realize that I was in no mental condition to play cash, so I went up to the room instead and called it a night. It was 11:30p and I was tired, but my mind was so wound up from the awful turn of events that I only got a fitful 2 hours of sleep before I woke up and couldn’t fall asleep again until 6:30a! I watched the entirety of Capitalism: A Love Story on my iPhone (not Moore’s best effort by any stretch) and the distraction helped immensely. I woke in the morning, still seething about my bad luck but at least now able to deal with it.

Part II of the trip to come – Highlights will include, W and Abbie crushing a tourney and me experiencing some more down times before wiping the slate clean and then some.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life can be time consuming

I haven't made a post in forever. And the worst part is, I've been playing some poker and backgammon! A few weeks ago, I went to Mohegan Sun with Chris and hubby Matt, Paulie, Liezl, Viet and little Luna. And it was a blast. We even got Darko and his new fiance to come up and officially break their big news. So with all this activity, why no blog post?

Because I'm tired. Or maybe bored. Too bored to write a post. I just haven't been feeling a lot of motivation lately to keep up with my blogging activities. Most of it has to do with the stress I've been feeling at home. Ali is neck deep in studying for the New York and New Jersey bar exams which are coming up the last week of this month and things at home have been a little dicey. Ali's been working like a fiend putting her heart and soul into her studies, but it's impossible to ask someone to wake up early and go to bed late every day for two weeks while doing nothing but going over 3 years of law school notes in between! At a certain point, a person's brain cracks and when that happens watch out! I've been as understanding as I can, trying to provide a good environment in which she can thrive. That means that I'm doing all the cleaning up after meals, not making a sound after I come home from work and generally absorbing any vitriol thrown at me without fighting back. A few days ago, I snapped because I had reached my limit and I fought back. After a few minutes, I was apologizing cravenly and shut my mouth again, like I should be doing. Basically, it's a struggle for both of us (her more than me) and we'll be really happy once it's all done.

There are other thoughts taking up my mental energy usually reserved for blogging. I'm nervous about whether Ali can get a job in this awful market for new lawyers. And I'm consequently nervous (terrified really) about what that will mean for us. Her student loans are coming due in a few months and her parental support will stop and it'll all be on me. The combination of the increased rent responsibility once her parent's stop paying her share and the gargantuan student loans might force us to move to Brooklyn if we can't figure out a way to make it work. And I don't want to move to Brooklyn.

Oh, and there's work. That's kind of important too.

So poker and backgammon blogging hasn't been my first priority. But I have a few free minutes now and I'm taking a rare weekend trip to AC (to leave Ali alone for 48 hours of solid studying), so here I am.

Back to that Mohegan Sun trip. The long and short of it is that I broke even on the trip. Maybe up a few dollars or so. I was up about +$400 at one point in the evening when I got dealt KK in the BB. A new kid, who had just sat down with $200 a few hands earlier, raised to $12. Even though he hadn't been playing long, I could tell this kid was relatively new to the game. He was with a college buddy and their teenage looking girlfriends were sweating them. He looked a little dorky. I've seen the type and they haven't been in the live games long enough to know how to read table situations. 4 people cold called the $12 and when it got to me I re-raised to $100 straight. The new kid shoves for $200! I had little doubt I was beating him but if he had rockets then more power to him. There's already $350+ in the pot so calling the extra hundred is a no brainer for me. But before it gets to me, it folds to a good player who's been at the table for a few hours with me. He tanks! I can't figure out what he might have that he's thinking so long for. He debates internally for about 30 seconds and then says, "All in!". WTF?!?!?! He has $400 to my $680. Now I'm floored. It folds to me and I say out loud, "If I folded this, this would be the biggest lay down of my career." I try to calm down and work it out in my mind and I reason that if the re-shover had AA, he either wouldn't have smooth called the initial $12 raise, or he wouldn't have tanked so hard on the $200 shove. Granted, he could've been acting, but if he was he deserved the academy award for poker acting. He looked really pained about the $200 shove over my $100 re-raise. Normally, 4 bets to you in a 3 way pot indicates AA. But I figured that with the clues at my disposal, my friend with the $400 probably had KK. I made the call and Mr. $400 indeed flashed me two black Kings to my two red Kings. Mr. $200 re-shover showed QQ. Mr. $400 gave me a little fist bump as we both breathed a sigh of relief that nobody had shown Aces. But then the flop was dealt and there was a Queen in the door. A third heart came on the turn, giving me a chance to scoop, but the river bricked and a $650 pot shipped to Mr. I-Overplay-Queens and Mr. $400 and I chopped the side pot. I had only lost $200 on the pot but it was the start of a downslide which would see me lose my remaining $200 profit. The hours of work I had done being patient and building up my stack had gone to naught.

Hopefully, this weekend will show better results.

On the Backgammon front, I actually haven't been playing much except for two sessions with Mr. Hustle down at the 60 Wall Street atrium. My first session I was up 9 points in the first 5 games and I was feeling great. But then the dice turned, and hard. I gave up 29 points in the next hour for a crushing 20 point loss. In one game, I had given the cube back at 4 when I was slightly ahead. A few good rolls saw me up by about 25 pips and I was cruising to the win. Just before bear-off started, he rolls double 6's with four checkers in the outfield to clear them all into his home. Now he's caught up in pips but I'm still up by a checker and I'm on the roll. The next roll, he rolls double 6's again! now he's up two checkers and after my next roll, he re-cubes me and I have to drop. Aaargh! I would have gone from -14 points to negative -10 points instead of to -18 points. An 8 point swing which was important. I stopped at -20 points and left, head held in shame.

But the next day I revisited him and tried again. After a short 35 minute session, I left with a +11 point profit and cut into my losses from the previous day. This time, I was just playing well and getting Mr. Hustle frustrated. When he's frustrated, he takes bad cubes and that's the only way I can beat him. He's much better than me at checker play, so it's harder to beat him that way. But if I can get into a situation where he has to roll his way out with miracle numbers and I give him the cube, he will inevitably take it. It's probably to his advantage too, because he knows he has a much better skill level on his side and he can quickly capitalize on my many mistakes. Just like poker, in backgammon, you profit more on your opponent's mistakes than your own skillful plays.

Hopefully, I'll have a lot of good stories to tell after this weekend!