It's been a smidge over a year and a half since my last poker trip (to Arizona), and I have to say that I've missed it tremendously. I'm like an addict who's been sober for so long he's convinced himself that he no longer likes the taste of alcohol. But then, one night, he has a shot with an old friend and then another and then he finds himself laying face down in the gutter with a smile on his face. Poker, and poker traveling, is definitely an addictive hobby. It takes concentration and focus for me to remember that the life that I've chosen (married husband trying to build a family in the suburbs) is WAY WAY WAY more important to me than the excitement of seeing new place, meeting new people and dragging pots off of them. But that doesn't mean that I can't figure out a way to combine the two in a healthy manner. A level below "addict" is a "problem drinker", and a level below that is "social drinker". That's kind of what I'm aiming for; social poker at a frequency which can keep the interest up and yet not anger my wife.
This past weekend, I had the first opportunity in 20 months to make that balancing act happen. Ali has been going to Cape Cod every summer with her family for the last 20 years. They rent the same cottage, go to the same restaurants and visit the same beach for two or three weeks every single year. It's a comforting ritual, and exactly the kind of thing I'd like to do with my own family once I breed them. It's a wonderful thing for a family to have their own special place that they can go to where a different set of rules apply and you can escape the stress of your normal environment. But as the children get older and more entrenched in adult life, the ritual is starting to become harder to do. Alison, the oldest of three kids, is married now. She has also just gotten her first job as an attorney, starting August 15th when she returns from the Cape. Her schedule may no longer fit into the same narrow confines as her family anymore, and this may very well be her last trip up to the cottage with everyone else. So Ali left Friday evening with her family and left me alone at home. I am going up to meet them Wed. night, but am not taking the entire week off as it costs too much money for me to take this kind of vacation, as I am billing daily at my job (I'm a contractor) and do not get paid time off.
So as our schedules would leave me alone for a weekend, I decided to take a long awaited poker trip! I counted the days until my trip would arrive, getting feverishly anxious as the day drew closer and closer. Friday came and I leaped out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5:45a. Since I would be driving my own car on this trip, I decided to drive into work and then leave from Manhattan at noon. Wanting to avoid morning traffic into the city, I got up early and left my house at 6:15a to beat the rush. It was a good plan as it took exactly 60 minutes, with almost no traffic, to get from my place to my office at Madison Avenue and 23rd Street. I parked at a lot nearby, telling the parking attendant to have my car near the front because I'd be out by 12:15pm latest.
At work, I was anxious the whole time I was there. My mind could barely focus with the external stimuli of poker racing through my brain. Every sound I heard was the click of poker chips banging together. Every number I crunched turned into pot odds. Every chart I saw morphed into a dance of face cards. At 11:55a, I raced off to the Men's room to wash up, mumbled goodbye to my office-mate and raced out the door. To the parking attendant's credit, my car was easily accessible and after paying them an exorbitant fee, I was on the road.
It took me nearly 40 minutes to escape the city because I made the huge mistake of going to the Holland Tunnel rather than the nearby Lincoln Tunnel. There was no traffic through the tunnel, it just took me that long to get from one end of the city to the other. But I was forunate in that once I made it through, I had virtually no traffic for the entirety of the weekend. Fortunate indeed since I was planning on driving 800 miles in the next 59 hours and every second counted.
After an uneventful drive down I-95, I arrived at my first casino; Parx Casino just outside Philadelphia, PA. I parked in the outdoor lot and bounded inside with the energy of a 16 year old who's going out on his first date. The poker room at Parx is magnificent, with about 30 tables in a plush setting away from the casino floor in it's own area. It's the nicest poker room that I visited on the trip and I was very sad to not be able to spend much time there. Because I was so worried about traffic through the I-95 corridor, and because my final destination of the night was to be Harrington, Delaware, I had decided to push my way through the first few poker rooms in a hurried manner so as to beat the rush hour traffic as best as I could. So I unfortunately only spent 30 minutes in this fantastic room. I played $4-$8 and dropped $20 in a rushed half-hour session. The only thing that I don't mind about blowing through the room, though, is that given it's close proximity to Manhattan, I will surely be back.
I got into my car, still warm from when I left it, and proceeded to the next casino; Harrah's in Chester, PA. It took about 45 minutes to reach the Harrah's and I was somewhat disappointed. Like most of the casinos in Pennsylvania, this was a "racino", or a casino tacked onto an existing race track. In this case, the track features Trotters, otherwise known as Harness Racing. The poker room is upstairs off the casino floor and well spaced out. It's a Harrah's room, so it's predictably well run, but the lack of walls gave it a very open feeling, which is actually a negative in my book. Walls keep outside sound out and give a feeling of intimacy to poker rooms which I prefer. The sound wasn't terrible, however, given that the casino floor was downstairs. Though there were at least 20 tables running when I got there, there was a waiting list which I prefered not to be on (thinking about traffic again), so I collected my souvenir chip, saw a harness race and left.
Back in my car, I started out to my 3rd casino; Delaware Park in Wilmington, Delaware. The parking lot for Delaware Park is awful; long and narrow with space only in the far back, a solid 6 minute walk from the casino entrance. The building itself, also a racino, is also long and narrow. One thing I've learned from my poker trips is that, like your gate at the airport, the poker room is almost invariably located in the casino at the farthest point from the entrance. And so it was with Delaware Park. The building was so long, in fact, that it took about 15 minutes to walk from my car to the poker room. Quite annoying. Once there, however, I was able to get a $1-$2 NLHE seat fairly quickly and I sat down with $150. I was trying to work out the rust in my game, which is why I came in with so little, and I'm kind of glad I did. The table was sharky and they ate me up something good. I can't remember any memorable hands except to say that I put my last $40 in the pot with 3♦-5♦ on a board of 5♣-7♠-Q♦. I was on the button and I had limped in and when it checked around to me, I shoved with bottom pair, only to get called by 7♦-5♥ for a flopped two pair. The turn was a diamond, giving me some hope, but the river bricked and I got up and walked away. The main table shark asked if I was going to re-buy, a sure sign that you are the big fish at the table. I think I picked up speed walking away when he said that...
The news wasn't all bad, though, as I stopped in for some $5 Blackjack on my way out and picked up $40 in profit, cutting my losses somewhat. It made me feel a bit better as I took the long trek back to my car.
The next stop was Dover, DE for the Dover Downs casino. It was another 45 minute drive, which I took in stride and arrived at the casino at approx. 6:30p. The building is impressive looking from the parking lot and I strode onto the casino floor like I was looking for victims. The poker room, which is a small 15-18 table affair, was gearing up for a 7pm $75 $5,000 guarantee tournament, one I would have happily played in if I wasn't under time constraints. However, as nice as this tournament sounded, it threw the poker room management into an absolute tizzy. When I arrived, there was 5 people on the waiting list for $1-$2 NLHE and about 10 tables of cash games going. There was, unfortunately, no one behind the counter to add me to the list. I had to stop the extremely young room manager (seriously, he looked about 25) while he was flitting around to ask him to add me to the list. He did, to his credit, and went back to setting up his very important tournament. As time wore on, people started getting up from their tables in anticipation of the tournament, leaving plenty of open seats for cash game players. But as there were only two floor people in the room at the time (the manager and one other), no one was being seated at the cash games! There was no one behind the brush desk and our pleas to be seated at the empty seats were being ignored. After 15 minutes, the table participants started to wave us over, but when one person tried to sit down, he was shooed away by the manager. The official reason given was that the cash tables would be collapsing when the tournament started, which is reasonable enough, but surely he could keep track of the late comers and pull them off if necessary. As it turns out, it took 45 minutes (!) from that point for the tournament to start, leaving myself and a dozen other players steaming from not being able to play. One table did indeed collapse, but I couldn't help thinking that a bit more organization and one or two more staffers could have avoided this situation and the room could have been making rake from at least 10 more players for an hour.
At least I did well during my session. I was able to leave the room with +$155 off of some standard plays. Nothing spectacular to speak of and nothing memorable. I was so peeved with how the room was run that I put any memory of the game out of my head. Besides for which, I was starting to get very very tired, having been up since 5:45a and having driven hundreds of miles already. I was still a good 40 minutes away from the last poker room in Harrington, Delaware and I needed to stay awake.
The ride to Harrington was uneventful. I stopped into my Holiday Inn Express first to check-in and then immediately went to find the poker room at the Harrington Raceway. I've hardly seen a more pathetic excuse for a 'casino' in my life. The casino entrance was nearly impossible to find from the road, which is unusual considering there are usually big bright neon lights everywhere pointing you to where you need to go. Nothing was lit at all. In fact, the whole thing was just a pathetic add-on to a worn down racetrack that looked closed. I found the entrance by wandering onto the grounds and following a car who seemed to know where he was going. I found the main raceway entrance and took an escalator up to a tiny 6 table poker room that had a whole two tables going on a Friday night. I put my name on the list and waited, like a fool, for 20 minutes until an opening appeared. It was a mistake because I was getting more and more tired by the minute, and I played poorly. By the time it was over, I had lost my initial $200 buyin and I headed back to the hotel. It was my fault for playing tired when I shouldn't be at all. Bad decisions cost you in poker. At the end of a very very long day, I laid my head down in my bed in Harrington, DE and crashed. Hard. I was down $225 on the trip and I needed a fresh start.