Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inching closer...

Congress is seriously looking at legalizing online "gambling". In the wake of Black Friday, any move towards getting online poker legalized, and regulated, is a welcome step. However, I'm hesitant to lump 'gambling' in with poker. Those in the know (read: readers of this blog) know that poker is a skill game with luck playing a diminishing part as time goes on. That's why this article intrigues me when I see John Kyl, an adamant opponent to online gambling of any form, is making a clear distinction between poker and general gambling games like Blackjack or Craps.

The ultimate prize, in my opinion, would be for the public to finally understand the nature of poker, separate it from general gambling, and legalize it online along with heavy regulation. Even better would be if the rake online would be nationally capped at a decent amount that isn't onerous (10% to $5 max would be acceptable to me). Regulation helps avoid the cheating scandals that have marred the industry recently (UB, I'm looking at you), though online collusion is still an issue.

What's even more intriguing, however, is the idea that nationalized legal online poker on the Federal level might pave the way for legalized brick and mortat poker in every state. I salivate just typing that. I long for the day when, just as in California, legal poker with professional dealers is available within a 30 minute drive of nearly anywhere in the country. It remains to be seen if legalized online poker will lead to legalized B&M poker, and I have serious doubts it will. Nevertheless, just a chance of it happening is enough to make me anxious to see the outcome.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 2011 trip (3 of 3)

I forgot a little detail in my last post; namely that I saw what I think might be the saddest sight I've ever seen in my drive from Harrington, DE to Charles Town, WV. Towards the end of the drive, maybe 20 miles outside of Charles Town in a remote part of North Western Maryland, there was a relatively desolate stretch of highway with a, shall we say, 'Gentlemen's Club' on the side of the road. Oh hell, let's just call it what it was, a titty bar. It was non-descript and kind of sad looking, all things considered. It wouldn't have registered a second thought for me had it not been for the marquee, which read:

'Appearing August 6th, Amy Fisher: "The Long Island Lolita"'

This is the saddest thing ever. Amy Fisher was 17 when she shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco in the face, launching herself into infamy. That was 1992. 19 years later, she is still trading on her infamy to scrounge a living by traveling to the middle of nowhere to work the pole for a bunch of working class fellows who probably don't remember who the hell she is. The sad part is not that she has hit the bottom of society, depending on the porn/stripping industry to keep her afloat. No, the sad part is that instead of running from her past and trying to pull herself up to be a decent member of society, she's completely embraced her sullied reputation. It would be as if O.J. Simpson and Lorena Bobbit got together to give paid classes on proper knife handling techniques. I mean, let's be honest. Amy Fisher is not, nor was she ever, attractive. At least not in the conventional 'porn/stripper' sense. So for her to be the headliner at a strip club, any strip club, is based completely upon the fact that she was famous once for shooting a woman in the face.

So there's that.

I woke up Sunday morning and tiptoed through the puddles to my car, which stood up well to the deluge of the previous night. The rain had stopped, but the smell of wet grass hung in the air and the sky was still threatening. Without even stopping for food, I got in and pulled onto the highway to meet my next destination; the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, PA. It was an uneventful 2.5 hour drive to get there. In fact, most of the drive was uneventful, which both excited and irritated me. I was excited that there was spectacularly little traffic during my entire excursion, which included some of the most heavily trafficked roads in the North-East. I was irritated that there wasn't more for me to see or do; not that I would have taken the time to do it.

I arrived at the casino and quickly found the poker room, which was essentially the basement. And when I say basement, I mean it. Try to imagine the basement of someone's home, largely expanded (think a Mansion's basement), but totally done up like a 70's man cave. Plush carpeting, a full wet bar, a foozball table, a pool table and, in the corner, about 15 poker tables. It looked and felt just like the basement of someone's home, which isn't the worst thing. It made the room feel comfortable and cozy, which I liked. I entered myself into a tournament which was starting in a few minutes; $60 buyin plus a $5 dealer add-on buys you $10,000 in chips. The structure is exactly the same as The Showboat in Atlantic City, which is widely considered to be the best daily structure in that town. I must say that the tournament was *extremely* well run, even to the point of the dealer at my table telling the floor that they needed to turn off the NASCAR event on the television to put up a tournament clock that she could see. Very professional. This is NASCAR country and most of the room was watching the race in progress, which was taking place at the nearby Pocono Raceway, so this was no small thing she was requesting. The floor changed to the clock immediately and we were on our way. 65 participants took the field and I did poorly. I was straight up outplayed on a few hands and my one opportunity to triple up and get some chips was thwarted by a good decision on my part.

I had TT UTG+1. Blinds were 150/300 with a $25 ante. I had about $7,000 in my stack and I opened the pot for $750. I was called by Seat 6 and Seat 7 and then the Button min-raised to $1500. I contemplated giving it up but the body language of Seats 6 and 7 told me they were going to flat the raise, giving me enough pot odds to set mine. I called and Seats 6 and 7 did the same.

The flop was 8 9 J. The flop went all around me, and while I missed my set, I managed to flop an OESD. But considering the pre-flop action, there was no way I could lead out at this extremely connected board. I checked, Seat 6 checks and then Seat 7 leads out for $2,000. The button, who had min-raised, pushed all-in for $5,000 total. It gets to me and I cry inside. There's a huge pot brewing but I have to consider my outs. A 7 is a perfect card for me and there are 4 of those in the deck. A Ten is a less perfect card, considering that QQ is well within the range of the button's hands and a ten would give him a straight. A Queen would give me a straight, but again, it was likely that is what the button is holding. Well, possibly KK or AA too. So, in the best case scenario, I have 10 outs (four Queens, four sevens and two tens), but in all likelihood, I have 4 outs (four 7's). Also, Seat 7 may have JJ, which means my 2 tens as outs are DEFINITELY dead. Given this analysis, I folded, flashing my cards to the person next to me moaning, "I'm gonna regret this". Seat 6 folded and seat 7 called. The turn was 7, naturally. I died inside. The river was a brick. The button showed QQ, which is what I feared and Seat 7 showed 89 suited for a flopped two pair that held up. So I made the right call, in retrospect, but it was tough to live with. I whittled down from there and didn't survive much longer, losing when my AJ lost to KQo.

I was disappointed that I had busted, very far out of the money, but I was happy to have participated in a well-run tournament. I didn't stay for cash games, mostly because I had one more casino to hit before a long drive back home to Connecticut. So I high-tailed it out of there and drove 45 minutes to my last stop at Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono, PA. Mount Airy is almost on top of the Pocono Raceway, and given this was a race day and approximately 100,000 people were descending on this spot, I was expecting horrific traffic. Fortunately, I had anticipated this and asked the locals at the previous casino if they had a route around the traffic and they did! I was given a local route which avoided the road closures that surround the races and happily pulled into the Mount Airy resort on time and on schedule.

The Mount Airy resort is a very impressive facility and not at all what I was expecting. If you grew up in the Tri-State area (NY, NJ and CT), as I did, you are familiar with the old Mount Airy Lodge radio commercials (~At beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, all you have to bring, is your love of everything~). These commercials were a desperate attempt to draw people to a fading resort that had it's heyday in the 1960's and was now a relic of it's time. But, as I learned, the old resort was demolished and a new one built in 2007, so the entire complex is brand-new. The casino, which is spacious, but not huge, reminds me very much of the Red Rock casino in Las Vegas. The casino floor is circular, and the poker room is in an antechamber off the side. The room is on the smallish side, but the brush desk was responsive and handed me a buzzer when they put my name on the waiting list for a $1-$2 table, a nice touch which allowed me to roam the casino floor while I was waiting for a spot to open up. It wasn't more than 15 minutes before I was called in and seated at seat 5. I sat with $200 and wasn't at the table for more than one hand when the large older gentleman to my immediate left looked over at me with a knowing look. When I didn't respond, he lifted up his sunglasses and said, "Hi there. Nice to see you again."

"Do I know you?," I asked politely.
"Don't you remember me? We played here last night.," he replied.
"Sorry," I said, "this is my first time in this casino."
He looked very disappointed and shocked.
"Really?," he sputtered, " look *exactly* like this other guy I played with."
I joked with him, "Well you know, all Jews look the same."
That got the table to laughing and he put in the punchline by saying, "Well, he *was* Jewish!"

Of course he was.

After giving the table a nice laugh and establishing an easy comraderie with everyone, I proceeded to get hit by the deck. Everything held up for me in this short 20 minute run. Kings, Aces, AK, AQ, I couldn't lose. It got to the point where they stopped playing in pots with me because for 20 minutes I showed down the nuts every time. But I wasn't complaining. In the middle of this run, I got a text from my friend Lauren, who happened to be at the NASCAR race with her boyfriend Joel. She had seen my check-in at Mount Airy on Facebook and wondered if I wouldn't mind eating lunch with them. They would come up to the casino to meet me, and I happily agreed. I was up $250 at that point, only on the table one hour, and I welcomed the opportunity to rack up and keep my winnings. Besides, it'd give me a good opportunity to go home a little early and beat the race traffic. The race was only on lap 140 when Lauren showed up with Joel; turns out they didn't much care for the experience so they left early. I racked up at +$240, said my goodbyes and ate at the buffet with them. It was over-priced for the quality of the food and I wasn't impressed, but buffets can be hit or miss. After a too-short lunch, they left to go home to Manhattan and I stayed behind to digest. It was a 3 hour drive for me and I didn't want to go on a full stomach, so I donked off $60 playing pai-gow while I digested my heinous food. The dealer was on a tear, beating just about everything that came his way. I had JJJ22A*Joker*, a nearly unbeatable hand, which chopped to KKK44AQ. If you've not going to win with Jacks full and Aces on top, what the hell *are* you going to win with?!?

In a more perfect world, I would have gone back to the poker table and played for the rest of the afternoon. But I had had a nice run over the weekend and didn't feel the need to sully it with a possible loss. Not to mention that I was happy to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for the long drive home. Nothing's worse than driving in weekend traffic while you're tired.

Two last notes:

1. I would highly recommend Mount Airy Resort for a golf/poker weekend. There's a very nice 18 hole golf course on the premises and I can totally see a guys weekend where we get up early for a round, retire for nap, have a nice dinner and then play poker until the sun comes up. That would be a Saturday worth remembering!

2. I don't know when my next weekend away is going to come, but when it does, I have an itinerary set. I fly into Syracuse and play all night at Turning Stone. Then I drive in my rented car to Buffalo and play there, before driving down to Salamanca and then finally to Pittsburgh to play in the two rooms there before flying back home. I could easily accomplish this in a weekend and knock 5 more rooms off my tally.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 2011 Trip (2 of 3)

I woke up Saturday, August 6th, in Harrington, Delaware at the Holiday Inn Express. Depressing. I wanted to be out of the hotel and on the road by 8am because I knew it would take approx. 2.5 hours to reach my next destination, which was Charles Town, West Virginia. I wanted to arrive well before 11am in case there was a tournament. 11am seems to be a common time for weekend tournaments to start and I was hoping to play in a cheap one. the one I *really* wanted to play in was the $150 'Survivor' tournament in Grantville, PA that was happening at 11am that same day, but it didn't work out for me to be in that area at that time. Really, I messed up the whole trip in terms of scheduling. If I had planned more thoroughly, I would have done the entire trip in reverse, which would have allowed me to:

A. Be in Grantville, PA for the 11am $150 'Survivor' tournament (The tournament ends when the money bubble bursts and everyone makes the same payout, hence 'Survivor').
B. Be in Maryland Saturday night for a real Maryland Crab Dinner.
C. Avoid the possibility of traffic caused by the Nascar Pocono Speedway race on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I did not plan the trip to this level of detail and ended up missing some of these great opportunities. Such is life, as my Mom used to say.

Where was I? Oh yes...Charles Town.

It was an arduous and boring 2.5 hour drive to Charles Town, but I did arrive when I wanted to, only to find there were no tournaments on Fridays and Saturdays. The good news is, the reason for this is that the room is *jumping*. The Hollywood Casino (a large 22 casino national chain) in Charles Town, WV is a racino, like so many others. In this case, they race thoroughbreds, and the track has a grand history to it. Up and away from the casino floor, in a wonderful niche that they've carved out that feels a bit like someone's attic, they've managed to place around 25 poker tables. By the time I sat down to a $1-$2 NLHE table at 10:45a, there were at least 15 or more tables going, including a few $2-$5 tables and a $5-$10 table. There were also more women playing at this room than in any other room I've seen on the trip. I made some inquiries and found out that the reason why the room was so busy is that it's the only viable option within a 2 hour drive, so it draws a lot of people who have no other place to go. It's a testament to monopoly, really. This is why Atlantic City has some dead poker rooms on weekends while you can get a completely full poker room during the week out in the middle of nowhere.
I was seated at a new table and bought in for $200. I was mostly up at the table, which wasn't particularly aggressive or difficult. I did get involved in one memorable hand, though. Here's how the action went down:

I was in MP with 5 5. There is a raise to $12 from UTG+1 and I call. Seat 8 calls. Seat 10 min-raises to $24. The BB calls! UTG+1 calls! It gets to me and I start debating in my head. I'm 100% certain I'm behind here but a few factors make me think about calling. First, I'm positive the min-raiser has a monster hand that he might get married to. QQ, KK or AA is my range for him. 3 betting by min-raising in a multi-way pot is SUCH an amateur move that I can safely put him on these three hands and, more importantly, safely assume he will stack off if I flop a set. Second, there are so many callers that I can also assume that many high cards are already in play, making the odds of me flopping a set slightly better than normal. And yes, I know the *true* odds are the same, but if you know information about the cards in play, it affects the odds for that particular scenario.

With all of this in my head, I make the $24 call, fairly confident that everyone else will simply call as well. So I call. And then Seat 8 moves all in for $41! Crappies. After cold calling the first bet, he shoved with a small stack and re-opened the betting. Seat 10, who could now shove for $180 if he wanted to, just calls! Unbelievably bad play on his part. That leads BB, UTG+1 and myself to also call.

So now it's 5 way into a $200 pot pre-flop. I flash my cards to an Asian guy to my left who I've been chummy with and he whispers to me exactly what I've been thinking, "You're definitely going to hit this flop." The cards come out 5 6 T. Bingo. UTG+1 checks to me and I hesitate for a second. I decide to try to represent AT and I float out a silo of $100, which covers all the remaining players except one. Seat 10, predictably, calls for his last $85. The BB, after a small tank, also calls for his last $70 and UTG+1 folds. My guess is that he had two high cards (Ak, AQ, KQ) or small pairs which missed. Everyone except Seat 8 shows their cards and I'm up against QQ from Seat 10 (knew it) and 9 9 from BB. The board runs out with a K on the turn and a K on the river. I do a little dance and expect the $500 pot to be pushed towards me when Seat 8 flips over...K 6. Ewwww. I'm lucky he was short stacked when he pushed and I was still able to make a profit from the side pot, but still. Ewwwww. When asked he just said, "They were suited so I said, Fuck it." I hate it when guys like that get rewarded. But this is why we love the game, right?

I left my Charles Town session after 4 hours at +$165, my high point for the session, which I was happy about. I had a two hour drive in front of me to get to the Hollywood Casino in Grantville, PA and I didn't want to dilly dally.
One note about the Charles Town area. Charles Town, WV is a very historic area, only 5 or 6 miles away from Harpers Ferry, the site of the famous John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid slave uprising in 1859. It is also the location of the place where West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland all meet in the Shenendoah Valley. It's such a pretty location that George Washington himself convinced most of his family members to buy property there and their descendents still live there to this day. In fact, Charles Town is named after it's founder, Charles Washington, who was George's Washington's youngest full brother. And, the Antietam battlefield is only a few miles away as well.

The reason I am expounding on these wonderful qualities to the area is not to convince anyone to visit. It's simply to point out that I did not get to see any of this great stuff. One of the great tragedies with my poker trips is that I am often pressed for time to the point that I cannot indulge in the sightseeing that I would like to partake in when I am in a particular area. This is my curse. With great power comes great responsibility. I'll avenge you Uncle Ben!

Sorry...I turned into Spider-Man for a second there.

Anyhow, Boo-Hoo to me. I can't always see the sights. Maybe I'll come back one day.
So on to Grantville, PA I went. Grantville, incidentally, is only a few miles away from Hershey, PA. Chocolate-town. I was expecting a lot of Hershey stuff but I didn't see anything. I guess it's restricted to the town of Hershey itself. The Hollywood Casino in Grantville is pretty nice, I have to say, even if it's poker room could use some stretching out. It's located near the track (another horse racino) and open to the casino floor. Also, there's no cage, which is wierd. You buy your chips from the brush desk. I got to the poker room at around 6:00p and was immediately seated at a $1-$2 table. This turned out to be my best session of the entire trip and I was able to cash out at around 10:30p with $750 for a +$550 profit!
The session started wierdly. I'm a pretty affable guy and I like to loosen people up sometimes by making table banter, just to get people in a good mood. On the wall opposite my view was a TV screen that was tuned to the TV show COPS, with the sounds turned down but the closed captioning turned on. If you've never watched the show with closed captioning, I think it lends an even more surreal quality to the proceedings. It was really distracting to me because every time I looked up, I couldn't help but read the captions and laugh at the transcripts that were occuring. For example, a woman was being arrested in some rural area (read: she was White, Tattooed and as Trailer Park as it gets) and the police were asking her about the drugs they had found in her car.

Cop: Do you know why we stopped you?
Drug Addled Girl: No, I have no idea.
Cop: There was a strong smell of Marijuana coming from your vehicle. Have you been smoking weed in the car?
Drug Addled Girl: No, I..
Cop: {Interrupting} Have you been smoking weed?
Drug Addled Girl: Just a little. Is that illegal?

I burst out laughing at the table. Some of the other players started watching it and also thought it was pretty funny. Except for Seat 1, who got real indignent with me. He said, "This show is really scummy, you know? To be making money at the misfortune of others." That kind of made me feel bad, although I tried to slough it off. But then Seat 1 said the magic words which made me feel a whole lot better: "I mean, I've been there before. Arrested. It's not fun."

Says you, my friend. For the record, after having thought about it for a bit, I do feel like some slack should be cut for people who are accused of crimes. But COPS doesn't show people who are accused, they show people RED-HANDED breaking the law. There's a difference, I think, between publicly humiliating someone based on a charge where only a court case can prove guilt and humiliating someone who's being filmed running from the police with a gun in their hands!

Anyway, back to the action. My run at this table was very very good and it helped that I got some decent cards to work with. I made a decent pot when I flopped a set of 7's vs. an AK where the flop had an Ace. I also got paid off on a river value bet with my KK vs. a guy's KQ where the flop was Queen high. When he paid off the river he said, "I just didn't believe you." That's what I love about weak tables and weak players. No matter how much you show yourself to be a solid player, they just convince themselves that you're bluffing (of course, sometimes you are!). And then, after two hours of playing and chipping up to about $375 from $200, the hand of the weekend went down.

I had 7 9 on the button. UTG raises to $15, a strong bet from UTG from a super tight amateur player. I immediately put him on a big pair. Just like my previous big pot at the previous Hollywood Casino, I saw this guy as having a big pair that he just wasn't going to lay down. This informed my play later, as you'll see. Seat 4 calls and then Seat 5 in MP moved all in for $26. I asked the dealer out loud, "Does that raise re-open the betting?" This particular dealer was pretty awful (though the rest were perfectly fine) and I wanted to make sure he understood what I was asking. He blinked, like a deer, and I asked him again, "Does the all-in raise re-open the betting?"

The dealer replied, "Yes, that's an all-in".

I did the math in my head and then answered back, "Wait a minute. If the initial raise is $13, then shouldn't a valid raise be $28? ($15 + $13)"

The dealer, and several other table participants came back with, "No, the re-raise needs to be twice the raise. Since the all-in was $26, or twice the $13 raise, it's a valid re-raise and the betting is re-opened."

I knew I was right and I pressed the point again. "The raise was $13 up to a total of $15. Another $13 raise would make the total $28."

Finally, I got through to the dealer who finally agreed with me and announced that more raising was not possible. Actually, it was possible, by me and the SB and the BB, but not by anyone after that. But the point was the same, which was that if I called, I could expect that the original raiser could only call if it folds to him. After publicly announcing that I was trying to figure out if I could be re-raised if I flat-called, I made the call for $26 with 79o. The UTG raiser and Seat 4 both call and we see a 4 way flop.

The flop comes down 6 8 9. This is an almost perfect flop for me. Yes, there is a diamond draw on the board now, which worries me a touch, but I flopped top pair with an open ended straight draw to go with it. Now I have to figure out if the initial raiser has the premium hand I thought he did, or just AK or AQ. It checks around to me and my suspicion is that I am leading the field with top pair/OESD. I lead out for $25, thinking this will win me the pot right now. Also, it's a feeler bet. If the original raiser shoves on me, I can make a decision about what I want to do knowing exactly what he has. It gets to the original raiser and he min-raises me to $50! OMG, what an amateur play. Unless he flopped a set or a straight, min-raising is about the worst play imaginable. Seat 4 folds to the min-raise and it's left to me. It's a super easy call: $25 into a $175 pot with 13 outs to improve my hand (four 5's, three 7's, two 9's and four 10's). So the pot is laying me 7-1 on a 4-1 draw. The only hand I can worry about is TT, which I just don't think is in his range for the line he's taking and the read I have on him. I call and the turn is gin, 10. He doesn't even consider a 7 to be in my range, and I don't blame him, so he pumps out another $50 value bet. I shove for the rest of my chips and he snap calls for his remaining $85. He tables K K, Seat 5 holds on to his cards (and later tells us it was AQ) and I show 79o and the table explodes! The river bricked out and I dragged a $475 pot. Seat 6, the *second* best player at the table (ahem...), is a middle aged Asian guy who's super impressed with my play. He can't stop gushing about it. "Wow, that was so great. So *that's* why you were asking about the raise"...etc, etc. An hour later, he's still deconstructing the whole thing with the guy to his right. Seat 1 (the guy with the arrest record who hates COPS) says, "Wow, I thought you were a lot more conservative than that!". Seat 6 says, "I gotta call you Tyson," and starts shadow boxing muttering, "Seven Nine, Seven Nine" while throwing allegorical punches into the air.

I found it kind of amusing. I'm glad the play was appreciated but it's not god-like or anything remotely close. Some of the crappier players at the table commented, "You play that crap? How lucky for you!", but the better players understood what the intention was. Stacking a weaker player. I don't mind calling a raise, or even a re-raise, to a player that I KNOW WILL STACK OFF for the right flop. The choice of opponent is critical here. A better player would have pushed me off on the flop (or tried to since I doubt I could fold given my outs and his stack size). An even better player might have folded his Kings given the pre-flop information I gave out about wanting to know whether the betting had been re-opened. I practically gave away that my hand was speculative and that straight type of flop could have (and did) hit me very well. But some would say the hand played itself and the Kings couldn't do much, other than shoving the flop. So I speculated and I mined some gold. It happens, but I'm happy at least that I had a game plan for calling, in position, that particular time.

The rest of the night went well for me and I finished +$550 on the session, finishing up around 11:30p when I started to get really tired. I drove to the Days Inn where I was staying, in the middle of a monsoon as the sky had opened up after three days of oppressive humidity, and fell asleep quickly, visions of big pots and adulation still floating in my brain.

Morbid is as Morbid does

Trip Report 2 of 3 is being written, but might not be posted for a few days.

In the meantime, I just want to comment how sad I am that the Wall Street Poker Dead Pool never got off the ground last year. I got a lot of private emails from people telling me how sick it was, but I just don't see it that way.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 2011 trip (1 of 3)

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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hello boys, I'm baaaaaaack!

It's been...too long since I made a post. Oddly enough, the frequency of my posts has an inverse correlation with the major activity of my life. It's been about 10 months since I made a post and in that time:

1. I got married - Alison and I tied the knot in Aruba with a close group of family and friends and had a blast honeymooning in Hawaii on the Big Island.

2. I moved out of Manhattan - Manhattan and I had been growing apart for some time and finally she asked me to move out. It was around the time I got involved with Alison that Manhattan started growing suspicious. She got colder and less interesting and really, it was just a matter of time. It's for the best, of course, since Manhattan isn't going to settle down anytime soon, unless you've got major money. She's a great time, but really only for the single-minded amongst us. Anyway, I got a job with UBS in Stamford and moved out there with Alison just after our wedding. 4 months into the job, the group I was with (it was a contract position) was unceremoniously let go after my contract engagement manager managed to piss off the wrong people. I'm working now at Credit Suisse back in Manhattan (you cold bitch!). My commute is 90 minutes, but it's tempered by the fact that I can telecommute from home once or twice a week. I'm enjoying it tremedously. Also, my new townhouse in Stamford is more than twice the square footage of my old Manhattan apartment and is only a two block walk to the beach!

3. There was a flurry of Wall Street Poker alumni activity - Matty Ebs got married and had a daughter. The Slayer got married in a beautiful wedding at Bethpage State Park (Home of the ocassional US Open of Golf). Pauly Walnuts and Abbie M got married (to each other!) on the same day as the Slayer. That was a hell of a day. Their wedding was equally beautiful, on the shores of the Hudson River overlooking Wall Street (natch). Many Wall Streeters were in attendance.

4. Andy Frankenberger proves it's not a fluke - Franky, who I previously blogged about in my last post in October when he won the WPT 'Legends of Poker' tourney, ended up winning the WPT Player of the Year after winning another tourney and final tabling one or two more. Any other player would have called that a good year, but he then went on to the World Series of Poker and managed to win a bracelet in Event #28 ($1,500 NL Hold'Em) by beating out 2,499 other participants and taking home the $600,000 first place prize! So sick.

5. Alison passed 3 bar exams and got a job - In an effort to make herself more marketable in this difficult economy, Alison took the NY and NJ bar exams one after the other. Then she took the Connecticut bar exam six months later. This made her...interesting to live with while the stress took it's toll, but it paid off handily. Not only did she pass all 3 exams on her first try, but the results of the NY bar exam (probably the hardest one), came out on our wedding day. Some of Alison's law school friends, who had already found out their results that morning, pulled me aside during the wedding and said it'd be a fun idea to announce to Alison and the wedding party the results (only if she'd passed of course). Alison didn't even know the results had been released when I snuck away to our room to check her email. It made for a wonderful moment when I finally was able to announce to a puzzled audience (who didn't understand why I had hijacked the proceedings) that Alison had indeed passed! The whole party burst into applause and shouts and the mood, already lightened by the seaside wedding and plenty of alcohol, shot into the stratosphere. I can honestly say it was the most fun I'd ever had in one night. Alison just accepted a position at a small firm in Westchester doing civil litigation and insurance defense and she starts August 15th. I couldn't be prouder of her.

So that's what's been keeping me busy. My lust for poker remains strong but my opportunities remain relatively few. In the last year, I've played live poker maybe five times, with three losing sessions and two winning sessions. I played in Atlantic City and at the Mohegan Sun but haven't seen any new poker rooms.

Until this weekend....

That's right. This Friday, I will embark on my first poker trip since my Arizona trip in late 2009. Alison is going up to the Cape with her family for a week and I will be joining her Wed. night. But I'll have the entire weekend free and I'm using it plan a monstrous poker weekend. I will leave work in the early afternoon and hit these poker rooms in order:

1. Parx Casino, Philadephia, PA
2. Harrah's Chester, Philadelphia, PA
3. Delaware Park, Wilmington, DE
4. Dover Downs, Dover, DE
5. Harrington Raceway, Harrington, DE
6. Hollywood Casino, Charles Town, WV (Yes, West Virginia!)
7. Hollywood Casino, Grantville, PA
8. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Wilkes-Barre, PA
9. Mount Airy Casino, Mt. Pocono, PA

Nine poker rooms in two and a half days spanning three different states. Not bad.

I'll have a full write up sometime next week. Oh, and I want to send a huge shout out to "DownTown" Michael Brown, who is turning 60 this year on August 12 (my birthday too!). He's having his party this same weekend I'm doing this and I was super conflicted about it, but I ultimately chose the poker trip. I *know* Michael* will understand!