Sunday, January 16, 2005

My First Poker Triumph

Since I first took up poker a few months ago, I have been met with many disappointments. I’ve always managed to play pretty good poker and compete admirably. However, I always come up just short. After a while, it’s gotten me sort of irritated. I know I can play with the best intermediate level contestants.

Today I decided to test my luck with the big boys of poker. I did some searching online and found a place to play in Palm Beach County. My destination would be the Palm Beach Kennel Club, down off of Southern Boulevard in West Palm. My motivation was two-fold. Primarily, my bank account has been getting a little slim and I needed some money. Secondly, I did want to see what it’s like at a real poker room.

So I got up around 11:30 this morning and got a spot at one of thirty poker tables at the club. I was disappointed to find out that there were pot limits. I played a variation of Texas Hold ‘Em called straight/$2. In each round of betting, the first wager cannot exceed $2. After that, people can raise each round up to a maximum of $8. This type of betting is allowed before the flop, after the flop, after 4th street, and after the river. While there are limits, you can win a sizable pot. It also keeps one from losing all of their cash on one hand.

I sat down and was surrounded by nine other men. There were some younger people, but the crowd was mostly middle-aged. I surmised that a lot of them were regulars. Many of them knew one another and were friendly with the dealer.

Very early on in the game, I got a pair of poker jacks. Things were looking up for me. I ended up winning $25 in that pot, elevating my chip count to $45. I initially paid in $25 for chips. Well, that was pretty much all the luck I had. Two hours and many fruitless hands later, I had frittered away my sum of $80. Each time I went out of chips, I’d just pay the dealer $20 more. I figured my luck had to get better. Unfortunately, it never did. I left around 2:30 divorced from my $80. That was a low moment for me. As I drove home, I tried to figure out how to get some more money. Even if I get a part-time job, it might not be enough. Down to my last $200, I ate some of my leftover KFC chicken and thought about things.

Not wanting to go out like that, I went back to the bank and took out one last $40. I told myself that I’d try to go back to the poker room and win back $20 of my losses. I told myself I wouldn’t lose more than $20 of my $40. This time, I was seated at a different table with an entirely new group of people. It was an experience to be certain. This one guy starting yelling every time something would go wrong. He’d keep screaming, “Damn that two, damn that seven”. I couldn’t tell whether he was upset at the two in his hand or the #2 horse. See, at the Kennel Club people play poker while watching the horse races they’ve bet on. They can have multiple bets going on simultaneously. They must live their entire lives to gamble. They knew the exact point spread and over/under on all the NFL playoff games. Some of them casually talk about how they lost $3000 on a certain game.

My luck suddenly began to turn around. Sometime within my first hands, I flopped an Ace high flush. I knew there was nothing short of a full house that would beat me. I ended up winning a big pot off a guy who had the king high flush. At this point, I was starting to feel better. I had won back $20 and I almost was ready to call it quits. But in a foolish move, I kept on playing and playing and playing. At one point, I had $200 worth of chips. The play ebbed and flowed for quite some time. Around 5:00, I was crestfallen to discover I was down to under $70. For a second, I thought about calling it quits. But I told myself I’d try to hit $100 and then cash out. I did get the $100 and kept on falling slightly below or getting slightly above. Luckily, I got on a really big rush late in the game. By the time I cashed out, I had $200 worth of chips. I put $80 in earlier that day and $40 in the afternoon, so I had paid in $120. That left a net profit of nearly $80.

Finally, let me give some observations about playing cash games like these. First off, it takes an inhuman amount of patience. I’ve concluded that if you play for long enough, you’ll probably find a way to come out ahead. I screwed up earlier by wasting money on mediocre or poor hands. When the money is real, you have to be very careful how you wager. I decided to play only face cards or aces. Secondly, you have to understand the percentages. Don’t stay in after the flop unless there’s a very high probability that you have the best hand. Of course, each person will take different chances. I’m guilty of holding out for some gut straights from time to time.

Overall, it was a pretty good experience. I particularly liked this one old guy who had a dispute with the dealer. They had to call some tournament head over to take care of things. The dealers are incredible. They are so proficient in handling the cards. I liked this one dealer named Tomas. He was the one who dealt me the pocket jacks. Dealers rotate from table to table every 45 minutes.

I wonder whether I should go back there again. On one hand, I never found that I was having a fun time. In this setting, it really is all about the money. One problem is that in limit games, there’s not a great amount of skill involved. Basically, you play the cards and hope you get lucky once in a while. If I went back, I’d be much more cautious in paying money. I might start with $40 chips and commit to leaving with no less than $20. It takes discipline to quit when you are ahead. I’d consider it a success if I could leave each time $10 to $20 in the clear. Although I’ve learned that it can be hard to stop once you start winning (or losing).

Gambling at the track is definitely something you don’t want to do too much. I can see how it could get addicting quick. There were a number of times I should have stopped yet kept on playing. I came dangerously close to losing more money than I should have. I’ll be happy with this victory and consider the day a success, even though I could have made more. I’d hate to wind up like some of those guys who routinely lose hundreds of dollars daily. It’s no fun to lose a big hand and become desperate to win it back.

For now, I’m a happy camper. The $75 I won today will do loads of good for this semester. It’s a bit scary knowing that a card or two difference could have made me go nearly broke.


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