Thursday, July 15, 2004

NY Players Club

Last night my friend Dave opened the door to a whole new world of poker: the underground club. I had been a few times to the Ace Point Club to participate in their no-limit Holdem tournaments, but it's primarily a backgammon club that holds poker tournaments twice a week, not a true underground poker club.

After enjoying some free corn and sangria at the Find Outlet Bastille Day sample sale (you gotta love a shopping frenzy that comes with a free BBQ), I did some research on the competition and skimmed through a stack of poker books at Barnes & Nobles. There's really nothing like my book out there, which is great news. The beginner books like "Poker for Dummies" are almost unreadable -- I've actually got the DVD of that particular treasure on my netflix queue.

Around 8:30, Dave arrived and met me in front of the building. I have no idea how "secret" these clubs are so I'm not going to say where it was. This early on in my poker career, I don't need to burn any bridges.

We were buzzed in through one door and then went through a second and there I was in the midst of a hectic, bustling scene. Four or five young men were hanging out in front of a big screen TV which was showing a tournament going on at Turning Point Casino as the floor manager flitted to and fro calling for dealers to start tables and games. Dave introduced me to one of the owners and explained he was showing me around the joint. He introduced me to the floor manager and started pointing out the games going on in the first room. On one table, he said, was a "live game" -- which just means it's being played for real money as opposed to tournaments, which you might pay $50 for $500 in chips.

The "live game" was $30-$60 (meaning raises must be either $30 or $60, nothing more or less each time) Holdem and at it, he pointed out two pros, one of whom was Mickey Appleman, who I've seen on TV playing in the World Series of Poker.

What's both crazy and great about poker, and much of its appeal, is that if I had had $1000 to lose, I could have sat down at that table and played with Appleman. People do this sort of thing all the time -- spend thousands just so they can say they've played with a legend. But as my bankroll is not such that I can afford to lose more than a hundred bucks or so on one night, I declined. When the book contract is signed and I get that first advance... I've decided to use that first 1/3 of the money for poker. I think I can write a lot of things off -- but I need an accountant.

There was a small tournament going on, and in the other second room, Dave sat down at his game -- a rotation game which, he told me, has been going on in one form or another for 14 years. Rotation games mean that you play one kind of poker -- Holdem, Omaha, Crazy Pineapple (which I have zero idea how to play) --- for one round and then switch to another. I sat behind him and he told me what was going on and a quick lesson on hi/lo Omaha.

Soon, a $3-$6 limit game of Holdem was going to start, so I jumped in. I filled out a membership form and sat down with $100 at this live game. There were only 5 players -- which in poker terms we call "short-handed" -- one of whom was a woman about 60. The others -- an Asian Californian, a gray-bearded fellow who it turned out would be my head-to-head opponent for the evening, and a tiny young guy wearing a U of M hat and a t-shirt that declared "Come to Upstate NY!" A few others came in and out, but it was pretty much the five of us for the next two hours.

We had a dealer -- or rather, many, as every half-hour they switched. In a club like this, or in casinos, there's a "rake" -- a fee for the house. It depends how they decide what it is. Every 1/2 hour I forked over $3 to the dealer -- and when I won big, I tipped a buck. It's just good manners to give a tip after you get two straights in a row. Which I did.

I played well, and it was good to see how I had to adjust to playing with people I didn't know -- I stole a few pots (meaning I bluffed, representing, for instance that I had an Ace when in fact I had nada. Bumpkus. Divided by squat) but not as many as I can in my regular game. Still, at the end of the evening I was $66 richer. Not bad. I felt pretty rock star for my first night there, to tell the truth. My bearded opponent kept saying "I can't believe you rivered it again." But I didn't always. The more I play, the more I see instinctively the "outs" for my hand and the pot odds.

Let's just say, as I told the owner, I'd be back. I've been bitten by the poker bug.


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