Category Archives: Poker

Poker: My World Series Event

©WSOP, Inc.

I love watching the World Series of Poker on TV every summer, it’s what got me interested in and playing poker again after a long lapse. I last talked about it HERE. This week there’s a WSOP circuit event in Atlantic City at Caesar’s. The main event has an entry fee of $5000, and there are other large satellite tournaments with entries ranging from $300 to $1000.

Those are all too expensive for me, but for the regular poker guys like myself, there’s another option. You can play in a one-table tournament of 10 people for $80. This is called a Level 1 event. Winning first place in it gets you a free seat in one of the larger tournaments, the Level 2 events. Winning one of THOSE gets you a seat in the $5000 main event. Winning that gets you a good amount of cash AND a seat at the WSOP $10,000 main event in Las Vegas next May.

As you can see, you have to be extraordinarily lucky to get anywhere in this system, but I thought it would be fun to enter the $80 Sit-and-Go (so called because there’s no scheduled start time, when they have 10 willing players, it starts).

I hadn’t played at Caesar’s before, so I had to get a player card. Then I registered at the tournament. It took about a half hour to assemble the necessary 10 players for the game, then we began with $2000 in (no real value) tournament chips, following the usual multi-level format. The first fifteen minutes the blinds were $25 and $50, every 15 minutes the blinds increased, and after level 3 each player also had to put in an ante.

The group I sat with, I have to say, was just as entertaining a bunch as any I’ve seen on TV, so though I didn’t win, I felt I got my money’s worth. There were two guys from New York, one black, one very Italian, who kept up a running banter on either side of me, and they were pretty funny. At the far end of the table was an older bald man who they gave the nickname “Kojak.” He did look a little like Telly Savalas, but just a little. Kojak was the man with the luck in this game, he just kept winning pots. Another very vocal player had a European accent I couldn’t place. He played well, going in with the best hand, and Kojak kept beating him, until he was on full tilt. The European lost with Ace-Queen. He lost with a pair of Kings. Finally, he went all in with a pair of Aces, the best starting hand in Hold-Em, and Kojak knocked him out with a flush. The guy was so upset that, even after he was knocked out, he kept coming back to the table to complain and grouse about it. It was pretty funny.

I won two small pots, but didn’t make much headway. I bet big on two pair, and was beaten by Kojak with a flush. I was nearly out of chips and went all in with King-Nine against him. Wouldn’t you know he had the same hand, and we split the pot. Finally I was down to my last few chips and went all in with Ace-Jack, not a bad hand, against another player with King-deuce. Unfortunately, even though I got a straight, I was again beaten by a flush.

I went out in fifth place, but had a good time. And, if and when they televise the main event from Caesars this year, I’ll be looking for Kojak in the crowd. When I left he had most of the chips at the table, and was bound to win. Could he possibly continue his streak through two more levels? Hey, it’s poker, these things do happen!

Borgata Tournament

Borgata poker room
Borgata poker room photo ©Matt Law.

Last Sunday I played in the regular morning daily tournament at the Borgata casino/hotel in Atlantic City. I’ve been wanting to try playing a low-entry-fee tournament there for a while, and had the time, so gave it a try.

The entry fee was $50 plus $10 to the casino (their entire cut). Each player began with $5,000 in tournament chips. After the first hour you had an option to rebuy another $5,000 for another $50. The game, of course, was no-limit Texas hold-’em.

There were about 160 players signed up, and they began with 14 tables. Late sign-ups were seated as players were knocked out. I was at table 11, which included a mix of folks, young and old, and one woman. Several indicated from their talk that they were new to poker tournaments. I’d played a few at the Taj Mahal over the past year, not winning anything, though I got close one time, finishing just a few places out of the money.

Play began with blinds at $25 and $50. I was getting almost no playable cards and stayed out of most pots. The biggest pot I played I had a pair of nines, and flop cards were all lower than that. No one was betting big, so I stayed in, investing a few hundred dollars. The pot was won by someone with a pair of tens. At the end of the first hour I was down to about $2,000, and had to make the decision to rebuy or probably get knocked out soon after. I decided to go ahead and invest another $50, giving me some chips to go on with for a while, playing conservatively. This was all actually fine with me, as I thought I was bound to start getting some better hands eventually, and would rather it be later in the game, as long as I could hang on until then.

Players dropped out, and soon I was reseated at table 6. Blinds and antes continued to go up every 20 minutes, and some time in the second hour I was forced to go all in to have any chance to continue. I won that all-in, and made it to the second break and third hour. Players were now down to about 50.

In the third hour I finally started getting some playable hands, and won a few medium-size pots. My conservative play had by this time given me the rep of only playing premium hands, so I was also able to bluff-win small pots a few times, always a good thing. But, of course, the blinds kept rising, and I remained short-stacked most of the time. I was finally down to my last $2,000 and had to put them all in with a terrible hand of 3-8. Luck finally came my way, and the flop had a three in it, the turn was an eight, and I won that hand with two pair! Soon after I went all in again with A-8 against K-Q, and won a nice pot when another ace came on the flop.

As we approached the fourth hour of play we were down to about 25 players, and the top 16 would finish in the money, with 16th place paying $170, so a profit of $60. Not great for four hours, but much better than losing! I was still one of the shorter stacks, but seemed to have a good chance of finishing in the money. Players continued to drop out, I won another pot with A-K, and all of a sudden we were down to 16, from 160 at the open. I’d done it! I was assured of at least some profit for the tournament.

Play continued, and short stacks were now going all in almost every hand. I got conservative again, and didn’t play much. Before long we were down to 10 players, the final table, and the last break. I called Ellen to tell her what was going on, and that I’d be home a little later than usual. She wished me good luck, and I went back to it.

Play at the final table was cautious, as everyone was jockeying for a higher finish, but one by one short stacks went all in and usually lost. My stack dwindled, but I did pick up a few small pots to keep me in it. Finally we were down to three. The other two players each had roughly equal stacks, much larger than mine, and were just waiting for me to go all in. I had no playable cards for a few hands, then got K-10 and went all in with that. The player to my left called with A-J, another ace came on the flop, and I was finished. Finished, but thrilled with third place, and a prize of $1365! After deducting my entry fee and tips, I cleared about $1225, a very nice result indeed for my first tournament there. About five hours of play with three breaks. My back was sore, but I was floating on air.

I’m sure I’ll play more tournaments next year, and probably won’t finish in the money again, but now that I’ve done it once, I know it’s possible. And I’m ahead for the year overall, which is terrific, as I love to play, and now can do so without feeling guilty about the expense. To win a poker tournament you have to get lucky, and I did, but I also feel I played well, and didn’t do anything stupid. I also was able to go all in when I needed to, which can be tough.

Will I ever finish first? Only time will tell. But I’ll take third any day!

Poker at the Borgata

Borgata Hotel

If you’re not interested in poker, you might want to skip this entry.

I finally got to play poker at the Borgata casino-hotel in Atlantic City today. I tried to last month, but the day I drove there they had a major fire in a new addition they’re building, and the casino was unreachable.

Today I arrived without incident. The Borgata is in the Marina district, some distance from the boardwalk area where most of the casinos are, but it’s an easy drive, and there’s plenty of parking. Inside, the casino was very attractive. It’s the newest one in AC, and I’d never been inside. I found the Poker room easily, and that was also attractive, much newer and nicer than the one at the Taj Mahal where I usually play.

I had planned to play in a $60 Texas Hold-’em tournament they usually have on Sunday, but that one was cancelled this week to make room for a $5000 one. Needless to say I didn’t enter that tournament. But since I was there I decided to play some cash games. I’ve had no luck at poker this year, but I felt that had to change SOME time, and why not today?

I joined a table playing $3-$6 limit hold-’em with my usual $100 stake. I tried to play conservatively, but got into a few hands and lost them all, and after 45 minutes I was down to about $20. It looked like my poker day would be a short one. Then I drew a pair of pocket aces and won a nice pot with them. Next hand I did it again! Things were definitely turning around. A few hands later I was in the big blind with 2-7 off suit, the worst possible hand in hold-’em. But everyone just called, so I had a free look at the flop, which had a seven in it. I stayed in, and the turn was a 2, so I now had two pair. Betting continued, and I won that pot, to the confoundment of the guy with a pair of kings.

By noon, after an hour and a half, I was ahead by $20, and decided to break for lunch. I must say the food court at the Borgata is way better than the lunchroom at the Taj. I was actually able to get a healthy salad.

After lunch I debated heading for home at least a little bit ahead, but couldn’t resist trying another game, so I sat down at a $1-$2 NO LIMIT hold-’em table with my $100 stake. After a few hands I determined that several players to the right of me were playing very tight (conservatively), while two players to my left were playing loosely (aggressively), so my strategy was to also play tight, but raise before the flop about once a round, then fold when I was reraised by the aggressive players. This happened twice. With that pattern set, I waited for a very good hand and just limped in at the $2 minimum with A-K of hearts. Sure enough, one of the aggressive players raised me. I called. The flop gave me a pair of aces. I checked. He raised larger, $20. I looked worried, but called. The same thing happened on the turn. He was getting suspicious now, and I pegged him as having a pair of queens, the other face card on the board, or also a pair of aces like me. On the river he checked, and I raised HIM $20. He reluctantly called, and I won a nice pot with my pair of aces, king kicker (he had A-8).

Things were looking up, I was ahead a hundred dollars now. I continued my strategy, a few players came and went, but the pattern of aggressive to my left, conservative to my right continued. I won a few medium pots and split one, getting me up to about $270 (my original $100 and $170 profit), and I was feeling pretty happy. Then came the big hand.

There’s always a big hand somewhere in a no limit game, though sometimes you don’t recognize it until later. There was no mistaking this one. My hole cards were A-Q of clubs. I limped in. Aggressive guy to my left bet $25. I and two others called. The flop was K-8 clubs, and another low card, not clubs. I now had a great flush draw, but still no real hand. I checked, Aggressive Guy (hereafter AG) bet $50. I knew he had at least a pair of kings. The other two jumped out, and it was just him and me. I thought it was worth chasing the flush draw, as I was still well ahead. I called. The turn was another low card, not a club. I checked. AG bet $50 again.

Now I was getting in really deep, and still didn’t have a hand. Any club would help me, so I had about a 25% chance of making the flush. Reluctantly, I called, now into the pot for $125. The river was a low club. I made the nut flush, the best possible hand! Trying not to show any emotion, I waited a bit, as if considering, then moved all in with my remaining money, $137. AG called, and turned over a pair of kings, giving him three, a set. I turned over the nut flush and took the pot. Success!

I was now up $550. I waited a few more hands until the next dealer change, not playing any, and stepped away with my winnings. It was time to go home anyway, and I was certainly happy with what I had, it’s the most I’ve ever won in a single day, and I think puts me slightly ahead for the year, after losing all through the rest of it.

I know luck has a lot to do with it, but it sure feels good to win once in a while.

Is Poker a Sport?

My feeling is, anything you can do while sitting down and drinking beer is NOT…but that would also eliminate arm-wrestling, and I don’t think I want to argue with those guys.

ESPN likes to at least pretend it is. Tonight begins the broadcast of The World Series of Poker’s Main Event, the first two hours of twelve, and something I look forward to all summer. This year, for the first time, I’ve actually managed to avoid learning in advance who won (the event itself is long over), so I can find out as it unfolds. Commentators Lon McEarchern and Norm Chad are very entertaining, and the show is well-edited, capturing the fun moments and leaving out all the boring hours.

I’ll be watching!

Poker at the Taj

I like games. We played a lot of them in my family when I was growing up, both board games and card games. I don’t recall who taught me to play poker, but it was probably my dad. All I knew was five-card draw, then, and my brothers and I would play for fun, no real money involved.

Once I had my own place, I would sometimes host poker games for friends. We usually played for pennies, and there was a lot of fooling around, plenty of crazy wild-card games that make it hard to know if you have a good chance of winning or not.

When I started working in the production department at DC Comics, there was usually a friday evening poker game at someone’s house or apartment in the city that I played in once or twice a month. Again, the stakes were low, nickel and dime, and all kinds of games were played, with and without wild cards. It was as much a social scene as a card-playing one, and no one took it too seriously. Paul Levitz often hosted at his apartment, in his bachelor days, and guys from Marvel, Archie, and probably other companies came too, so there was definitely some shop talk. Len Wein and Marv Wolfman were regulars, and I remember Marv used to bring newly released comics to read when he wasn’t in a hand.

Once I married and moved to south Jersey, I got away from that, and hadn’t thought much about poker for years until I started watching games featuring Texas Hold-em poker on TV, a variation I don’t think I’d heard of before. It looked appealing, and I soon got the itch to try playing again. Ellen bought me a little hand-held poker game that I had fun with, and I started playing online, mostly with play money.

Though we live close to Atlantic City, I hadn’t been tempted to gamble in the casinos there. We went to concerts occasionally, but the casino floors always seemed rather depressing. Then about two and a half years ago, Ellen wanted to go to an ice skating competition in Atlantic City (ice skating is her hobby), and suggested we get a room there and stay for a long weekend, since the competition was over four days. I agreed, and decided I’d try playing poker at one of the casinos. After doing a little research, I thought the Taj Mahal poker room was the best choice for me, at the time it was the only one with no smoking.

We went for the weekend, both going to the evening skating events, but during the day Ellen went to watch the skaters practice, and I played poker. Those first three times I played (Limit Texas Hold-em), I won each time, and by the end of the weekend had covered most of our trip expenses. I thought this was a pretty fun way to make some extra money!

Alas, though I do win occasionally, it’s been downhill since then, and I’m well behind overall. I play there about once a month with a bankroll of about $100. I’ve played small tournaments a few times, but I usually stick with low-level Limit Hold-em games. That way, even if I lose, it takes a while, so I get more entertainment for my money. And it usually is fun and entertaining.

Today I decided to try No-Limit Hold-em for the first time. Things started out great, I won the first hand I played, and won another about ten minutes later. At that point I was up about $100. If I had quit then, I’d have come home a winner, but I doubt there’s a poker player in the country who could quit after 10 minutes. I’m certainly not one.

I held onto my profit for quite a while, but was finally drawn into a hand where I thought I had the best of it with two pair, and got beaten by three of a kind. That put me down for the day, and it got worse. I did come home with some money, but not that much, about $30. That’s how it’s been going lately. The best result I’ve had in a long time was in San Diego last year, where I played in Jim Lee and Scott Dunbier’s annual charity tournament. I finished in fourth place, winning the coveted “Guppy” trophy (I’m so proud!). I was looking forward to playing this year, but had to cancel as I had a conflicting event I really wanted to attend. Ah, well, I probably would have lost anyway.

Hope springs eternal, though. Maybe someday I’ll hit it big. Until then, I’ll have fun trying.