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[ [livejournal.com profile] swolfe recently complained that I hadn't finished my Texas trip posts. So, four months late, I pick up continuing story of my Dallas poker week. I wrote previous posts about Monday night and Tuesday, Club 1 and Tuesday, Club 2. Here's the post about Tuesday, Club 3. ]

After leaving the gimmicky club that I previously described, we headed to what I considered the best club we visited that week. It was run by the same fellow (F.J.) who ran the club we'd visited Monday night, but in a different location.

Steve indicated a few reasons that some club owners run in multiple locations. First, it keeps the clubs small and irregular, which helps avoid busts. A club that runs eight hours every single night is much more likely to get busted than one that is only open twice a week. Second, there are a lot of luck-oriented players around the Dallas poker scene. If they are running bad at a particular club, they won't go there anymore, but are willing to come to another.

Indeed, there wasn't a lot of overlap in clientele at this new club. It was bigger than F.J.'s other single-table place; there were two full tables going when we arrived. We got a seat on the back table by the windows.

The game was extremely loose, with two or three calling stations taking almost any hand they played to the river if they hit anything. A few aggressive players were in the game; Steve pointed one out to me as a fellow who'd done well in some WSoP satellite events, but was actually a pretty horrible player. Steve said something like a big chunk of my bankroll is from that guy. I started calling him “Bankroll Builder” in my head at that point.

As it turned out, however, my largest confrontation was with someone Steve identified as one of the better players at the table. This fellow had raised UTG to $25 — relatively standard in this $2/$5 game — and gotten a small reraise the aggressive Bankroll Builder, and a cold call in between. In the small blind, I found AA. I didn't really want to play this hand out of position on the flop with much money behind, so I made it $300 to go, hoping to get reraised for my last $200 somehow. I felt I was basically announcing my hand to the field, but thought the aggressive reraiser might have a hand like QQ and go with it, and if the strong UTG player had KK, he might not be able to fold it — giving me QQ instead.

After a short speech about how he has to have the best hand, this “good” player went all in, and Bankroll Builder went into the tank, and eventually folded what he says was a pair — frankly I think it was just 88 or something. I called immediately found myself up against AKo.

Business was quickly offered. This was a tough spot for me. Of course, the odds don't change if you run six full boards from the whole remaining deck, but I'm not really used to playing $1,000+ pots. I told the fellow I'd do any sort of business he decided — he could name what he wanted. I am used to leaving it all up to luck once the decisions are made, so this seemed to be a way to do that.

He wanted to run it twice, and then asked: two boards or two turn/rivers?. I told him it was up to him again. I just wanted the whole moment over with. He decided on two full boards, which he felt gave him the best chance (probably true), and I was glad to see the first board left me “freerolling”. The second board came with four spades, and that gave his Ks a flush, and the As was sadly the only ace not in play.

I, of course, wish I'd refused business, but besides wanting to leave it up to someone else what happened after I made the actual poker decisions, I also didn't want to hurt the morays of the Dallas poker scene, either. We did chop up the reraise and the cold-call, so it wasn't a loss against the rake, but I still felt like I made a bad decision and that I should have, for example, offered two turn/rivers instead of two full boards.

That was basically the only major hand I played, although I got paid off with turned trips by one of the calling stations, and I played a big draw meekly and won (and was admonished by Steve and a friend of his, a strong player who was dealing for the evening for not potting it all the way to the river). But, as for the poker, those were the only notable occurrences.

I really liked the club. Like the others in Dallas, the space was wide and open. The dealers were friendly but not distracting; the staff was attentive. The whole story at these places was service — it's so different than the abysmal places here in NYC. Heck, these places were even nicer and more accommodating to players than some casinos I've visited.

Steve wasn't a fan of the plaid-ish felt at this place, as it was admittedly a bit too textured and certainly not great to look at. But, given that I was only playing there for a night, I found it to be rather nice.

Finally, the thing I can't stop talking about these places is how nice the players are. There was virtually no dealer abuse. The bankroll builder guy was a bit rude at one point, and but F. J. pulled him aside quite quickly and got him back on track. I suppose I might be able to stand playing poker for a lot longer in an environment like this. I admit to some biases about the so-called “red states”, being the east-coast hyper-liberal that I am, but as long as I avoided discussing politics, I found the whole environment incredibly friendly.

As we left, F.J. even came by and shook my hand and asked if I was enjoying my visit to Dallas. I can't imagine any owner of a NYC club even noticing that a new player had come and wanting to make them feel welcome. Club owners around here could certainly learn a lot from these guys.

Steve dropped me back at my hotel, and I was glad to have had a small winning session, but was still down a lot for the trip. I wished I could have spent more time at F.J.'s club, as I felt that game was the softest and easiest for me to beat of the ones we'd seen. F.J.'s other club was running the next night, so I'd get one more visit there to finish up the Dallas nights. For the weekend, it was off to a nearby casino!

shipitfish: (Default)

[ I pick up continuing story of my Dallas poker week on the second club of Tuesday night. Previous installments: Earlier Tuesday night, and Monday night. ]

Steve eventually made the money in the tournament and cut a deal, and we were off for the next club of the night. Actually, I had already heard a few things about the next place. A few hours before, everyone in the tournament simultaneous got an SMS message ad from this other club. The SMS said, apparently: Tatas, Tacos, and poker at The Loft.

Dallas, during my visit, was at that moment in its local poker scene where NYC was right around late 2005. Here in NYC, just after the 72nd street and PlayStation busts in the summer, it became clear that the police weren't going to do any additional busts for a while. They surely knew about the additional clubs, but had decided to focus on the large ones, presumably hoping it would scare the smaller ones. The opposite happened: in late 2005, it was tough to throw a now-worthless 72nd street dollar chip on the island of Manhattan and fail to hit a poker club.

At the time of my visit, Dallas had been through some busts of larger clubs a while back, and like in the late-2005 NYC, the small 2-3 table clubs were competing heavily for business. (Although, there have been a number of small club busts now in Dallas, similar to what happened in NYC). The small clubs always look for gimmicks to market their places.

Dallas' The Loft (amusingly sharing a name with one of the better small clubs that ran on Manhattan's Lower East Side for much of 2005) had picked a rather odd gimmick — topless dealers. This wasn't the first I'd heard of this gimmick. Many strip clubs, particularly in Las Vegas, since the poker boom, have taken to having stripper-dealt poker tourneys, where an article of clothing is removed by the dealer at each blind level. However, this was a bit different because it was a cash game and an otherwise regular club, and the dealer started and stayed topless basically indefinitely.

It was certainly a bizarre site to see. We entered the club, with one $1/$2 table going, and, as advertised, a bare-chested woman was sitting dealing the game. I set aside the obvious incredibly sexist side of this, and began to view it as an interesting social anthropology experiment. What happens to a poker game, I asked myself, when there is a topless dealer?

Well, with this one data point, I discovered that it's not good for the game. I don't know if it was the particular mix of players, but this was the most tight-weak live $1/$2 game I'd ever played in. Were they all busy gawking and therefore folding everything but top ten starting hands? I couldn't really tell for sure, but at least a few of them were clearly disinterested in both the game and the topless dealer and downright bored (it was, after all, a boring game, with plenty of blind steals and few flops). Certainly not a profitable game, given the heavy rake.

Ultimately, I found it distracting to play in a game with a topless dealer, but not for the prurient reasons you might think. The problem is much more mundane than that. To use a horrendous pun, since they are almost impossible to avoid here anyway, there is simply too much flopping in this game. Obviously, naked female breasts tend to move around a lot anyway, and dealers do quite a bit of reaching and moving as it is. Now, I've never been distracted at all by a dressed female dealer, but I assume I've never been dealt for by a woman not wearing a bra. As it turns out, in this topless situation, as you try to focus on the actions and movements of your opponents to build reads, you see constant movement out of the corner of your eye. It's simply movement you don't expect to see, having spent hundreds of hours being used to how people move at the poker table. You see movement that is so out of place that it distracts you. Then, you quickly remember that this a club with topless dealers, and that you are actually much more interested in playing poker than watching this woman try to reach for the muck without a shirt on.

So, This gimmick is just a stupid idea. I think that even men who actually like going to strip clubs and somehow enjoy the experience of group-staring at naked breasts will find this sort of thing pointless. And, the discomfort of the dealer is not to be ignored. I twice saw her actually get her nipple slightly injured by getting it caught in the chip rack. (Ok, yet another awful pun there that I again can't find a way to avoid.) I mean, how far is this club willing to go for this stupid gimmick?

I might have been inclined to stay if I felt my opponents were actually being distracted or otherwise inspired to make mistakes because of this pathetic display. But, the game was not all that great; the players were the type you find online in tight-weak games where seeing lots of hands and making lots of raises help you win. But, doing that live at a ten-handed game with a heavy rake is somewhat hard to do. Steve and I left after only an hour or so. I was down about $80, mostly because I got pot-stuck with a flush draw against a short stack (and embarrassed myself by offering to do business at stakes where it is (apparently in Dallas) socially unacceptable to do so — poor Steve was mortified), and for misreading someone in a “has the nuts or nothing” situation, calling off about $40 over two streets.

We headed out to another $2/$5 game — F.J.'s second club. This was probably the best game we visited in Dallas, and I look forward to telling the story.

shipitfish: (Default)

Tuesday was a full day at my conference in Dallas, but I kept going back and forth in email with Steve (aka [livejournal.com profile] swolfe; poker journal at [livejournal.com profile] swolfe_poker) planning our poker night. I was able to get away relatively early because the full contingent of conference attendees hadn't yet arrived, and I got some key negotiations done during a lunch meeting, so by 15:05, I was sure that I could get away by 17:15. This worked well, because Steve had a tournament all lined up.

Steve plays twice a week as a sort of prop player in a tournament at one of the more fledgling clubs in Dallas. He didn't want to miss it, and nor did I want him to on my account. I went with him still unsure if I wanted to buy into the thing. I don't regularly play $100 tournaments, simply because my tournament game is quite weak and I find that variance is actually greater in tournaments because you have to play so many to make a score. I usual play tournaments to relax and avoid the constant grind of the cash games, and it's usually baby-stakes buy-ins of a $30+3 or $50+5 online tournament. This $100+20 was thus roughly twice my usually tournament stakes. I decided at the worst I'd not play and sweat Steve while learning a thing or two about playing small buy-in tourneys to improve my game, so I was ready to go.

We arrived at an yet another amazing, beautiful and spacious apartment building. Granted, you can't hop on a subway car and get out three blocks from a poker club, but the idea of a 15 minute drive to a nice, comfortable, spacious place to play is enough to make one question whether NYC really is the capital of all known activities in the world as our local hype maintains. The Mayfair club is long gone, folks, and Dallas has some things on us.

In truth, this club was a bit of a fledgling one. Like most fledgling clubs, they use a tournament to draw in players so they can make the real rake and tip money in the cash games that follow. We arrived before anyone, save the dealers and few seemingly retired folks. A Chinese poker game was going, as Steve had mentioned in email earlier that day.

I was prepared to be a 100% Chinese poker fish to learn the game, as Steve said at the stakes they usually play, $20 would be a big loss even for 100% donkey play. But, we strangely agreed to make a Chinese poker game around play money only. And, boy, was this good for me. I quickly confused the rules and fouled three hands.

Before I explain that, I should explain what Chinese poker is, since I know some of my readers don't know how to play it. There are a number of variations, but generally you get 13-15 cards and set three poker hands, of escalating value, and try to beat your opponents on each of three hands (sometimes the top hand is less than five cards, forbidding straights and flushes). Opponents must pay you a certain amount if they beat you on each level, and you get a bonus for scooping. You can also chose not to set hands, instead folding and paying a fixed amount less than what getting beat down by everyone would cost you. It's a cute game; but much different from what we all know of as “poker”. My gut feeling about it is that it plays more like gin rummy or other round-based card games.

Now, the classic beginner mistake of Chinese poker is fouling your hand. You are required by the rules to have the hands escalate in value (unless you are playing some variation where you put the lowest hand in the middle, or something like that). No less than three times did I excitedly get two full houses, but put the biggest one in the middle. I went broke from my preassigned play chips, and given that I was totally confused and there were really only two other players interested, the game broke. I felt bad for making the game basically unplayable due to my utter cluelessness and inability to learn it quickly enough, but it was getting time to get the club moving for the evening, and one of our Chinese poker players was also a dealer.

I wandered into the huge kitchen (which was adjacent to a second living room with a television and a second bathroom), and found a Boston Market food spread. Being a vegetarian, there wasn't much to choose, but the mashed potatoes weren't bad, the corn was edible, and the macaroni and cheese was pretty good. I had my free dinner, and wouldn't be billing it to my employer, which made me feel better for ducking out for poker while on a business trip.

As I ate, the club owner asked me again if I'd play the tourney. He said he felt there would be a full two tables, and I decided that such a prize pool, given that rebuys for the first three blind levels were permitted, was probably worth the equity. Steve had watched the players arrive and indicated to me that despite my weak tourney skills, I had a huge edge over the field. I bought in and took my seat.

I was somewhat amazed to find my table to be primarily tight-weak. I guess I'm just so used to NYC tournaments, where the childish hyper-aggression requires that you make pretty good reads and reraise a good amount lest you get eaten alive by blinds that go up way too fast. Here, a bunch of middle-aged players more interested in the football game than the poker game were planning to fold their way to the bubble. I tried my best to disappoint them, and won enough blinds for an hour to get a shot at the money. I took only one hand (QQ, as an overpair) to the river, and my opponent fortunately missed his somewhat obvious straight draw and didn't pay off the river. Mostly, I was trying to take blinds, and usually continuation betting when I didn't succeed. I kept pace this way with those winning big pots, and had a medium-to-small stack when the tables combined.

I decided at that point that I wanted to make the money more than I wanted to win. I don't play enough tournaments at this level to make risk-taking for a high showing a good goal, since such strategy increases your cashing variance a great deal. Still, I didn't have enough chips to fold my way to the money, and the blinds escalated quickly enough that all but the monster stacks were playing preflop poker.

Of course, I wasn't going to move in with the 7- and 8-high hands I was getting, because everyone seemed ready to gamble with hands as a weak as queen high if it was for less than 25% of their stack. It seemed no all-in had fold equity unless I waited a bit, and I might as well wait for a hand. I moved in with an Ace high three rounds after the tables consolidated and picked up two limps and the blinds. I waited another three rounds, and got folded to with J9s with three non-blind players behind me, and decided not to push. Results-wise, I should have, because a weak Ace-high behind me got it in with a King-high in the blinds and the board contained a winning J9. Still, I probably made the right decision despite the fact that I was down to only five times the big blind.

I moved in a few hands later with K5s, got called and lost to A4o in the big blind. I still feel these quick-blind single-evening tournaments are ultimately a waste of time because it doesn't feel like poker; it feels more of a card-catching contest. However, my view may simply be over influenced by my weak tournament skills.

A cash game was going, and I sat in it while I waited for Steve. I was worried when they said it was $5/$5, and I walked over thinking I'd see players sitting on $1,000 each or more, but the big stack was a mere $500 and most had $200. This, too, was a preflop game, but I was fortunate to see a flop with TT for $20 against AK with $250 behind. I thus won my buy-in back quickly by check-raising his continuation bet all-in. I had hoped he played his cash games like tournaments, because I expected a pot sized continuation bet based on playing him in the tournament, and figured the stacks were short enough he'd call on the T23 board with any overpair if I made it look like a heart-draw semi-bluff. He showed AK and folded, though, so I probably won the maximum, although I might have gambled against a possible flush draw and tried to get more bluff money in on the turn and/or let him catch up to a pair. Anyway, I was happy to be net-even for this club.

Steve eventually made the money in the tournament and cut a deal, and we were off for the next club of the night. Actually, I had already heard a few things about the next place, as a few hours before, everyone in the tournament simultaneous got an SMS message ad from the club we were headed to. This next club wouldn't be the best game, but it would be the most unique of the Dallas scene. That story will appear in my next entry.

shipitfish: (Default)

Last week, I was fortunate to end up on a business trip to Dallas, Texas. For most people, this isn't a major destination. But, I fortunately have been reading the poker journal of [livejournal.com profile] swolfe (which is kept at [livejournal.com profile] swolfe_poker these days) for about six months. There are not many strong poker players who keep online journals. It's sort of a tendency of strong players that they tend to keep journals early in their play, and taper off as they become particularly strong. However, Steve has kept his journal up quite a bit even as he's become, frankly, an extremely excellent player.

It was a rather funny thing to meet Steve in person. It was actually my first “Internet meetup” — a situation where I had met someone solely online and was going to meet them in person. I have to admit that I had some trepidation about this, but once I jumped into Steve's car in the parking lot of my hotel, and our conversation turned to poker, I was quite comfortable and not worried. He wasn't going to drive me to a ditch and kill me. :)

As we drove, Steve gave me the run-down of the Dallas poker scene. As it stands, they basically have more clubs than NYC, they just don't run every night, and are often one or two table affairs. In one case, two clubs are run by the same person, a fellow named F.J., and he has different clubs going on different nights.

Steve's primary game is $2/$5 NL HE, and the games usually have no maximum buy-in. I primarily play $1/$2, because the games are so easily beaten, but I occasionally take shots at $2/$5. Plus, given that the games Steve knew best were $2/$5, I was happy to take a shot with a somewhat short stack in a game that was a bit big for me.

So, less than an hour from pulling up in the Super Shuttle to my hotel (Steve ended up pulling into the parking lot right behind it), I was walking into the smaller of F.J.'s clubs.

The first thing that struck me was how large apartments are in Dallas. Most of the games are run out of upscale apartment space — but these places are so spacious and well-equipped, they would go easily for at least $10,000/month here in NYC. They've got full, open kitchens, with spacious living rooms and bedrooms and giant bathrooms. It may be cliché that things are bigger in Texas, but when it comes to apartments rented for the purpose of hosting underground poker clubs, there's some truth to it.

I had actually been preparing myself for something that it turns out I need not have worried about — I figured that all the clubs were very smokey. This is an annoyance that you just have to deal with as a non-smoking poker player; a lot of poker players smoke and clubs tend to have an indoor smoking room far too close to the tables. I actually had assumed that there was smoking at the tables in Dallas based on some of Steve's old posts, so I was delightfully surprised to find that there was no smoking anywhere near the table. Indeed, everyone was kind enough to go outside, and, not a club I visited in Dallas was any smokier than any of the NYC clubs I've been to.

So, I stood at our first stop, somewhat shocked when I saw the beautiful apartment and friendly people. In fact, that's what I'll never forget about Dallas poker — the people are so friendly, polite, and respectful. Sure, there was an occasional coffee-houser and table-chatterer, but there was a noticeable difference in demeanor when comparing the NYC players (actually, east coast players in general) to Dallas ones. I have never seen a table full of people take bad beats better, and the camaraderie and goodwill at the table was palpable. I go to NYC games and can't wait to get away from those jerks and take a shower. For example, I was a table the week before I left for Dallas and someone shouted at a dealer: You ass-ramming faggot, why did you put that queen up on the turn?. I couldn't even imagine any Dallas player I met during my week there acting this way toward a dealer or another player. Dallas poker is, in a phrase, classy all the way.

As for the games, they were amazing. I hope to make a post about each night's games, so for this post, I'll focus on the Monday game. This was at F.J.'s smaller club, which had only one table. We arrived at nearly 22:30, and the game was already in full swing with a few very large (over than $1,500) stacks.

I was somewhat nervous; flashing through my mind was the rule of thumb that you should actually always player lower than your regular stakes when you travel. I decided to buy in for $400 (after almost accidentally buying in for $500) and try to get doubled up. Steve had this look on his face worrying that he was leading me to my poker demise.

As it turned out, I was actually somewhat happy with the bad cards I got dealt — a constant series of 92, Q3, 83, and the like. The game was primarily loose-passive, and usually three or six players saw a flop, even for a small raise. I didn't see any point in playing these cards at stakes I was barely comfortable with against players I didn't know well. I got a chance to sit, relax, and see what Dallas NL HE is like.

While I did, I sat in awe of Steve's ability to drag every chip on the table his way. Now, Steve is an amazing player, but he did also get amazingly lucky this evening. I can't remember the count, but I actually believe he flopped six sets that night, and stacked someone on nearly every one! Part of this, I gather, was Steve cashing in on a very aggressive historical table image, but he was assisted in that nearly everyone the game thought any two pair holding was worth the backing their whole stack. Also, most of the players rarely folded top pair with some sort of reasonable kicker, unless the board got particularly complicated.

Every few rounds, there'd be some crazy three-way all-in where someone would decided to take a stand on a medium stack with some suited ace or middle pair and another two would come along for the ride. I kept hoping I'd get some sort of hand at these moments, but when I saw 94 for the sixth time, I figured I should toss it and wait for a better spot.

I played only one serious hand that night, where I flopped a nut flush draw with Ah 6h from the unraised big blind on Qh 3s 5h. I semi-bluffed two streets, hoping to cash in on my tight image and get a pot. Sadly, C.S., a loose-passive regular, decided to call me down on both streets for pot-sized bets and I decided he either had a flush draw I had beat or he wasn't giving up some queen. (He wasn't really the type to bluff at the river when he missed, but would call if he made any pair most of the time, I figured I'd check and hope I was good in that case.) He showed Qd 2d and I realized maybe I should have fired the last barrel when I missed the river, but I am not sure I could have gotten him off it.

We finally headed out around 02:00 and, as the valet brought his car, I asked Steve, wide-eyed, are the games always that loose? and he answered in his matter-of-fact way, Sure. I had work email to answer ,and then I was going to get only four hours of sleep before I had to go to a conference meeting the next day, but I was already figuring out a way I could get out again on Tuesday night to see some more clubs.

Oh, and of course I chuckled to myself a dozen times realizing that I had, for the first time in my life, played Texas Hold'em in the actual, real life Texas. Sure it's cheezy, but it's still darn cool. Maybe the next night, I would mess a bit with Texas. :)

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