Thursday, February 2, 2017

"This is the Worst Poker Game in Town"

A few Decembers back, when Lightning was in town, the two of us encountered a very good, very friendly, very amusing player at our table.  I called him “Edward” in the post here.  Edward talked a lot about many things, including our poker game. At least one time when we were playing with him at MGM, he said something to the effect, “This is the worst poker game in town.  I swear, if you look it up on Bravo right now, it will say that this is the worst game in Vegas.”  Before I left town that trip, I encountered Edward in another poker room and heard him say virtually the exact same thing about that game.  Note: I’ve encountered Edward a few more times since then, and never heard him say that again.  Guess the games we were sharing weren’t that bad.

What Edward meant, I assumed, was that game didn’t have enough action to suit him.  Too much limping, too much folding to raises, stacks not big enough, that sort of thing.  I think he was exaggerating how bad it was, perhaps to guilt the other players into putting more money at risk. I don’t recall that it worked.

I mention this because, while Edward was mostly kidding, on this past Saturday, I believe I actually did play in the worst poker game in town.  No, that’s too limiting.  I’m pretty sure I played in the worst poker in the history of poker.  I mean, if this had been the first poker game ever played, I’m sure there never would have been a second poker game.

This took place after I had busted out of the Commerce tournament (see here), having forgotten the cardinal rule of poker: Never, ever, ever, ever play pocket Kings!  Why this isn’t the first line in every Hold’em book, I don’t know.  Anyway, it was only around 2PM and it was just too early to call it a day.  If only I could find a place to play some poker.  Oh, wait.  I happened to be standing in the middle of the biggest poker room on the planet. Surely I could find a cash game here.

The trouble is that Commerce has some pretty strange max buy-ins for their low stakes NL games.  I knew that the maximum buy-in for their 1/2 game was $40.  Yes, $40.  That’s not a typo. It’s $40 for a 1/2 game.  Actually, at the Bike, it’s pretty much the same, though I think you can buy in for $60 there, but no more than that.  At PC in Ventura, you can actually buy into the 1/2 game for $100.  That’s better than $40 or $60, but still not enough.  You should be able to buy in for at least $200, as you can anywhere in Vegas.

Commerce also has a 2/3 game like the Bike and PC Ventura have.  But the max buy-in for it at Commerce is $100.  Yes, only $100.  Both Bike and PC have a $300 max buy-in, and that’s what I buy in for.  Those are the lowest limit games at any of my three most local rooms that I can buy in for 100 big blinds.  The Bike also has a 1/3 game, but the max buy-in is $120, again, not enough.  Another strange thing: At both Bike and Commerce, they don’t refer to the games by what the blinds are, but by what the buy-in is instead. In other words, the 1/2 game is listed on the board as “$40 NLH.”  The 2/3 game—at the Bike at least—is listed as “$100-$300.”  But at PC Ventura, they list it the “right” way, as “2/3 NL” 

So when I saw the board at Commerce, I saw $40 NL, which I was sure was 1/2, and a $100 NL, which I wasn’t totally sure of. I asked and confirmed that it was 2/3.  So if I played there, I had a choice: 1/2 at $40 max buy-in or 2/3 at $100 max buy-in.  Neither was very appealing.  I had played the 1/2 at Bike many years ago, when I was just transitioning from limit to NL.  And I thought it was a terrible game.  I remember the pots being smaller than the 2/4 limit game—until someone shoved, and then usually everyone else folded.  It was not a pleasant experience.  Of course, my sample size was small; perhaps I’d just gotten into an especially bad game.

I did have another option.  I could drive over to the Bike and play 2/3 with a $300 max buy-in instead of a $100 buy-in.  Google maps tells me it’s about a 10-15 minute drive.  I made that drive once, when I was using my old stand alone GPS device that didn’t talk to me, and I got lost.  Let me tell you, you do not want to get lost driving between the Bike and Commerce.  But now I had Google maps on my phone which would give me verbal instructions, I could probably get over there without too much difficulty.

There were two problems with that.  One is, I didn’t have enough money on me for two buy-is at the 2/3 game.  I don’t like to play if I don’t have a second buy-in in my pocket, it might affect my play negatively just thinking about it.  I could have hit up an ATM in the casino, but it is against my religion to throw money away on ATM fees unless it’s an absolute emergency.  And wanting to play poker at higher stakes than the bankroll I had on me didn’t qualify as an absolute emergency.  Besides, my stop-loss for any given Saturday of poker in L.A. is $600.  I didn’t want to put $900 (really, $950) in play.

The other issue was that I received a $7 food voucher when I bought into the tournament.  I wasn’t ready to eat, and I didn’t want to waste that voucher.  I felt that by taking advantage of it, I was reducing the amount of money I was out for the tournament down to $343.

But really it was the amount of money that I had on me and was willing to put in play that was the issue.

Between the two games, I decided that playing 1/2 at a $40 max buy-in sounded slightly less terrible than playing 2/3 at a $100 buy-in.  My thought was, both games are gonna be bad at that buy-in, so I might as well play the cheaper one.

I figured I’d just play the game as if I was the short-stack in a tourney.  I’d be looking for hands to go all-in with and be prepared to keep buying in for $40 at a time until I hit something and managed to get a decent stack.

Well, I have to say, this game was much worse than the game at the Bike from long ago was, at least to the best of my recollection.  It was just a terrible, terrible game.  Everyone was pretty much short-stacked, with one or two exceptions.  No one had more than $100 at any time.  There was no way to win a decent pot, no way to build up your stack, and certainly no way to put any poker skills to use. 

I honestly do not understand why they spread games like this and even more so, why people play them.  Yet this is what they spread at Commerce and Bike, the two biggest rooms in Southern California.  It must be what the players want, right?  I’m sure if the rooms thought they’d get more players by offering reasonable buy-in amounts they’d offer them.

It’s funny, because these two rooms also offer some of the biggest games you’ll ever see.  Games with $1,000, even $10K buy-ins.  Games much bigger than you find almost anywhere in Vegas except Bellagio.  And yet they also offer these cheap-shit games that are sheer hell to sit at.

It didn’t take me long to be reminded of Edward saying, “This is the worst game in town right now.”  I was thinking, “This is the worst game in the U.S.  Or Earth.  Or the universe.”

To make matters work, there was the most obnoxious guy in the history of poker to my right when I first got there.  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration but only a slight one.  He was one of these guys who would not shut up. He never let a thought come into his brain without letting us know it.  He was sitting across from an Asian woman, who appeared to be a number of years older than he was.  He spent most of his time hitting on her.  He called her beautiful repeatedly.  “You’re a beautiful Asian woman,” he said more times than I can count (he was not Asian—middle-Eastern I think).  He wanted to high-five or at least touch (hold) her hand from across the table and she refused.  At one point she told him she was way too old for him, which he denied.  And he kept insisting that he was on his last buy-in and that he needed to double up a few times so he could buy into a bigger game.  “I need chips.  I need your chips and your chips and your chips,” he said to the other players.  Mercifully he finally left with a few chips before busting out, and I thought it was odd that he left without saying a word since he had been blabbering so much.

I observed a couple of interesting things about the game.  One was the rake.  I immediately noticed they had 50¢ chips.  As soon as the starting cards were dealt, they would take the $1 small blind, change it into two 50¢ chips, put one down the jackpot slot and use the other one as part of the rake. If there was a flop, the dealer would take three $1 chips out of the pot and drop them as the rake, along with the 50¢ chip.  So the rake on this game was fairly low--$3.50 plus the 50¢ jackpot drop.  I was surprised that they didn’t take another buck out of the pot when there was a river like they do now at the Bike (see here).  Perhaps it’s just that game is too small for that and they do it at bigger games.

Every now and then I saw someone straddle, under-the-gun, for $4.  At least I thought it was a straddle.  One time, when it limped around, the straddler asked, “I can’t raise, can I?”  The dealer told him he couldn’t raise.  I didn’t understand that.  I asked him, “If you straddled, why can’t you raise?”  He said that it wasn’t a straddle.  It was just a blind raise, under-the-gun.  They don’t allow straddles in this game.  “You have to go to the bigger games in order to straddle.”

Yikes.  But I’m curious as to why you would ever do a blind raise under-the-gun?  I mean, a straddle UTG is dumb enough….but to just put $4 in play blindly out-of-position is even ten times dumber, right?

After I had already lost my initial $40 buy-in and bought in for another $40, I noticed that when another guy busted out, he was able to buy in for $50.  I asked the guy next to me, “I thought the max buy-in is $40?”  He said that’s just the initial buy-in.  You can re-buy for $50—or $60, he wasn’t sure.  I’m not sure it makes much of a difference, and by this time, there was no way I was buying in to this horrific game again.  But I asked him if, every time you re-bought, you could buy-in for more and more money until you could actually buy-in for a decent amount.  He laughed and said he didn’t think so.

I did make notes on a few hands, but they are generally not worth discussing.  I’ll just mention two.  I limped in once with pocket 7’s, hit my set, and didn’t get a call on my flop bet.

Then, with Ace-King of diamonds, there was a  raise to $4, an all-in of $8 and a call of that.  I shoved the last $14 of my second buy-in.  Both players with chips called and there was no more betting action after that.  I flopped a flush draw, hit an Ace on the turn and then rivered the flush to take a whopping $46 pot.  I had had enough, and was sufficiently hungry to take advantage of my $7 food coupon.  So I picked up the chips and was done playing poker for the day.  Although I dunno if you could call what I was doing at that table “playing poker.”

Whatever you call it, it was the worst card game in town. Or, like, in the universe.


  1. Dang, Rob -- you even linked to the night when my Q-10 sooted felted your lowly set of Jacks? Of course, seeing as how I am a "bad player."

    I wish you could have been there the night when I pushed "Edward" around. I figured out his game pretty easily and was uber-aggressive with him. It didn't hurt that I was catching cards that night. I took a bunch of money off him and, what really seemed to piss him off was that I was making him back down in his old "home." Thankfully for him, he was a good enough player to fold a few hands when I had the nuts or near nuts and was hoping to bust him good.

    Damn fun night!

    1. Haha, knew you would like that link!

      Edward wouldn't have lasted five minutes on that game at Commerce I played in Saturday. He would have gotten out of there pronto!

  2. Nothing better than a game where they pull a max buyin off the table every orbit.

    1. Ha! Hadn't thought of that, but you're right. Well, almost. Since it's 9-handed its only $36 an orbit.

    2. Well, not exactly a full buyin, but I think the gist of my argument is the same. Not sustainable for sure.

      BTW, I'm going to probably hit the Bike tonight for the KROQ party. The games are usually pretty soft since most people are fans of the radio show and not poker players ( Plus you'll probably like they have GO-GO girls!

      I started chemo on Tuesday so going to get out while I can.

    3. I hope you make it to the Bike and have fun...and win some money. Wish I could join you.

      Good luck with the Chemo. Be well, Dave.

  3. Over at Hollywood Park they are spreading 1/2 with a $100 max buyin. 50 BB is decent enough to play with.

    As for why they spread such ridiculous games at Commerce (also at Pechanga, which is where I posed this question), the pt boss told me it exposes people to the game with little risk, and hopefully they'll keep playing. I don't know how well that works out, but that's the answer I got.

    1. Thanks for the tip on HP... I didn't know that. Same buyin as the 1-2 has at Ventura. It's playable, as opossed to Commerce or the Bike. Not ideal, but playable.

      If players wanted to be exposed to the game with little risk, they could play 2/4 limit. OR, they could spread two versions of the 1/2, one with the mini buy-in and one with a standard buy in. Those rooms are big enough to do it. I think that it's just what most players want, for some unknown reason.

  4. I never like playing at the Commerce. It is a beautiful room but who wants to start out playing short handed. Basically, a few guys get deep stacked going all in against the smaller stacks. Then the deep stacks dominate the game. You can't afford to call any big preflop raise without a big hand. You might as well play with your cards face up.

    1. Thanks, Darryl...yeah it's really an awful game. L.A. is famous for wild, loose play with tons of chips flying back and forth. This is not like that at all.