Thursday, January 14, 2016

Do Poker Rooms Want Me to Play Tournaments?

My alternate title for this post was, “Poker Tournaments are Hazardous to My Health.”

Or maybe, "I guess I'm Not Healthy Enough to Play Tournaments."

Or possibly you may feel it should be, "I'm Too Big an Obstinate Jerk to Play Tournaments."

For this post, I have to get personal.  A lot more personal than I’ve ever gotten before.  I have to discuss my health.

I’m going to try to do this without making it sound like I expect poker rooms to cater to my own individual needs.  Or that I expect them to check with me before making out their schedules.  I’m not asking for special treatment here at all.  I think my concerns are not only legitimate but more or less universal.  But you tell me if I’m way off.  And I’m open to the possibility that I’m just being a stubborn dick.  Let me know.

The other way to look at this is to just say, well, unlucky me for having this condition and if it means I can’t play in the tournaments I want to play in, well dem’s the breaks.  A lot of people have it worse than me, I will certainly admit that.

So I’m not really complaining (although I am) as much as I am explaining while you’ll be seeing less tournament summaries from me in the future.

Poker tournaments were not designed for diabetics.  And yes, I am one. I don’t believe I revealed that here before (tho I think I mentioned it in a comment on another blog).  But that may help explain all the references I make to taking medication, not wanting to go too long between meals, etc.  Friends and readers have occasionally heard me say something like, “I have to eat now.”

I can’t believe it but it’s been over 6 years since I was diagnosed (Type 2).  It was a bad stretch for me—within a two month period, I received this diagnosis, my father passed away, and I was laid off from a really good job (a normal 9-5 job that had nothing to do with poker).  It was like getting hit with a ton of bricks over and over again.

Right now, my condition is treated with just oral medication.  And diet of course.

There are certain inconveniences. One is that I can’t go longer than 6-7 hours with eating. Whether I’m hungry or not I have to eat regularly (though honestly that isn’t usually a problem).  And the other issue I have is that I have to take medication before and after meals.  The medication I take before breakfast and dinner needs to be taken ½ hour before I eat.  Which is frustrating because, if I’m out and I happen to pass by a perfect place for dinner, I can’t just grab my dinner and go. I have to take the meds and then wait.  And I take medication after all four meals (including a midnight snack, something I never indulged in before). This medication has to be taken after meals mostly because it can produce legendary gastric distress if I don’t take it on a full stomach.  And it has to be spread out so I don’t take doses too close together.

When I’m home in L.A., this is not really an issue.  I have my schedule all worked out.  But when I’m in Vegas, everything gets thrown out of whack. So if you ever tried to have dinner with me and found me it a bit hard to schedule with me, now you know why.  This is why those football promos for the night games caused me a bit of grief, I should be having dinner right in the middle of the game.

An additional problem for me is that I have always been a bad eater, and a fussy eater. Even before I had to watch what I ate, most of what I liked to eat was bad for me.  Now, that has increased 10-fold, as you can imagine.  Fortunately I can still eat more-or-less anything I want to as long as I do it in moderation.  Back in the day, I used to love the Vegas buffets.  If I went to one now and ate like I used to, just one could kill me.

So if I’m in Vegas and want to spend the day playing poker, I have no choice but to plan (last minute lunch or dinner invitations can sometimes throw me into a tizzy).  As long as I stick to cash games, it’s not a problem.  Cash games have no schedule.

Tournaments on the other hand….

Now if I’m in Vegas I’m probably out late every nite.  This means I wake up later (as compared to when I’m home).  This means breakfast is late.  That means I should have a later lunch.
And the Vegas tournaments I want to play could start at 11AM, or Noon, or 1PM or 2PM.

Now you know why I like Binion’s tournament so much.  It starts at 2PM.  Plenty of time to have both breakfast and lunch before heading out to play in the tournament without missing a hand.

The Aria 1PM isn’t bad either, although honestly, that is a little harder for me to comfortably to make than being downtown at 2PM. But other similar tournaments on the Strip run at Noon or earlier, so that has been one of the plusses of Aria for me.  Fortunately, I stay very near the Strip and Aria is actually the closest casino to where I stay that has a tournament I want to play in.  So it’s very doable as long as I don’t mind starting my lunch at like 11:30-11-:45 AM.

You see, neither of those tournaments have a dinner break.  So it’s therefore really important to me to try to have a nice lunch before a tournament.  The place I stay has a kitchen and allows me to microwave stuff, which is fine.  It’s not only healthier but saves me a lot of money not having to have lunch out. Breakfast is not a problem, but I want to try to have at least one “good” meal a day while in Vegas—either lunch or dinner.  The other meal I can be deal with being crappy (a couple of hot dogs, a couple of slices of pizza, something like that).

For me, one of the requirements of a “good” meal is a salad. Lucky for me, I have always liked salad.  It’s probably the only food I like that isn’t bad for me—it’s actually good for me.  So I can pop a low-carb frozen dinner in the microwave, have a nice big salad, and then I’m ok if I can’t manage to have a decent meal for dinner—as long as it is enough food to keep me going and to fill my stomach enough to take my post-meal meds. 

This explains why I shy away from long tournaments that start at 11AM or even Noon—and many do.    No way could I have lunch in my room before an 11AM tourney, and while I can do Noon—man it’s awfully early to be eating lunch, especially if I woke up late and had a late breakfast, as I usually do in Vegas. It’s not just a question of not being hungry so soon after breakfast, it’s a question of spacing out my meds. And honestly, setting an alarm to wake up early in order to play poker kind of defeats the point of playing poker for me.

The tournaments I play go way past my ideal dinner time if I last that long.  And this is a problem.  Of course, I don’t always survive in a tournament long enough for it to be an issue. If I do, I have to figure out when I get something I can call dinner (and anticipate it).  When the break I figure is the one where I need to get dinner is coming up, I have to take the pre-meal med as the last level starts (assuming 30-minute levels).  Sometimes I take the meds and bust out that level, which really pisses me off, cuz then I have to eat soon instead of maybe taking my time to find a nice, inexpensive place. But that’s the chance I take. If I’m still alive at the break, I make a mad dash to get some food that I can purchase and shove down my throat in the 10-15 minutes I have.

At Binion’s there’s a deli right near the tournament area, but it closes at 8:00PM.  There’s a break at 8:30PM but I can’t wait for that one to eat, I’d miss the deli.  So I have to use the break at 6:30PM to grab a couple of hot dogs and stuff my face before play resumes. It’s too early really, but I have no choice. And I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to eat early when I’m very close to busting out—and then do so before the next break.  In other words, I could have waited to eat and then had a better meal that I wouldn’t rush thru. 

Aria has a pizza place nearby that I can get a slice or two from during a break and I’ve done that too.   Also, just in case, whenever I play in a tournament, I always have a bag of peanuts with me that I can eat in an emergency to keep my blood sugar ok.

It would make my life so much easier if these long tournaments that take 8-12 hours to complete would provide a dinner break.  But they don’t.  When the WSOP comes around, most of the series events around town do add a dinner break, which is really great for me.  Binion’s runs the exact same tournament but with a 30-minute dinner break, it’s wonderful.  But regular tournaments just don’t have the dinner break.

It’s not just Vegas.  I’ve looked into playing big events at Commerce or The Bike.  Buy-ins and structures similar to events I play in Vegas or even slightly bigger. And for their big series event (Commerce is about to start one tomorrow), they don’t put dinner breaks in most (if any) events—at least the ones I can afford to play in. So in some sense, that’s even worse tha Vegas because the big series events in Vegas do have dinner breaks (just not the regular tourneys).
I’ve asked the Tournament Directors there about this and they just say no, they don’t put in dinner breaks.  Some of these tournaments are designed to go 12-14 hours easy and no dinner break.  That just seems extreme to me.  Lunch would be an issue as well, because of the starting times—Noon at the Bike, 1PM at Commerce.  But 1PM at Commerce isn’t like 1PM at Aria, it takes me a lot longer to get to Commerce than it does to get to Aria when I’m in Vegas.

I don’t mean to be picking on the rooms I’ve named.  It’s pretty much the same everywhere. I enter a lot of tournaments into PokerAtlas and don’t see dinner breaks that often. They need to start tournaments early to finish within a reasonable time, and then they don’t want dinner breaks for much the same reason (and to avoid paying staff to sit there for an hour and do nothing.  I totally get that.

See, I’ve been getting the idea poker rooms just don’t want me to play tournaments. 

And then last month, I went to Binion’s to play in the 2PM Saturday deepstack.  I already knew that the long time TD there, had left to take a similar position at Aria.  I re-introduced myself to the person who is now completely running the room.  And when I told him I’m from PokerAtlas and Ante-Up and will be contacting him regularly for updates, he told me that starting in January all their tournament start times are moving up an hour.  The 8PM tournaments are moving to 7PM and the 2PM tournaments are moving to 1PM, including the Saturday deepstack. And I figured well, it’s a lot easier to get to Aria at 1PM than Binion’s at 1PM.  I’ll miss a lot of the dealers, but I thought I’d be playing at Aria Saturdays from now on.

And then, while I was in Vegas, the Aria announced that for three days of New Year’s Eve weekend, they would be running a $240 tournament at 1PM instead of the usual $125.  On my last Saturday in town, I played in that $240.  It was big success and the Aria asked for feedback and decided to run the $240 tournament on Fridays and Saturdays permanently.  I thought this was fine—I wouldn’t mind a slightly big buy-in for a better structure and a bigger prize pool.

Except, in making the change, it was decided to move back the starting time of the $240 buy-in on Fridays and Saturdays.  It’s not Noon—it’s 11AM.

Now I totally understand the reasoning for this.  The Aria poker room is really too small for the amount of business they do.  And Fridays and Saturdays are obviously going to be their busiest days.  By starting a couple of hours earlier, they’ll be able to free up tables for cash games earlier during their busiest hours.  Makes perfect sense.

I could make the 11AM start work…if they had a dinner break. I played in one of the Golden Nugget events last summer that started at 11.  The even had a one-hour dinner break.  I got there before the start, and figured I would have a “crappy meal” at the first break—1PM.  It was easy because the tournament area had a snack bar set up.  Then I watched the clock and saw that, as the first break approached, the blinds wouldn’t reach me before the break.  So I left early to get food before the rush hit.  I finished easily before the tournament resumed.  I could do this because I know I would have time to get a decent meal if l lasted to the dinner break.  Turns out, I didn’t.

But rooms aren’t going to put dinner breaks in for the reasons I’ve already mentioned.  I don’t blame them, I totally understand—it just doesn’t make it desirable for me.

It means I won’t be playing there on Saturday afternoons.  I guess I could play the $125 on Sunday, but I’d actually prefer playing the $240 on Saturday.

Now, I’m just talking out of my ass here, but for awhile I’ve been wondering if poker rooms running 12+ hour tournaments without a dinner break might be running afoul with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).  Diabetes is considered a disability.  Although the ADA was more designed to protect employees—not poker players. On the other hand, I’ve seen accommodations made for other disabilities.  The first time I played at Binion’s there was a blind woman playing next to me (see here).

And of course, there are certainly work-arounds. I know.  You may be reading this shouting things into your computer, or phone.  I could bring a lunch.  Dinner too.  I could get served food right at the table.  I could afford to do without a “decent” meal to play in a tournament once a week. It’s probably going to be only one meal I have to deal with unless I get a deep run.  I hear ya.

And maybe I’m just too damn inflexible.  Eating during the tournament is very distracting.  I know when I’m at the Bike eating lunch, I am not paying as much attention to the game as when I’m done. And if I ordered dinner, well that’s when tables are breaking and my meal might have to be moved from table to table while I was eating…what a pain.  No way could I order food and hope to do well in the crucial part of the tournament. Also, what if I order a meal and bust out before it arrives?  There might not actually be a place for me to eat it.  And while I could order food at Aria (and Bike and Commerce too, I believe), I couldn’t do that at Binion’s, no food service is provided for the tournament.

Because I’m such a fussy eater, it would be difficult for me to bring food to eat, especially since almost anything I’d bring would need refrigeration.  OK, get an insulated bag, make a sandwich, right?  Well, I’m no germophobe, but eating anything with your hands while playing poker is something I try to avoid.  I can’t think of anything filthier than poker chips.  Ugh.  And not sure what if anything I could bring for dinner that would last 7 hours.  At least that I would want to eat, with my fussy food tastes.

How about just showing up late?  All these tournaments have late enough registration so that I could eat first and then enter late.  But I’ve no interest in that.  I’m not Phil Hellmuth.  I think it puts me at a disadvantage to enter late, with essentially a smaller starting stack.

In fact all those workarounds to me put me at a disadvantage, missing levels or distracted by eating. I need all the help I can get.

I’m not interested in playing lower buy-in, shorter stack tournaments that turn into shove-fests by the third level. Those last only a few hours but they’re not my thing.

Now I know my own situation is not universal and also I’m especially inflexible.  But still, I can’t be the only person in the world who thinks a dinner break in a 12-hour tournament is necessary.  I swear, if I had no health issues and wasn’t thinking twice about what kind of food I was putting in my mouth, I would want a dinner break during a 12-hour poker tournament. I actually kind of think it’s inhumane to have a poker tournament go on that long without a reasonable dinner break. Am I alone in that?  Am I wrong?  Even people in perfect health need to eat more often than every 14 hours.

It’s frustrating to think that I won’t be playing many tournaments—and not the ones I want to play—for the time being.  During the summer, dinner breaks will be put in (at least in Vegas) and I’ll be back, I guess.  It makes me sad.  The thing is, this past trip, I played in three deepstack tournaments, played at least 8 hours in all of them, cashed in two of them.  I’m actually convinced that I’m a better tournament player than a cash game player.

But more and more, it seems that poker rooms just don’t want me playing their tournaments.  They’re certainly not making it easy to do so.

But again….it’s my bad luck (or bad lifestyle) to have this condition.  And again, I can’t expect poker rooms or any other business to build their business around my idiosyncrasies. 

Just a bad beat for me, I guess.  

Note: As with all my posts, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and don't represent the views of anyone else. 


  1. oral medication????? sounds gay LOL THAT SUCKS cant u just have a hot pocket or some almonds as a meal or snack. what about a Clif bar??????? this post gets a D------------- TMI what will the next post b about yr bleeding hemorrhoids or shrinking prostate

    1. Can't believe that with all your complaints, you didn't complain about the lack of boobies.

  2. I was thinking ADA way before I got to your paragraph that mentioned it. With the almighty dollar being the bottom line in 99.9% of casino mgt decisions it is no surprise that skipping a dinner break is the way almost all structures are set up. I think taking a dinner break twice the size of the normal break would be acceptable. If one break is 40 to 60 minutes that shouldn't move the bottom line number crunching formula too much.

    1. Thanks, Lester. I agree, you don't need a huge dinner break. At WSOP the dinner breaks are 90-minutes, Wynn usually has 75-minute breaks. Most other tournaments, when they have breaks, have 1 hour breaks.

      That's not necessary. One-half hour is plenty. It doesn't give you time to eat at the finest restaurant in the casino, but even if all you can get is the same junk food you'd buy in a 10-minute break, at least you could eat it in a more relaxing manner.

  3. All the casinos have some little spot that sells takeout salads and sandwiches. (Like the one at the flamingo across from Sin City Brewery). You don't have to store it for seven hours, just swing by on a break or on a potty break and pick something up. Prior to the tournament swing by the spot figure out what you will order so you don't waste time looking at ingredients and stuff. (I am picky eater too) At Binion's I am sure for a $5 tip the guys at the snack bar would have something ready and waiting to go whenever you wanted. You could pick the spot of your choice in any casino and ask if you call and order could they have it ready to go. Unfortunately that leaves you still eating at the table. Maybe practice would help make it less distracting. In any case, before I started any tournament, I would have a meal plan nailed down with exactly what I was eating and from where.

    1. Thanks for some great ideas, AsSweep. Definitely some good advice.

      The only thing is, when I'm getting to the point of planning on dinner, it's usually at the point of the tournament where any one end can bounce me from the tourney. So doing they kind of planning you suggest could become moot by the time I'm ready to pick up my meal. Of course, I could get it anyway, but if I'm out of the tournament I'd prefer to eat something better.

      Still, food for thought (so-to-speak) and I'll definitely consider this when I'm considering tournaments going forward.

  4. I take Janumet twice a day. The directions say take it with a meal, but I can take it with a mini-meal such as those peanut butter crackers or something like that that I can buy ahead of time and stick in my pocket. Sorry to hear you have to have a full-blown meal.

    1. Well, I suppose I could try to get back with a smaller meal just for the sake of the meds along the lines of something you suggest--but I have had real gastric issues in the past with this med, for sure. Also, would like to take that pre-meal med before a "real" meal for maximum effect.

      But I guess I could look into more alternatives to carry with me than just a bag of peanuts (which have saved me in the past).

      Thanks for the suggestion, MOJO.

    2. WTW?? what about my suggestion about almonds and hot pockets??????? 1st a post with no TITTAYS and now this????????? #sarcasm

    3. Sorry...once I saw "bleeding hemorrhoids" I totally blanked on everything else you said.

  5. I took a particular medication that for years caused me problems. Then one day during a routine visit with my doctor I asked if anything better had come along in the intervening years. "Why yes" he replied and I have been taking something much better ever since.

    1. Thanks, Dave, appreciate it. I'll look into it but the other issue is that I have to have meals anyway because of my situation so that wouldn't totally solve the problem.

  6. I eat sandwiches while playing poker all the time. I just put a paper napkin around the sandwich and grab it with my hand.

    I do agree it is unreasonable to have a long tournament without dinner break.

    1. Thanks, Pokerdogg. Yes, you could wrap the sandwich in a napkin, I've thought of that. Whenever I've tried eating food wrapped in a napkin, tho, my hand inevitably slips and not only touches the food but usually ends up covered with mustard (but NOT mayonnaise!)

    2. Key is big napkins, and lots of practice.

  7. I know you've received some good suggestions. I have a few suggestions, too. You mention you love salads. Well, gazpacho is basically a liquid salad. It's really easy to make. You can make up a big batch and store it in pint jars; bring one of those jars with you to the tourney. To give you something to chew on at your meal, I suggest getting a Kind bar, one of the low-carb ones. A lot of bars, such as larabars and clif bars, have an unbelievable amount of sugar in them, so read the labels closely.

    I'd be interested to hear if any of the suggested strategies work out for you.

    Good luck at the tables!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. I'm afraid gazpacho is a no-go for me, but I should look into protein bars. Never heard of Kind bars, most of the ones I've tried have been pretty bad. But maybe there's a good one out there.

    2. Hmm....just checked on the internet, looked at the nutritional summary of Kind bars. You know, if I found them edible, three of them would do as a meal in a pinch. Dunno if it would be filling enough but I'm sure I could take my meds with that. Wouldn't be a very exciting dinner, but if that was my dinner at a poker tournament it would mean I might be getting a decent payday so it would worth it. Definitely gonna check that out. Thanks.

    3. If you have a Trader Joe's near you, they're very reasonably priced there and they have a good selection. Quite a few have only 5 gms of sugar. All GMO free, too as an added bonus.

    4. YES...I do have a Trader Joe's farily close,thanks for the tip.

  8. I'm no lawyer, but I'd imagine ADA does not apply, as this is a voluntary purchase with options available to you that you are "unwilling" to utilize. To the first point of voluntary, does a ski slope need to cater to a wheelchair laden person? I've never seen a ski lift that's handicap-friendly. You can take a break earlier and miss a few hands, or order at the table and eat (something that I too loathe - I'm OCD about mixing poker chips and body parts, ewwww germs!).

    I can empathize with your predicament, though; perhaps consider adjusting your eating schedule around the poker tournament structure instead of sticking to your regimented schedule independent of the poker routine.

    1. Thanks PM, but....while it is voluntary to play in a tournament...what if poker was my livelihood? Suppose I was a professional poker player? Think maybe the ADA would come in then, maybe?

      I've seen accommodations made for other disabilities. I mentioned the blind woman who had her husband whispering the cards to her. Another Vegas reg is confined to a wheelchair and has some other disability that basically limits him from only playing at two seats a a hold'em table. So they make exceptions for him when they assign him a table and when the adjust/break tables so he always has a seat he can play at (it has to do with not exposing his hand to the other players).

      I DO take breaks early when I can time it properly....but I have to time it carefully so I only miss a few antes and not any of the blinds when they get huge. But I would maintain that doing so hurts my chances of doing well in the tournament, which is penalty I shouldn't have to deal with.

      And I DO adjust my eating sched virtually every time I play a tourney...earlier lunch than usual, frequently a later (or sometimes earlier) dinner. So I'm not being totally inflexible.

    2. There's a lot here: doesn't a blind woman having her cards whispered to her violate the 1 player per hand rule? At my local casino in Baltimore, the dealers will not read the board to the players nor will they allow (so far as I know) a second party to read the board to the player.

      BTW, don't get me wrong; I empathize with the situation. I'm trying to take a whole view from both angles, and I think with diabetes it's a different application of ADA since you opt to not eat at the table, you opt to not change your schedule, etc. With other disabilities, they don't necessarily have that choice or option - such as the blind person...

      FWIW I don't understand how my casino gets away with not providing special accommodations for those players without being sued. They provide handicap ramps at every door, etc.; how can they not read cards to the player?

      Unfortunately, I'm an expert in neither law nor the ADA. All of the above is conjecture.

    3. I believe that blind poker players have played at the WSOP, it's allowed. I think maybe they invoke the ADA, or just count on telling people who might complain, "What you're such a dick you're not gonna let us help out a blind person?"

      General in Vegas, there's no issue with the dealer reading the board to a player who has trouble reading the cards. Sometimes I've seen them slide the board cards closer to the player. But I don't believe reading the cards on the board is usually an issue.