Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I Played Live Poker....Seriously! (Part 2)

The Dreaded Pocket Whats? (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 is here and we pick up right as I enter the Morongo poker room. I asked about the games.  The electronic waitlist was on display in the casino right above the sign that said "poker room." There were long lists for all the games.  Most of the games had lists longer than the board allowed for names.  There were like 25-35 names for each game.  I did notice that names at the top of each list that had the phrase "called in" after them.  Good to know that they accepted call ins.  I did forget to ask how long they keep the names on the list if you call in.

They had one table each of 1/2 ($40-$100), 1/3 ($100-$300), 5/10 ($500-$3K) and 3/6 limit with a kill ($30 min).  There were two tables of 2/5 ($200-$500).  There was also an interest list for 4/8 limit.  Why they kept that, I dunno.  With those long lists and their obviously inability to open a new table, there was no chance any of the existing games would break so that they could start that 4/8 game.  There might also have been some kind of Omaha game running, at this point, I can't quite recall.  The guy at the podium told me they were limited to 8 tables at this point.  I think maybe I saw a semi-private room that might have had a bigger game going, not sure.  All I knew for sure was that they were not able to open any more tables despite the long lists.

I was pretty much prepared for this.  I knew I'd have a long wait, and I knew that in order to increase my chances of playing any poker this day I had to get my name on as many lists as possible.  The guy told me I could put my name on multiple lists, and if I was in one game, I could stay on the list of the other games and move if called there.

So I put my name on the lists for 1/2, 1/3, 2/5 and the 3/6 limit game.  The 3/6 game was somewhat pointless.  Although that list was only like 20-25 names I think, with only one table I didn't think there was any chance I'd get called any time within three hours.  Limit players tend to last longer than no-limit players.

The two longest lists were the 1/2 and the 1/3, both were like 30+.  I didn't think there was any chance of me getting into either one.  Maybe the 1/3 (the one I wanted) because it was actually shorter. Yes, more people wanted to play 1/2 at $40-$100 than 1/3 at $100-$300.  This is Southern CA.  I don't get it either.  By the way, I asked and they have absolutely no promos or bonuses during the weekend (weekdays only).  Also there are no comps!  So no need for me to even bother getting a player's card. 

I have been told that the reason players at Bike and Commerce play those $40 buy-in no-limit games is that they are just playing for the bad beat jackpot and trying to hit it for cheap.  But in this room, on the weekend, there was no point in that, you were playing $40-$100 NLH for some other reason.  Most likely, stupidity (or maybe, to be fair, you have a really good short stack game). Also it means I was getting ripped off, since they did take a jackpot rake of a buck a pot while I played, and I had exactly zero chance of getting any of that money back (just slightly less chance than I normally have). For this I blame, of course, Emperor Newsom.

My best shot at getting into any game was the 2/5 game.  Not only was it the only game with two tables running, but the list was the shortest one (other than the 5/10 game). I think it had about 17 players in front of me, and the top three were listed as "called in" so they might not even show up.

When I had decided to head over there, I knew there was a possibility that my best shot at poker would be the 2/5 game, which as you know I really don't play.  I have played 2/5 a couple of times in Vegas. And of course, I was out of practice, not having played poker of any kind in nearly six months. I had a plan for this.  I was going to buy in for the $200 minimum and play three times as tight as I normally play. In other words, I would wait for pocket Aces and otherwise fold every hand I was dealt.

In fact, I texted my buddy Lightning that I was at Morongo and would likely have to play 2/5 or leave without playing a hand of poker. He told me that 2/5 is a very different game than 1/2 or 1/3.  I said, "I'll buy in for the minimum and only play Aces.  Definitely not Kings."

So I got on the four lists, gave him my cel number, and took off.  I was told I had to leave the poker room.  There was no waiting in the poker room—again, social distancing—I had to wait outside the room.  When my table was ready, I'd get a text, and I'd have 10 minutes to get back to the room to claim my seat.  OK.

I checked out the casino.  I noticed there was a little casual eatery near the poker room, it was packed.  But imagine, a place where you could eat at a restaurant indoors in CA. Native Americans 1, Emperor Newsom 0.  There was also a food court as well.  They had a Fatburger, a Panda Express and a bunch of no-name places (at least, I didn't recognize the names). There was an Italian place that advertized both pizza and pasta.  Between that and the Fatburger, I'd be set if I wanted to eat there.  Again, indoors!  Take that, Emperor!

They didn't really have a lot of table game action. Maybe that's because the cheapest blackjack I saw was $25.  The only thing cheaper was some of the other table games, 3-Card poker and what-not, some of which was $15 minimum. I had no interest in any of that.

Nor did I have any interest in the slots.  Funny, as much as I love Vegas, as often as I've been there, I never really enjoyed playing slots and hardly ever do. I've always found it quite boring.  And also bankroll draining.  Even video poker has no appeal to me.

So I didn't play anything.  I just walked around and then found a seat at an unused slot machine near the poker room and sat and waited for a chance to play poker.  I watched the board and went over close to it every so often to see how I was progressing.  Initially my name didn't even make it on the board for the 1/2 or 1/3 games, but eventually I was at the very bottom.  But I could see I was getting close on the 2/5 board.

And eventually, after about an hour, I got texted to come to the room….it was for the 2/5 game of course.  OK, time to test that short stack strategy.  To be honest, I felt so rusty I wasn't sure I had any strategy for any game.

As planned, I bought in for $200 and took my seat.  It was seven-handed with the plexiglass dividers as advertised.  The dividers didn't bother me at all, perhaps because I was right next to the dealer.  But between the dividers and the masks, there wasn't much chatter at the table.  But who knows, it might have been that I didn't have a particularly talkative table.

Now the trouble with 7-handed isn't that 7-handed per se is bad, it's that if there is a player or two missing you are really very, very short.  And for long periods there was at least one player gone, sometimes two.  I heard one guy ask and he was told you could be away from the table for 45-minutes and still keep your seat.  I've complained about that at full-ring 9-handed games, but for 7-handed that's just absurd.  But it is what it is.  At least I can say that while I was playing, no one person was away from the table very long.

I wanted to get total trash hands for at least a few orbits so I could fold and try to learn the table.  So of course I got pocket 9's in one of the first hands I was dealt. I was in early position.  I just limped to see what would happen. Someone made it $25.  I shrugged and called.  It was heads up, The flop was Queen-high.  We both checked. We both checked a blank turn, and a blank river.  He showed pocket 10's to take it.  I suppose in my normal 2/3 game I might have bet the turn and taken it.  Or maybe he would have called and I've lost more money.

I folded a few more times and then, in the small blind, the last hand I wanted to see showed up.  Of course I mean the dreaded pocket Kings.  Yep, I suppose the fates demanded it.  Trying to play three times tighter than normal, I was destined to get pocket Kings, and so early yet.  I'd played 10 minutes of poker in the past six months, and there they were.  And here I was playing with the big boys, in a 2/5 game that I never play.

Well I promised Lightning I'd muck them, but of course I did not. A late position player raised to $15 and the button called.  As much as I am spooked with this hand, of course even I would automatically three-bet there.  But….but… was pocket Kings.  I was in a bigger game.  I was out of practice (do I need to be in practice to mess up pocket Kings?).  So I played chicken-shit.  No, I didn't muck them (sorry Lightning).  I just meekly called.

The flop was Q-4-4 and I checked. The preflop raiser checked but the button bet $20 and I called, the other guy called.        The turn was a 3, I checked, the next guy checked and the button bet $50.  I figured he likely just had a Queen.  I called.  The other guy folded. The river was a blank.  I checked, the other guy thought about betting but finally checked and showed a Queen.  I flipped my Kings to take the pot, leaving the other guy to wonder if I was perhaps the biggest nit in Riverside county. But it was a nice pot and I was up about $75 for the moment.

Of course I should have three-bet pre.  But based on the post flop action, I think it's a safe bet if I had, I would have taken the pot down right there and made less money.  That's not to say I played it right, just that my absurd meekness paid off that one time.

Editorial comment: As I was proofing this post, it occurred to me that I should refer to Gavin Newsom as "King Newsom" rather than "Emperor Newsom." (Wait for it) After all, I've seen many detractors of his refer to him as King on Twitter. My thought tho was that I wanted to be a bit original and Emperor sounds more self-important than King.  However, if I had called him King Newsom, I could from now on refer to Pocket Kings as "Pocket Newsoms."  And that would give me one more reason to hate them. The dreaded pocket Newsoms?  What do you think?

Much later, I got pocket Jacks in early position and made it $25.  There was one call.  The flop was Ace-Queen-x.  Ugh.  Hoping he had a smaller pocket pair and missed, I decided to c-bet $20, but he called.  The turn was blank and I checked, as did he.  The river was another blank and after my check, he bet $85.  I folded.  Did I let him steal it?  Perhaps.  I wondered if a turn bet would have ended things.  I'll never know.

I got pocket 9's on the button.  It folded to me so I bet $15 and took it down.

I got pocket 9's again (third time this day!) and called $20.  It was three-way.  Ace-high flop, there was no betting. The turn was a 10 and I folded to a big bet.

I got deuce-4 in the big blind and there was no raise, one limper so three of us saw the flop.  No one bet the flop, which did have a deuce on it.  The turn was a Jack so I bet $5 on my deuce.  One call.  No bet on a blank river.  I showed my deuce, and the guy didn't show.  I think he was hoping to win with Ace-high.

That's all the hands I noted.  Now I should mention that after playing at this game about an hour or so, I got texted that my 1/3 seat was ready.  I decided to stay where I was.  I was getting tired from the long ride out there, and figured I wouldn't be staying much longer. But I did note that even with that ridiculously long list and just one table, I could have gotten into the 1/3 game after about two hours of waiting.

Plus, I had noticed something about this table.  I don't think it was at all a typical 2/5 game.  As nitty as I was playing, nobody else was all that aggro.  I actually wondered if most of the players were really 1/3 players who were all, like me, playing the bigger game because there was less of a wait for it.  Or maybe, like me, playing more cautiously because they were out of practice. Seriously there was not a lot of three-betting, no really aggro moves, and very few all-ins.  I was holding my own, honestly.

When I was ready to call it quits, I was down $15 for the session. I was actually pretty happy about that.

Let me some a few words (ha!) about the safety protocols that were in effect. I already mentioned the temperature checks at the door.  Anytime anyone left a game, someone came by and sanitized the area he had left.  New decks were replaced every dealer change.  One thing I noticed—and I have no idea if this new or standard for Morongo—there were no automatic shufflers.  I had wondered if all the hand sanitizer would get on the cards and muck up the shufflers but they were hand shuffling so no issue (there was no space for a auto shuffler at least on the table I was at, so maybe they never used them). And the dealer also sanitized their whole area every time a new one pushed in.

It was quite impressive.  Of course, I became super paranoid and made the mistake of ordering a bottle of water instead of a diet coke. The thing is, I had to pull down my mask every time I took a sip, and also had to use two hands to open the water, and I realized that I didn't want to do any of that without sanitizing my hands every time first.  There was a bottle of hand sanitizer behind my table on some kind of bar that was otherwise unused that I kept getting up to use. Of course, you were not allowed to eat at the table.

Even before I sat down to play, I realized there was absolutely no reason at all that Bike, or Commerce, or my Ventura room, couldn't reopen this very day using the very same safety protocols. Of course someone could get the virus there, but they had greatly minimized the chances. It is ridiculous that those card rooms are still closed, and also ridiculous that you can't eat indoors in a restaurant anywhere in CA outside of an Indian casino.  You go, you Native Americans!

I left feeling quite happy about finally getting out, getting to a public place and getting to play some poker again, even if it wasn't my preferred game. It was the best I've felt mentally in a long, long time.

Also, I rather enjoyed saying, "F*** you, Gavin Newsom."

Sunday, September 6, 2020

I Played Live Poker....Seriously! (Part 1)

Driving Around in Circles (Part 1 of 2)

The title is accurate. Unfortunately, I got a little carried away and wrote so much preamble, I won't get to the actual poker until part 2.  So unlike me to get so wordy, I know.  Don't worry, the second part is written and I will post it in just a day or two.

But on Saturday, August 29, I actually played poker.  Real, live poker.  And not some seedy little underground home game.  Nope, it was totally above board, real live poker an in actual brick and mortar card room.  Actually it was full-fledged casino, in fact.  In California, yet.

So no, I didn't go to Vegas.  And no, Emperor Gavin Newsom did not come to his senses and deign to allow casinos and card rooms to open in the state he rules.  In fact, he came out with new guidelines for re-opening the state's economy that are virtually impossible to ever meet until COVID-19 completely disappears.  Basically, if it is up to Emperor Newsom, the state won't re-open until NASA is able to send astronauts to Uranus and back.  That's only a mild exaggeration.  It really looks like we are locked down for the rest of the year.  Or perhaps we will open up completely on, say, November 4.  We'll see.

But although he no doubt thinks he is, Newsom isn't quite God. Many years ago, CA made a deal with a number of Indian tribes to allow casinos on their land.  Due to agreements with both state and federal authorities, casinos on Indian land are not subject to most state laws. The Indian lands are basically sovereign nations within the state of CA.

Thus, Indian casinos in CA are very different than the card rooms in the state.  The Bike, Commerce, Player's Casino in Ventura…..they are all card rooms.  You won't find a slot machine in any of them.  They do have table games, but they have weird rules because it is against CA law for anyone to play against the house.  That's why poker is fine.  For blackjack, someone other than the house must bank the game.  You can't bet against the Bike.  You bet against a third-party that is the banker.  In reality this third-party is usually just a big corporation unrelated to the card room but just as big, financially speaking. Somehow there is a rake or a "collection" involved so that both the house and the banker make money.  Of course just like any blackjack game, the odds are stacked against you.

But in these Indian casinos, it's pretty much just like Vegas.  For one thing, there are slot machines.  Boy are there slot machines!  I believe that a few years ago there was a proposition on the ballot that would allow the CA card rooms to have slot machines.  You can bet the Indian gaming lobby spent a boatload of money advertising against it, and it failed. The table games play like Vegas table games.  And the poker plays like….well poker.

So when the Emperor shut down the state in March, there was really nothing to stop the Indian casinos from keeping open and operating as they had been.  But they all shut down, at least initially. I think they, like everyone else, had safety concerns, and for sure they didn't want any bad publicity from an outbreak. Not sure if they were worried about legal liability since they are sovereign nations.  But they all shut down, to the best of my knowledge.

In fact, in the brief period when Emperor Newsom had come to his senses and started re-opening things, I'm not sure all the tribal casinos re-opened.  But then, three weeks later, the Emperor freaked out and closed everything back down.  There was no reason for the tribal casinos to close, but most did.  I believe that the only one in Southern CA to either stay open or re-open shortly after a brief close was a new one, Jamul Casino in San Diego county.  A few in Northern CA opened around the same time.  But nothing near me.

The nearest Indian casino to me is Chumash, north of Santa Barbara.  I have been there once, many, many years ago when I was a limit player. I don't remember much about it other than it wasn't worth the drive.  If I recall correctly, the limit game I played (2/4 or 3/6 most likely) had either a kill or a half-kill, which I have always disliked.  It's a long drive, and it's on some less than great roads, and it takes you thru a wonderful tourist town called Solvang, which is great to visit but not to drive through if you're mostly anxious to play poker.

I was surprised that Chumash stayed closed during the second lockdown.  But finally the other day, looking through Bravo, I saw they had games running.  I think they re-opened August 21.  But I also saw that another tribal casino had games running—Morongo Casino, out near Palm Springs.  I believe they re-opened around the same time.

It started to occur to me that I now had two choices if I wanted to play poker badly enough (and of course badly is the only way I play poker). And I started considering it.

Google maps told me that Chumash was slightly closer but a somewhat longer drive.  Morongo was just a straight shot down Interstate 10.  Easy Peazy.  About a 90-100 minute drive.  A long way to go for an afternoon, but doable.  Although I had never been inside, I do recall driving it past it once over 20 years ago when I had a meeting out past it for work.  I remember being rather surprised to see a casino out there in the middle of the desert, in the middle of CA.  This was long before I was playing poker.

Well, I'm sure you all read my second to last post (here).  You know how I feel about having been under house arrest since mid-March.  You know it has been driving me more than a little bit nuts.  The thought of actually having something to do, someplace to go on a Saturday, had great appeal to me.  But I'm not crazy (at least, not totally crazy).  I had concerns of course of catching the virus. Would it be safe?

I had decided that Morongo would be the preferable choice, especially since they had 1/3 NL ($100-$300) as opposed to 2/3 NL (I assume $100-$300).  I checked their website and their safety protocols looked pretty solid.  I began thinking more and more of scheduling a trip out there to check it out. 

I didn't rush over there because I naively thought we might just be days from California opening up and that poker rooms nearer to me would be available.  Like Bike or Commerce.  Or in a perfect world, my Ventura room. After all, that spike in hospitalizations and deaths that sparked the Emperor to shut us back down had passed.  Everything was looking positive.  Surely we could open up again. I really thought that. Silly me, fool that I was, I gave Newsom way too much credit.

On Friday, August 28, Emperor Newsom released his new guidelines, and as I've indicated in the opening of this post, the guidelines are a joke.  A sick, sick joke. No chance of a poker room under the Emperor's control opening any time soon. 

That pretty much clinched it for me.  I wasn't going to playing poker in CA anytime soon.  I was so sick of being locked up in my house, seeing no one, doing nothing. And I finally had something to do other than going out and picking up fast food (and, on occasion, eating it at a table outside of the restaurant). And of course, of course, I sure did miss playing poker.  Man, did I miss it.  I even missed getting felted with the dreaded pocket Kings (although I missed that more like you miss a toothache when it finally goes away).

But now there was an additional reason to drive out to Morongo and try to play some poker.  It was to say, "F*** you, Gavin Newsom!" The Emperor hates it when any of his subjects has a good time, or even tries to have a good time. He hates those Indian casinos that he has no control over being open. It really pisses him off.

If I could have some fun and at the same time piss off Emperor Newsom, well that might just my new definition of a perfect day. Man, I do love those Native Americans.

So it was no coincidence that it was the very day after His Royal Highness released his new, impossible-to-meet guidelines, that I found myself driving east to find the Morongo casino.

I wasn't sure what the food situation would be when I got there.  It appeared they might have had some indoor dining available (again, totally prohibited by Emperor Newsom, but this is sovereign land) but I wasn't sure.  I thought about stopping at some fast food place on the way, but decided I didn't want to take the time.  I had a quick, early lunch at home and hit the road so I could get there as soon as possible.

The first 2/3's of the drive out there is identical to the one I take to get to Vegas.  Thus, when I approached the I-15, which I'd take to go to Vegas, the toughest thing to do was to drive right past it and keep going straight. It took a lot of self-restraint not to head North on the 15, but I did it.  Then I was unfamiliar territory but Google maps did its job and eventually, after about an hour and a half, I could see the Morongo casino from my car.

It was then that Google maps totally failed me.  You see to get from the freeway to the casino, you have to navigate that traffic atrocity known as the "traffic circle." Or maybe they are known as "roundabouts" although there might be some distinction between the two.  No matter what you call them, they are the worst invention the history of mankind. Seriously, I cannot put into words how much I hate traffic circles.  They should be banned immediately.  Furthermore, the inventor of traffic circles should be water-boarded non-stop for the rest of his life (I assume a man invented him, I have too much respect for women to believe any female could be stupid enough to have come up with the concept).  If said inventor is already dead, I have no doubt that he is currently spending all eternity in hell.

Let me put it this way: If you told me Gavin Newsom invented traffic circles, I would believe you.

I am confident I handled the traffic circle you come to when you exit the 10 at the Morongo as Google instructed me, but somehow, as soon as I entered said traffic circle, I heard the beep from Google maps telling me that it was re-routing me because I was off the suggested route.

Did I mention there was some road construction all around the Morongo and near the exit?  Perhaps things were not as Google maps as expected.  Or perhaps what I assumed was the entrance to the traffic circle was an entirely different road.  Who the hell knows.

All I know is that Morongo was sitting right there, directly across the freeway, I could almost reach out and touch it.  But I couldn't get there from where I was.  Nope.  And Google maps was telling me to take this dinky little two lane road, barely paved, for another mile or so.  Parallel to the 10 but there was no place to turn to get to the casino.  So I started driving away from the casino, far away.  Oddly, the map program didn't tell me to turn around.  Just keep going.  Farther and farther away from my destination.

Eventually I came to a street to turn on.   Well that street actually took a left turn almost immediately after I got on it.  Maps didn't warn about this, but luckily I figured it out before taking another wrong turn (or in this case, going straight when I should have turned left).

Now I was north of the freeway (same side as the casino) and eventually I could see the casino again.  But then….the damn Google maps program told me to take the second (or whatever) exit from the upcoming traffic circle.  Oh f*** me.  Another damn traffic circle???  Yes.  By now I could literally walk to the casino from where I was, if only I could have left my car in the middle of the road.  Would have been a two minute walk. But no, I had to enter the traffic circle. Which I did. Or so I thought.  Nope, I missed the traffic circle.  I think it was just past where I had already turned.  And where I had turned was the entrance to the 10, going east!  So, not the way I had come from, but toward Arizona (I wasn't really that close to Arizona).  So I had to go another mile or so out of my way before I could exit the freeway and try again to find the damn casino.

If there was another traffic circle waiting for me when I exited freeway, I have blotted it out of my mind.  To my surprise, I was on a different street that paralleled the freeway, different than the one I had been on just a minute ago only to get on the freeway going to east. And as luck would have it, there was no damn traffic circle to navigate to enter the casino parking lot this time.  I was able to turn right into it!  Victory!

The parking lot is poorly marked.  After seeing one sign that said self parking this way, I couldn't actually find a lot that said self-parking.  And I saw no sign indicating there was a parking garage, so I assumed there wasn't one.  But once I was inside the casino, I did see signs directing you to the parking garage.  Wish I had known there was one and how to find it, it would have been preferable to parking outside in the desert sun.  Oh yes, this is in the desert, very similar climate to Vegas and hotter than my neighborhood.

But I found a spot near one of the entrances and got lucky, as it was the entrance nearest the poker room.  Of course before I got inside I had to be screened.  The temperature check was different from others I've seen.  You had to stand about 6 feet from the screener and lower your mask (masks were of course required).  Weird. The screener held something that looked like a small TV camera and pointed it at me, and somehow determined it was ok for me to enter the property.

Ordinarily I would check out the casino before heading to the poker room but I knew I'd be on the waiting list for a good long while so I'd have time to explore once I got on the list.  Now, although there is a big sign indicating the Poker Room is right next to the entrance I used, it turns out that poker room is down a long, dark hallway, hidden away from the main casino floor.  It was almost like entering a speak-easy.

What happened when I walked down that long, dark hallway?  You'll have to come back for part 2 to find out.  But I promise, I really will report on some live poker hands.  Honest!  Stay tuned. Or better yet, go to it right now, it's here.

Edited to add:  My pal Norm sent along this pic with his comment (see below), and of course it is perfect.  Thanks, Norm!