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!


  1. odd someone would prefer $1-3 NL to $2-3 NL. $2-3 isnt nearly as tight and much easier to beat.

    1. Well, I don't really notice much of a difference, but then I've never played both 1/3 & 2/3 in the same venue so I don't think I have a good way to compare.

      My slight preference for 1/3 is that you much less tempted to play the small blind in a 1/3 game. in 2/3, if there's no raise, I don't have the discipline to fold for a buck and I think that's a major stack-suck.

  2. Almost exactly a year ago, I dealt with the roundabouts in Spain, which were significantly worse than the ones in the UK, and multitudes worse than any I've dealt with in the States.

    As my wife described it at the time "we were almost broadsided today in an 8-lane roundabout where six streets converged, and there were stoplights, and concrete barriers separating some of the lanes from others."

    After getting back, and posting in Facebook that I never wanted to deal with another roundabout (including the harmless one on the edge of the small town I live in), I found myself in Reno, where because of road construction on Virginia Street, I found myself shunted off to a side street that had a roundabout. Naughty words followed.

    When I posted my (correct) opinion of roundabouts, a friend who is a retired city planning engineer tried to convince me I was wrong, believing them to be an elegant solution. I replied that he was "arguing concept vs execution. By that logic, one would have to say Phantom Menace was a wonderful movie because if properly done, a Darth Vader origin movie would be great."

    (I don't know if this photo will come out in the comment field, so I am emailing you a copy)

    1. Thanks, Norm. That's a great story. Also appreciated the you can see, I was able to add it to the original post. Perfect!!!!

  3. Rob

    Great story! Can’t understand your loathing of roundabouts, I would choose one over traffic lights every time. Can’t wait to hear about the actual poker!!

    1. OMG.....what they hell are they putting in the water over there in jolly ol' England to get you to LIKE roundabouts? No wonder you blokes lost America. Oh wait, I know you, you don't drink water. Must be something they put in the beer.

      But thanks for the kind words.

  4. After your prolonged house arrest, it's nice to see you get ROUND and ABOUT. (grin}
    We in Nevada have our own dictator by name of Sisolak.
    As a long time reader who thoroughly enjoys your columns, I'm hoping to meet you when you return LV.

    1. Thanks very much, Arch. I even enjoyed your play-on-words with the round about. Nice.

      The difference between your dictator and ours is at least yours has allowed the casinos and poker rooms to open. Of course, being NV, the casinos are where all the revenue comes from, it's much easier for CA to keep the casinos as they are much less a percentage of the tax revenue.

      Appreciate the kind words and I do hope we get to meet up one day, hopefully soon.

  5. Solvent Danish pastries are to die for!

    1. Danged autocorrect: Solvang

    2. He he. I was trying to figure out what a pastry dipped in solvent would taste like....or did you you mean those pastries kept you from bankruptcy!

      Well of course I knew what you meant and realized it was autocorrect. I think when I was still living at home with my folks--in other words, a LONG TIME AGO, we took a trip to Solvang. I don't remember much about it. But I do know the more recent time I drove thru I was more concerned with the poker, not the pastry.

  6. When I was in Australia, the most stressful part of the trip was the driving. The worst part of the driving was the many roundabouts. As bad as they are in the US, try negotiating one in another country where you drive in the left hand lane and have the steering wheel on the right side of the car! How I survived without killing myself and my brother I'll never know.

    1. Yes, those roundabouts are deadly. I just don't get it. Maybe if there are enough of them around, like in the U.K., you get used to them and learn how to deal with them (see arnejokin's comment). I guess if they don't kill you, they make you stronger. Or something.

    2. I don't mind them usually but the same thing happened to me in Cyprus! Steering wheel on the right and the roundabouts have clockwise movement. Everyone in the car would be so focused as we approached each roundabout haha

    3. Our European friends seem to love them. Maybe if you were taught the metric system you'd get it. I dunno.

  7. I've enjoyed your column for years because of the writing and poker content (even if I rarely play at a live game).

    But your political comments make this unreadable to me. You can agree or disagree with Newsom's decision, but name calling is just stupid, immature, and just plain wrong. Even if you are a president that only cares about himself and his classless segment of society where it is de rigueur to insult and demean people, it still has not place in a modern society.

    And as far has COVID is concerned, considering you are in several very high-risk groups, I would think you would appreciate what protections are given to you. After all, you could in a state that doesn't require masks and encourages large gathering (look at South Dakota for an example).

    Hope your arm heals and you remain COVID free despite yourself.

    1. PART 2 OF 2

      Actually, I most certainly do NOT appreciate the so-called "protections" the tin-pot dictators are forcing down my throat. I don't believe in the Nanny State. We live in what is supposed to be the land of the free. My constitutional rights have been taken from me and I don't approve (as you can tell). I am adult and can decide for myself how much risk I take on a daily basis, as I do in a thousand different ways every day. Just today, for example, I decided to drive four miles over the speed limit on the freeway. I bet my risk of death would have been less if I had stuck to the speed limit, or perhaps drove a bit under that and stayed in the right lane.

      I have been taking some risk of getting the virus all the time. I mean, even getting my food delivered involved some risk that a box of cornflakes might have some virus on it. Picking up my mail, maybe a letter or a package from Amazon may be contaminated. Now I go to Walmart and encounter many people, any one of them could give me the virus. I go to Physical Therapy for my arm and run into many people would could infect me with COVID.

      But I personally am not ready to accept the notion that the most important thing about life is to just stay alive. To merely exist, not LIVE LIFE. That's no life at all, certainly not one worth living. No, quality of life has to be considered. So I choose to live life and take some very small risks to put a little bit of enjoyment back into living. I accept the fact that this infinitesimally increases my chances of catching COVID and dying because of it.

      So I say, open up the state, open up the country. People know by now how vulnerable they are based on their health conditions. The scaredy-cats who are afraid of their own shadow are certainly free to stay inside, and even grow their own food, have their doors locked from the outside so they don't accidentally visit the outside world where there is a virus that, for those who do get it, less than 1/2 of 1% will die. I demand my constitutional right to not live like that.

      And funny that you mentioned South Dakota, Chuck. That proves me point, not yours. To date, 20 people out of 100K people in that state of died from the virus there, Chuck. That's near the very bottom of deaths per capita of the states. A total of 173 South Dakotans have died of the virus. Sounds like paradise to me. In fact, if it had the weather of Southern CA, I'd move there tomorrow. But then, if it had the weather of Southern CA, every sane person on the planet would move there. Of course, then it wouldn't be South Dakota.

      Thanks, for your past readership, Chuck, and have a long and healthy life.

    2. "But I personally am not ready to accept the notion that the most important thing about life is to just stay alive. To merely exist, not LIVE LIFE."

      Haven't read something so simple and effective in a long time. Thank you, Rob. Cheers to health and flopping the nuts.

    3. Thanks very much, Zoddiac. I appreciate the kind words.

    4. Rob: You & I usually agree but I feel like your frustrations with COVID are an outcropping of Gavin Newsome.

      You're right, "Just today, for example, I decided to drive four miles over the speed limit on the freeway." Yes you have that "choice," but you're still making a decision that is illegal and you could be prosecuted appropriately. Why is driving over the speed limit illegal? Public safety first among a variety of reasons.

      It's really easy to say "open up!" "my rights as an American!" etc. However, when the spread of the virus increases X-fold (10x, 20x, 200x, 1000x) and the hospitals don't have enough beds to treat the acute cases, then people will be dying unnecessarily. Is that the name of the game? Live life until you get sick and then cry that there aren't enough beds?

      I get it; you're in a bad place right now. The reality is no, people are not smart enough to make health-conscious decisions, otherwise they wouldn't be partying without masks, going to bars without masks, performing otherwise high-risk behaviors. Maybe you're smart enough, but by you being out, you're setting an example to others who aren't.

      That said, I'm not entirely familiar with Newsome's policies, though I do look at gambling as an extra-curricular non-essential activity similar to going to the movies. I haven't seen the inside of a poker room since February (ironically in LA / The Bike). Do I miss it? Yes. Is it essential to me? No. I modified my life. Do I miss it and other things I was doing pre-COVID? Of course!

      Going to a casino seems like a pretty high risk to me, no matter how clean they keep it. Gamblers, and particularly poker players, have notoriously poor hygiene. The very premise of the poker game is that you're in it to take money away from other players - direct competition. Why would one player care whether they have COVID or any other set of issues and spread it to you? I look at Tony and all his poor health and hygiene as a microcosm of the poker world; he's in it for him, COVID or no COVID. Couple that mindest with the environment of a casino: it's a place indoors. Re-circulated air. Many people. All the check boxes that are a high risk COVID environment.

      Look, you're lucky that you're in LA, a place where there's plenty to do year round, where you can be outside year round. Go figure out some activities BESIDES poker that are COVID safe, and stick to them! This whole COVID thing will be over magically (according to our president), but it will be over in around a year or so. Then you can get re-evaluate your old habits and get back to them.

  8. In reply to you and Arnejokin I can confirm that it’s definitely something in the beer (I’ll have words with anyone who implies I drink water!) as I’d rather have a roundabout than traffic lights. What does NASCAR teach if not being able to turn left!??

    I remember driving in Florida a few years ago (Bradenton / Sarasota maybe) and one area was plagued with traffic due to no-one being able to handle driving round the one roundabout within 50 miles!

    Even more years ago I used to drive round this beauty on a daily basis which is 6 roundabouts forming one mega roundabout - now that would cause utter chaos in the US!

    Glad you’ve got back to poker - I’m wondering if I’ll ever see the bright lights of Vegas again

    1. All I can say, AyeCarambaPoker is "Aye, Caramba" (regarding your love of roundabouts. Maybe it's something you Brits are born with. Maybe it's because you drive on the wrong side of the road? What can I say?

      And....I really pay zero attention to NASCAE but my understanding is that they are supposed to drive in circles as fast as possible. That bears no relation to how regular people drive when they are trying to get to Walmart, or a poker room.

      Thanks for the comment, and we'll just have to see what the future brings as far as a future trip to Vegas.

  9. Clever, clever: "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)."

  10. This is something that Me and about 4 other friend start trying about 3 month ago.
    We ask all our friend that had met face to face in life before that if they knew anyone that had this disease.
    Till now we did not know any real person that had it. Some was call in but after testing it was other condition.
    My area has only about 1.4 mil population, but was told we have about 500 new case everyday. Surely someone we knew would had got it. None.
    Worst one of my friend was told he had it, but the version he had was not active, and would not be spread and cannot be detected if inactive. WTF??