Sunday, November 1, 2020

Back to the Bike....Sort of

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw that I retweeted announcements from The Bike and Commerce (and other L.A. area-rooms) that they were re-opening at long last—for outdoor gaming.  The state of CA still won't allow indoor casinos open, but they are ok with gambling if you want to play outside.  But it took awhile, because in addition to the Governor, there was another group of dictators standing in the way.  The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  So while in San Diego and parts of northern California, outdoor casinos were approved, L.A. said no to even outdoor gaming.

This all changed on October 5 when the Supervisors deigned to allow the local casinos to reopen as long as the games were outside.  That's when the Bike and Commerce reopened their poker "rooms" and their other games of chance.  In California still, only Indian casinos (as I explained here) can deal games inside a building.

Outdoor poker, on its face, sounds rather ridiculous to me.  I mean, there's such a thing as weather.  My first thought was, "What if it's windy?"  Here comes the flop…..and there goes the flop!  Gone with the wind.  And even though there is no better place weather wise to try to play outdoors than Southern California, we do get occasional rain, extreme heat, extreme cold, in addition to the wind.  OK, the extreme cold part may be a stretch, but when you have lived in Southern CA most of your life, you think anything under 70 degrees is extreme cold.

But I had to check it out.  It was still hot when the rooms opened, as we are known for hot early autumns.  I figured if I was going to check it out, I'd best get down there before the weather changed.

So the first Saturday I could (Oct. 10), I planned on seeing what it was all about and if nothing else, get a blog post out of it.  If you are wondering about my little Ventura room, well Ventura is in a different county and they were not opening.  I subsequently saw on their website they planned to re-open on a limited basis beginning Oct. 13.  But later I learned that they only opened for table games, and are not currently spreading poker.  Also, believe it or not, the other L.A. county "poker rooms" that opened, Hollywood Park Casino, Hawaiian Gardens, etc, only opened for table games.  I believe this has to do with the insane rules the state and the county put in place for offering games even outdoors.

Anyway, lucky for me, the Bike uses PokerAtlas's Table Captain software instead of Bravo (As you know, I work for PokerAtlas).  Not only could I see how busy the newly re-opened Bike was (answer: very) but I could add my name to the waiting list for the game(s) I wanted long before I arrived at the Bike.  I mean through the software, through the PokerAtlas app.  I had noticed that the lists for the 2/3 game I played had been ridiculously long since opening.  Of course one of the reasons is that they could not have nearly as many games outside as they could in the casino, where they have close to 200 poker tables.  What was weird, though, was that they had five 2/3 games running and there were still like 40-60 plus names waiting. 

That was strange because back when I was a playing at the Bike fairly regularly on Saturday afternoons, there were never more than three 2/3 games running and never more than 10 players waiting to get in.  My only guess was that they were running fewer bigger games or mixed games, and therefore the players who would normally be playing bigger or mixed games were stuck playing down to 2/3.  Or that there was just such a pent up demand for live poker that everyone was coming out of the woodwork to play.

I checked with a PokerAtlas colleague about how getting on the waitlist from the app worked. The ability to add your name to a list from the app is only an option, some rooms use the software and don't allow players to do that.  Turns out Bike only allows it for the "Plaza Games"—which are the so-called bigger games.  The 2/3 I play is the smallest game they consider a Plaza game so I could add my name to the list long before I got there.

Before I left my house Saturday morning, I checked Google Maps and got a break when it told me it would only take 39 minutes to get there.  That meant that there was clear traffic, no real delays.  I guess that is one of the pluses of the state being in lockdown.  On the average October Saturday, in order to get to the Bike I would frequently run into traffic from a UCLA or USC home football game (or both), and/or a Dodgers playoff/World Series game.  Nothing like that on this Saturday.  And still, no one was driving to a restaurant to eat!

So before pulling out of my garage, I registered for the 2/3 game.  There were five games running (this was before noon) and I was around 46th on the list!  Yikes.  Pretty sure I could get there before hitting the top of the list.  Only issue was that they would only keep me on that list for one-hour. If I didn't show up within an hour, I'd be taken off the list and have to start fresh at the bottom when I arrived.  I knew if that happened, I'd never get into a game this day.

The app has a neat timer that appears right on your phone so you can see how much time you have to report in before you will be zapped from the wait list.  Traffic was a bit worse than Google anticipated, so by the time I hit the Bike parking lot I only had 7 minutes to report in to stay on the list.  By now I had moved up only to #34 on the list.  Ugh.  OTOH…..there were now over 70 names total on that list.

My guess had been that the outdoor gaming would be in the parking lot.  But that was incorrect. I didn't see any poker tables in the lot.  I did see a few temporary signs with arrows pointing to the "casino."  It turned out that I had parked a long ways away from the actual tables.  I didn't have time to repark, I needed to get to the casino post haste to check in (or so I thought).  So I walked with great alacrity to try to find the casino.

Whew.  It was a long walk.  Turned out that the gaming area was in the very front of the casino/hotel (the parking lot is in the back), basically where the valet parking / front entrance to the hotel is.  By the time I got to the casino area, I had walked so far and so fast I was sweating profusely.  This, despite the fact that the weather had changed.  This was the first cool day in L.A. in many months.  It was actually pleasant, not hot.  Cool, but not cold.  It was actually perfect weather for being outside. 

But at the pace I was walking to get there "in time," I was soaked with sweat from that walk.  Wearing the mask that is of course required didn't help. Nothing worse than a sweaty mask.

I had to get thru the temperature check and get a wrist band that would allow me to travel thru the various gaming areas.  Then I tried to find someone to check in with.  But I looked at the app again—I was only at #34 on the waitlist—and it had a button to press to check in.  So I could check in on the phone. I didn't know that.  I didn't have to rush.  I hit the button and explored the layout.

Where the poker area was looked to be at the very front, where the valet driveway would have been.  The cement was covered with some kind of astroturf.  There was some kind of temporary covering overhead, not a tent, but something a bit more solid I guess.  There was an electronic waitlist board.  And poker tables.

One of the rules was that there was no eating or drinking at the table.  There were a few dining tables up against the building, but how you got served I never learned.  There was also a coffee place near there, but they had no soft drinks and no real food (maybe some pastries?).  Eventually I asked if they even had bottled water but they did not, but they did give me a cup of ice water.

There were some banquet chairs in a couple of spots outside of the poker tables for waiting.  There were also a few tables a bit away that you could eat or drink at if you somehow had something to eat.  I eventually sat over there so I could pull my sweaty mask down and drink the water but that area allowed smoking so that was annoying.

I asked where the restrooms were and got a real shock.  They pointed over there….outside.  The only available restrooms were porta-potties!  In L.A., they are referred to as "Andy Gumps."  Ugh.  Seriously?  The hotel is open, there are nice restrooms inside and we have to use damn porta-potties?

Well, I had no choice.  Gulp. Well, ok, it wasn't my worst nightmare but come on, who wants to use one of those things?  There was no running water either.  There were some kind of portable hand-washing stations outside the potties.  The was a sign on them that said "Please don't drink this water."  Hmm….I mean if the water is unsafe to drink, what is it doing to my hands?  And remember, in the Covid age, hand washing is most important.  There was also of course a lot of hand sanitizer available.

It occurred to me that the diseases one could contract from one of those porta-potties are likely much more deadly than Covid. Yikes.

What I found out about this was that the first day they opened, they were allowing guests to go instead the hotel to use the facilities inside.  But the state (or maybe it was the county) told them no, they couldn't do that.  They were ordered to get the porta-potties. No one was allowed to use the inside facilities. So the government thinks it's fine if you get sick from dysentery as long as you don't get Covid.  Makes sense.

Anyway, hanging out outside with only a cup of ice water was pretty unpleasant.  I decide I would wait no more than 90-minutes, and if at that time, I wasn't real close to the top of the list I would just give up and call it a day.  I mean if I wanted to sit down, it was either in the poker area with my sweaty mask on or in the smoking area with smokers.  I figured 90-minutes was all I could take.  And I reasoned that I didn't want to stay long enough to have to use those Andy Gumps more than one more time.  Ugh.

So after about an hour, while I was sipping on my ice water with my mask pulled down in the smoking area, I checked the list on my phone and I was now #30.  I was pretty much writing off getting to play.  I figured I would stay with my original plan and go to 1-1/2 hours.  Maybe the list would start moving faster?  By the way, at one point when I was walking around I saw a sign saying they were not currently taking names for the waiting list, there was no available space on them!  This was for every poker game, not just my game!  Think about what kind of business the Bike could have been doing if only they were allowed to use that beautiful, newly remodeled casino they just spent millions sprucing up only a few years ago.

But a few seconds after I put my phone back in its holster, I heard a beep and looked at my phone again.  It was a text from PokerAtlas telling me my seat was ready!  I wasn't about to ask why it still showed me #30 on the waiting list.  I rushed my ass over there and tried to find a floor person to tell I was being paged to a game.

I found a guy and told him about the message.  I was prepared to pull out my phone and show him the text but he didn't question me at all.  He just asked me what game it was and took me over to the area where the 2/3 games were running.  It looked like they were about to find another player for an open seat they had when the guy I was talking to said I had gotten a text and the seat was mine.  As it turned out, this was all on the honor system!  I never proved that I had gotten the text and they never went over to their list or the board to clear my name.  They never asked my name!    But they let me have the seat.  If only I had known it was that easy, I could have cut in way ahead of everyone!  But I did nothing wrong.

I ran this by my boss a few days later and got her best guess as to what happened.  Either the folks at the Bike screwed up and paged me in error, or maybe since, as I witnessed, they weren't clearing names, I really was next up, and the list just wasn't being kept up.  Because for the entire time I was playing at the table, I kept checking and saw my name still on the list, slowing moving up, and after another hour and a quarter I finally heard them call my name for a seat!  So I dunno what happened but if I had waited to be actually called, I would have left before that and never played.

I waited for them to sanitize my seating area, which they promptly did whenever there was a new player or a seat change or a table change.  As I mentioned, you were not allowed to eat or drink at the table, so that for me, is a bit tough (I tend to have a dry mouth that I need to keep lubricated). But at least it had been so long that I had stopped sweating.  But the mask does also tend to make my face itch, so I had to leave the table periodically so I could step outside and pull down my mask (after using some hand sanitizer) to scratch my nose or mouth.  Fortunately my seat was near the area completely unprotected by a temporary ceiling so I could step "outside" and pull down the mask within a few seconds.

The table was 8-handed and there were plexiglass dividers.  There were no electronics connected, so it was manual shuffle and—there was no way to clock in for comps!  The Table Capt system is great for keeping track of player comps but it does require electricity.  It didn't bother me for this one time but if I was going to make a regular habit of this (I'm not), it would be a pisser.

Once I started playing, I was immediately reminded of why I stopped going down to the Bike.  The players drove me nuts.  Not by the way they played, but by the fact that they didn't play. They walked around.  A lot.  The guy next to me got up almost every third hand to go over to a blackjack table to check in on his friend.  Everybody was getting up every few hands to wander around, look for a better game or whatever.  Even I got up more than I usually would to go "outside" to scratch under my mask. Despite the huge waiting lists, seldom were all eight hands actually dealt.  I was instantly reminded of how annoying I always found that about the Bike.

But when they did play, it wasn't the same old loose-aggressive players that I remembered.  The action was fairly tame.  Surprisingly so. I saw almost no crazy moves the entire time I was playing.  It was strange.  I had gone in thinking that players used to bigger games were playing down to 2/3, but this did not appear to be the case at all.  Maybe it was just my table, or maybe people who haven't been playing lately just wanted to ease into it.

I bought in for the $300 max. Early on I was in the big blind with Queen-7 off. There was no raise so four of us saw a Queen-Queen-Jack flop.  I bet $10 and didn't get a call.

Then of course, of course, I got the dreaded pocket Kings.  I opened to $15 and only got one call, the lone female at the table.  The fact that I only got one call shows you that this was not a typical Bike game. The flop was Jack-8-x and I bet $25; she called.  Another Jack on the flop.  Hmm….I figured she probably had a Jack.  I checked, she bet $50.  Oh well, I figured there was no way I could get felted with pocket Kings if I didn't call, so I called.  The river was a blank, I checked but so did she.  I showed my hand and she just mucked.  Winning with pocket Kings!  If that is the new normal, I'm on board.

I got pocket Aces and opened to $15.  No one called.  Again, proof that this isn't the old Bike!  I won a whopping $4 because they take a buck for the jackpot drop.

I got King-Queen of diamonds utg+1.  I opened to $15 and got one call.  The flop was Jack-high, two diamonds, I bet $20, he made it $55.  I called.  The turn was a King and I checked, he checked back.  There was a Queen on the river, I bet $50 but didn't get a call.

I had pocket deuces on the button and called $10.  This time it was five-way.  The flop was Jack-high and it checked around.  The turn was a blank and it checked around again.  The river was another blank.  This time, the guy first to act put out $17 and it folded to me.  I figured if the guy had a Jack he would have bet the flop.  So I smelled a bluff, though of course if he paired anything on the board or had a low pocket pair he had me beat.  I shrugged and called.  He just mucked without showing.  I guess I still have a little card sense.

Futzing with that damn mask was really getting to me.  Why do we need a mask if we are outside again?  I had played enough, and was up a nice $140, so I decided to call it a day.

It was nice playing poker again.  Am I going to go back to play at the Bike in this outdoor set up?  Not very likely.  Not as long as the only restrooms are those damn porta-potties.  No thanks.  It's too bad, because otherwise it's not bad (assuming nice weather).

Sadly, the young lady above was not at the Bike on this day.  This a pic of a woman who won a tournament at the South Point (in Vegas) recently.  This was posted on their Twitter account.  I dunno who the young lady is, but it would be great if I ran into her at the Bike one day, wouldn't you agree?  She sure knows how to dress for poker. By that I mean, notice how she is wearing her mask.