Sunday, June 27, 2021

F*ck Me Sideways

This is the second part of my recent visit to The Bike.  Be sure to catch part 1 here.

The main thing I want to tell you is that the game was really, really fun.  As different as night and day from my last game at the Bike.  Now I know some of this is just luck of the draw, and it might not be entirely due to the lack of masks and the lack of the plexiglass (and also that one or two players were drinking beer).  Maybe I just got a really bad table last time and a really good one this time. But I feel certain that the lack of masks and plexi had a lot to do with it.  Everyone was laughing and talking and having a good time (no more than two players wore masks at my table the entire time I was there).

I was having a good time too.  And then the table got really, really good.  Sadly, I don’t mean that in the sense that the game was great poker wise, or that I was able to win a shitload of money.  I’ll get to my poker hands later.  I mean the table became a total blast.  Because of one bloke who joined it.

Let’s just call this fellow “Hugh” because his real name is not Hugh.  I first noticed him when he was at a nearby table.  It was hard not to notice him.  He was loud and he was ridiculously talkative.  I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, I was just hearing him talk a lot, it seemed like he never shut up.  And he had a rather annoying voice.  It was high and squeaky, and it seemed strained.  He sounded like maybe he’d had throat surgery or perhaps had damaged vocal cords.  From a distance, it was kind of painful to hear.

So when I saw that he was table-changing to our game, and in fact was going to sit on the seat to my immediate right (that I had just vacated so I could see the cards better), I was not happy.  Hearing this guy talk with that strained voice up close and personal, right next to me?  I figured my fun was over.

I was wrong.  This guy had me laughing almost non-stop the entire time he was there.  Somehow, when he was right next to me, his voice was a lot less annoying.  And when I could hear what he was actually saying, it turned out that he was funny as hell.  The guy had an English accent and said he was from London.  Never did figure out if he was visiting from there or he was now living in Southern California.  One thing for sure I can tell you, he was losing money hand over fist.

I guess you could call Hugh a human ATM.  I can’t count how many times he got felted and bought more chips.  At various times, while he was complaining about his luck and his results this day (almost always in an entertaining manner), he claimed to be down $900, $1,200, $1,300, $1,000.  The figure he said increased and decreased even though he was steadily losing.  He used his losses as an excuse for some wild play. When faced with a tough call, he would say, “Well, I’m already out $800 today….I call.”  This would be a situation where it was obvious he didn’t have a chance to win the pot.

One of the first pots he played when he arrived, he had raised, there was a three-bet all-in, and he was covered.  So he had to risk all his chips to call (it was around $200 I think).  He agonized for a long time, kept talking about how much he was losing, and finally called.  I don’t think they showed until the board was filled, and the other guy had pocket Aces.  Hugh showed his pocket 9’s in disgust.  It was pretty easy to figure out why poor Hugh was losing!

He was telling us, however, how much better our table was than the one he had just left. “The biggest pot over there was $23.  I’d win a pot and it’d be $15.”  He repeated this several times.

A few hands after the pocket 9’s, (and after he bought more chips) a virtually identical situation happened.  Hugh called all-in preflop and this time he lost to pocket Kings.  What did he have?  Pocket 9’s again!  He said, “Damn 9’s again. I had to call.”  Then he whined about getting pocket 9’s.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that about 10 minutes before he showed up, I had pocket 9’s and flopped quads (I’ll get back to that).

He was muttering about those damn 9’s all through the next deal. I think this hand he folded preflop, and of course there was a 9 on the flop.  He bitched mightily about that.  “There’s the 9, there it is.  Where was it last hand?”  And for a while, almost every flop thereafter had a 9 on it! Everyone in a pot against him would comment on the 9 and joke that he finally had his set of 9’s.  As far as I could tell, he never was dealt another 9 the rest of the day, but it was sure a fun running gag.  Especially later when there were two 9’s on the board.  And when he folded to a bet (yes, he did sometimes fold) he said, “There, I’m folding my quad 9’s.”

As I said, at first he was mostly bitching about how much money he was losing.  But then he started telling us that he had been divorced three times.  So when he got annoyed at something or someone (can’t remember what), he said, “That’s just like my ex-wife.”  I asked, “Which one?”  He said, “All of them.”

Then he faced a big bet on the river on a board that had four spades.  He claimed to have two pair and didn’t know whether to call or not.  I’m pretty sure everyone at the table knew the guy who was all-in had a spade.  Hugh probably did too but he just couldn’t get away from his two pair.  He tanked, but he was hardly quiet.  “He’s got a spade, doesn’t he have a spade? Do you have a spade?  Just tell me if you have a spade.  I’ve got two pair.”  Then, he actually flipped over his hand.  He did indeed have two pair.  But no spade. At this point, the dealer called the floor, I’m not sure why.  The floor came over immediately but did not warn him not to show his hand, since it was heads up and the other guy was all in, there was really no problem with him exposing his hand.  He did warn the guy…..he said he would have to start the clock if he didn’t make a decision soon.  But it was all in good fun and the floorperson left before Hugh acted.

Hugh kept talking and I don’t think anyone really minded that he was holding up the game, we were enjoying his act.  Finally he said, “I’m out $1,200, I’m divorced three times…...F*ck me sideways.” A few seconds later he repeated the exact same thing (although he might have changed the amount he was out—but he never changed the number of times he was divorced) And after a few more seconds, he said, “I call.”  Of course the other guy had a spade.

Now, however much he had lost, he was starting to run out of money.  He telephoned a friend and tried to get him to give him some cash.  His only solution was if he could find someone who had Venmo, who would give him $500 if his buddy sent $500 to that someone’s Venmo account.  No one was willing to do that, understandably.  Somehow though, Hugh lasted at the table past the time I left, so I dunno what happened or how he kept playing.

Now with all this crazy action, with Hugh being a human ATM machine, you must be thinking I cleaned up at this game.  Sadly, that is not the case.  By the time Hugh got to the table, I was mostly card dead, and whenever I did get cards worth playing, he was either away from the table or had folded preflop (it did happen)  The whole time I never got into a hand with him.  And as should be obvious by now, there was no way to bluff this guy.  To get money out of him, you actually had to have a value hand of some kind.  And the other players at the table, when they played against him, were pretty solid and always showed up with a hand.  It was quite frustrating, but at least I was laughing the whole time.

In fact, there were only two hands I played that are worth talking about.  And both happened before Hugh showed up. I had been playing some hands without much success, but I was actually getting some cards to play.  I was down to about $250 from my $300 buy-in (remember, the game is 2/3).  Under the gun, with Ace-Jack of clubs, I open to $15.  I only had one caller.  The flop was just awesome, 8-6-5, all clubs.  Yahtzee!  Of course I did think about the straight flush possibility, but that’s worrying about monsters under the bed, right?

I checked.  Fortunately (or so I thought), the other guy bet.  But he bet big.  You would think a reasonable bet there would be $20-$25, right?  But he overbet the pot and put out $75 or $80.  I didn’t bother asking for a count.  He had over $400 so I was covered.  Just seeing the stack he bet, I realized that I couldn’t really raise there without shoving.  I mean any raise I could make would have me committed, and besides, I wanted to get it all in.  So of course I did indeed shove.

He snap called.  I asked, “You have a straight flush?”  No.  He said, “I have a set.”  We didn’t show but I believed him.  And groaned when the turn was another 8.  I don’t remember the river but it didn’t matter, I was drawing dead. I re-bought another $300.  He had flopped a set of 6’s and on the turn had the full house.

Any other way I could have played that?  I mean, I guess I could have just called, but then, even after the board pairs on the turn, am I really going to fold the nut flush? 

A little while later I was dealt pocket 9’s and called $20.  It was three-way.  Talk about good flops.  How does Jack-9-9 sound?  The preflop raiser bet $30 and of course I just called.  The last guy went all in—but it was for only $24. The turn was a 10.  Unfortunately he checked.  I checked behind.  In hindsight, I should have bet. If he was on a draw, he’d call something, but if he missed on the river he wouldn’t.  As I’ve often said, you don’t get a lot of practice playing monsters.

The river was another Jack.  Well now, my first thought was, oh if only he had pocket Jacks!  That would mean the Bad Beat Jackpot, with me having the losing hand.  That would be one pot I’d love to lose.  I dunno what the amount of the jackpot was, but it’s typically between $10K and $40K, something like that.  Of course, my opponent had not played the hand like he had pocket Jacks and had flopped a boat. He checked. I put out a bet of $75. He tanked for a long, long time.  Finally he said, “Well, if you’re bluffing……” He was really agonizing about calling, but he finally just folded.  Damn.  I decided to show my hand because how can you not show quads when you get them?  He was startled.  He said he folded a straight.  Then he said something odd. He said he would have called if he had a Jack.  No kidding!  The second nuts?  Of course he’d call.  But that damn paired Jack killed my action.  With only one pair on the board, no way is he folding a straight.  Two pair made it a lot easier.

What about the all-in guy?  Well, he mucked his cards as soon as the other guy folded so he didn’t have pocket Jacks either.  We talked about the possibility of the BBJ for a few minutes, I won a fairly small pot, and that was that.

And as I said, I didn’t get much to play after that; won a few small pots.  I left down $320.  But it was nice to have fun playing poker again.  Can I say the entire difference in the fun quotient of this game was due to the lack of masks and plexiglass (and the fact that I was dying of thirst the entire time)?  Certainly not. But it didn’t hurt.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

No Plexiglass, No Masks, Better Poker

Long time, no blog! So this will be the first of two-parts, just like in the good ol’ days.

In my previous post, here, I reported on two sessions at the Bike.  I visited there again in late May and had a totally miserable time.  I decided I would not return to the Bike until California completely opened up, which was scheduled for June15.  Lockdown poker was not for me.

In May, there was still plexiglass at all the tables, everyone was required to wear a mask and you could not have a drink (any kind of drink, even water) at the table.  I described my issues with that in that post linked above.  What I didn’t describe is how much I hate the drive to and from the Bike (one of the main reasons I started playing in Ventura).  That particular day I used Google Maps to help me navigate the journey to and from them, but despite the help, it was still a horrific drive.  I can’t get to the Bike without driving thru the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and even on a Saturday afternoon, it is miserable.  Forget about trying it during any kind of rush hour.  And to make it even worse, Google Maps had me exit the freeway and take surface streets for part of the drive and took me straight into a traffic circle.  Is there a setting for Google Maps where I can tell it to avoid traffic circles? You can refresh your memory as to how much I hate traffic circles here.

The game that day was awful.  Not only was I totally card dead but the table was dead too.  As noted, between the plexiglass and the masks, there was absolute no chatter at the table.  I was sitting in virtually total silence the entire afternoon—and also I desperately needed a drink of water.  I mean, the NBA playoffs had just started and the games were on in the room.  You would think that would stimulate some conversation among the players, but no, no one said a word. Funerals are more fun than this. Sure I like to win, but what first got me into poker was that it was a social game and there was a lot of friendly banter (which in a perfect world, would lead to great blogging material.)

After a terrible drive home (where Google Maps gave me some misinformation about what lane to be in), I vowed I would not return to the Bike until the lockdown was over—if then. It just wasn’t worth it going thru that hellish traffic to only be more miserable at the table.

Of course, in general, the poker games were more fun in Ventura than the Bike (and more fun in Vegas than at either).  But thinking back, I did have some great, fun posts from Bike sessions, so it is at least possible. I mean, if there were no masks and no plexiglass and I wasn’t suffering from a painfully dry mouth, that is.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t go to Ventura, well, sadly, it has not reopened and is unlikely to do so any time soon, if ever.  The lockdown was devastating to them (and tons of other small businesses, for sure) and they filed for bankruptcy (see here). Perhaps they will find a new location and re-open sometime in the future, but I am not holding my breath.  So for now, it’s The Bike. 

But the state did indeed open up on June 15.  Well, mostly.  There are still some restrictions (for example, you can’t ride Uber without a mask, or visit a medical facility without one).  The state rule is that no one who has been fully vaccinated is required by the state to wear a mask, inside or out. Businesses can request proof of vaccination but are allowed to go with the honor system.  No place I’ve entered since 6/15 asked me if I had been vaccinated (and I entered every place I did without a mask, it was glorious!)  Of course any business or government facility can have stricter rules if it desires.  But for all intensive purposes, we are open and free! (Note: I am a professional writer, and I know that the proper expression is, “for all intents and purposes.”  But my purposes are actually fairly intensive.)

On the 15th, most of the southern California rooms tweeted out that masks were no longer necessary for those who had been vaccinated.  Some tweeted out pics of the plexiglass being removed.  Only a few rooms voluntarily talked about drinking at the table, but it seemed logical that it would be ok and some answered my question about it when I asked (the rooms that answered confirmed drinking was allowed at the table.) The Bike was one of the rooms that didn’t answer my inquiry (don’t they know who I am?) but I assumed it would be ok. Just the same, for my first visit, I smuggled in a couple of small water bottles. We were having an early season heat wave and there I was carrying a heavy jacket so I could hide the bottles in the pockets.

So this past Saturday, I made the trek down to the Bike.  I still had to “check in.” They won’t let you enter the casino without a player’s card (even though once inside it is totally useless as they are not tracking hours for comps, no Southern CA room is.) They are still keeping track of who is there for contact tracing purposes in case an outbreak breaks out. I don’t believe they took my temperature but they did give me a paper orange wristband to show that I had been screened.  

As soon as I entered the place, I saw what I wanted to see. Well, no, I didn’t see a scantily clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.  But I did see little carts next to the poker tables with beverages on them. Yes! Also, blissfully, in the main poker room, I didn’t see one hint of plexiglass anywhere.  Sweet!  And masks? Well, every single employee wore a mask, but well over 75% of the players seemed to be unmasked.  That was great for a couple of reasons.  One, I might actually be able to hear what someone was saying.  It would make it easier for fun conversations to be had.  Also, well, I want to see as much of a person’s face as possible when they make a bet. I want to see if they have a poker face. The mask makes it too easy to cover that up. The very first place they should ban masks, after banks I suppose, is poker rooms.

It would be nice if the dealers were maskless, because they’re the ones who you have to hear in order to know what is going on with the game.  It’s a visual game but you sometimes need to hear the dealer answer a question of how much the bet is or who’s turn it is to act. But there is a different government bureaucracy in CA that controls health and safety standards for workplaces, and they dilly-dallied making a decision on whether or not employees could go maskless in workplaces.  They only decided the day before I went to the Bike that they didn’t have to wear masks either.  So businesses weren’t prepared and were still requiring masks for the time being.  Hopefully that will be gone by the next time I hit the Bike, but it could be that the Bike wants their employees to keep wearing masks.  We’ll see.

I had used the excellent Table Captain software from my employer, PokerAtlas, to register for the game I wanted while I was driving down there.  I checked in on the phone, saw there were a few names ahead of me on the list, and tried to figure out how the people with drinks had gotten them.  But I saw nobody serving or offering to serve drinks.  When I got to a table, I asked how to get a drink.  I was told that they were coming around every hour or so with a cart that had soft drinks on it.  But if I didn’t want to wait (I didn’t) I could go to the Bike Brewery (just off the casino floor) and get a drink from the take-out line.  Which I did.

It seemed like it took forever for me to get that $2 Diet Pepsi, but I made it back to my game without missing a blind.  And I was happy to have that drink, let me tell you.  I later realized that they had not yet hired back any servers or cocktail waitresses, that’s why it was self-serve.  All the time I was there, there was only one time that someone came by with a drink cart, but they never came close to my table  And I think they just had water.  Oh well, hopefully next time things will be closer to normal.

And with that I’ll stop and tell you more about the game and the poker next, probably at the end of this weekend.  Hint: The table was a lot of fun and I encountered an extremely colorful character! Stay tuned.