Friday, March 20, 2015

A Short Day In The Life - Foxwoods Poker Classic

It would be an huge understatement to say that I like playing poker. I like playing at home with relatives; I like playing online even if that means playing with fake money because I live in New York; I like playing in casinos and card rooms anytime I can get there. I am not a professional poker player nor have I ever pretended to be one - playing poker for a living is, well, a grind and from the little I know about it, takes a lot more time than most people have to play poker and have a life (translate "relationships") too. Some can do it, a very select few; most cannot. I cannot.

But I like playing enough to take a personal day from work once in a great while and travel the two hours + it takes for me to get from my home in NY to Foxwoods. This is what I did the other day.

 First of all I want to say what needs to be said about Foxwoods. As far as poker in concerned, Foxwoods deserves a medal.  From its beginning in the late 80s as a bingo hall, a huge one at that, to its metamorphosis in the early 90s to a full-fledged casino, Foxwoods has always embraced poker. Their poker room, although it has moved around the casino floor a few times in the past 20 or so years, has always been inviting, well-staffed, well-organized, and full! During the heyday of online poker in the USA when it was considered "legal" to play, right through the lousy days following Black Friday, the Foxwoods Poker Room has endured. While Atlantic City, and its premier poker venue, the Taj Majal, slowly but inevitably waned and its neighbor the Mohegan Sun had a room then didn't have a room and then had one again, Foxwoods has remained consistent, viable, and inviting.

Foxwoods has relationships with the WPT, WSOP and the CardPlayer poker tours. They also run their own tournament events multiple times per year. When there are no major events going on they offer daily and weekend events with buy-ins well inside the wheel house of ordinary recreational players. Unlike other venues that have all but abandoned the limit game, Foxwoods still offers a table or two of $2-$4 and $4-$8 games that attract newcomers to the game as well as a host of senior citizens who enjoy the social aspect of the game and prefer watching their pension incomes go up or down only a little bit at a time. Everyone can find a place and a game to play at Foxwoods.

So, back to the other day and the Foxwoods Poker Classic. Just like in other years, Foxwoods puts on their "Classic" in March and although it never has attracted WSOP type numbers, it is very well attended by recreational players and pros alike. This year, piggy-backing on the recent mini-surge in poker popularity, they went out on a big, shaky limb and offered a $500,000 guarantee total prize money at their kick-off event - a three-day qualifier into a final day with all final day attendees already in the money! Sound enticing? It was enticing enough to get me motivated and more than 1900 other players.

 The event itself was, of course, a no-limit hold 'em event with a $600 buy-in, steep but not WSOP steep. The split was $530 in prize money and $70 for the casino's various expenses including dealer gratuities. They needed in the neighborhood of 1000 players to sign up or re-buy to make the guarantee.

Strategically I reasoned and plotted that fewer players would attend Day 1C, which was on a Monday, than would sign up for Day 1A or 1B which were on a Saturday and a Sunday respectively. I'm guessing that a lot of other players reasoned as I did because 540 players paid admission on Saturday, 535 on Sunday and over 800 on Monday. The guarantee was busted by the end of the day on Sunday and Monday was all gravy.

Many players bought in again after busting out. One guy at my table was in for the fourth time having been able to re-enter on his first day and then playing each of the other days. Foxwoods banned players who qualified on one day from trying to better their chip count on another day and taking the larger of their two finishes. If you qualified for the final day and then re-entered you forfeited your previous stack, eliminating the "best stack forward" option favored by many pros. This is a good rule, a rule that takes the recreational player into consideration. I am usually not crazy about re-buy tournaments but the fervor of these players re-entering certainly helped double the guarantee.

Each day 12% of the field qualified for the finals, something like 65 the first and second day and 101 the third day for a total of 231 finalists all guaranteed a payday of close to double their buy-in. But if you like numbers games it's easy to see that on days one and two you had to beat 88% of the field or about 475 players but on day three the 88% of the field amounted to over 700 players! Worse odds for sure.

The long and the very short of it is that my involvement last all of 3 3/4 levels. I was out, all 20,000 chips out, before the first break. That's not very good, in fact that's terrible but I have no one to blame but myself. Cards were lousy but that's no excuse. Flopping a set and then being beaten by a higher set is no excuse either. Reading an opponent dead-wrong, which I did on my last hand of play, is no excuse either. Getting all in much too early in a tournament that would ultimately last 5 days will get a player everytime. It got me.

So, it's back to the drawing board with the hopes that next time around I play better keeping in mind the lessons learned from my experiences here.

John Quirk in the end was the big winner. He took home $124,376. Only $530 of that was my money! The 2nd and 3rd place finished ended up with $100 grand each based on a deal that the final three made to divide the winnings. Who says poker players aren't cooperative?

Winning is easy to deal with but only a select few can be winners and no one can be a winner all the time. Losing is a lot harder to deal with but being honest about your play, doing something to get better, and getting back on the horse when the time is right can lessen the impact of busting out of a tournament early or just before the money. I'm thankful I'll be around to play another day and, in all likelihood, that day will be at Foxwoods.

Good luck!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Craps at the Venetian – Sunday Morning Blues

I don’t shoot craps at the Venetian, never have. It’s the kind of craps atmosphere that draws guys in suits and ladies in low cut evening dresses and, frankly, it’s missing that tinge of sleaze which I find comforting at a craps table. Besides, on a busy evening you can’t find more than one $10 minimum layout on the floor and I generally choose to lose my money half as fast.

Yet, when I walk through the casino on my way to the Grand Lux CafĂ©, a Cheesecake Factory restaurant inside the casino with better than average food, I often glance over at the craps tables to see what’s going on. That was the deal one Sunday morning when I noticed a lot of people hanging out around a table and only one guy throwing dice.

I was with my wife, my constant Las Vegas companion, and we knowingly nodded at each other as we sauntered over to satisfy our curiosity.

There was a young man (mid-thirties, no older) standing at the end of the table to the left of the stick man. He had a plastic rack in front of him resting on the rail with what looked like a sleeve and a half of strangely colored chips that didn’t seem to fit in the rack. We watched him methodically place one chip on the “Don’t Pass” line and roll the dice. 

 “Seven,” the stick man called and the dealer raked in the guy’s chip.

We watched him do that 3 or 4 times, each time losing to either a seven, an eleven, or a number that he quickly duplicated on the subsequent roll. He was hot as hell and he was losing his drawers. Since I didn’t recognize the denominations of these over sized, pale colored chips, I looked over at a guy standing next to me and merely raised my eyebrows.

“$10,000,” he whispered.

In the few minutes we had been there, this guy  lost $50,000 and never thought to change his strategy. And he never did. He never bet more than 1 chip at a time and he rarely won – we saw him collect 2 or 3 times at most.

In the next 20 minutes he proceeded to calmly go through his entire rack of chips – probably in the neighborhood of $250,000 ( a pretty nice house in those days!). He never changed his strategy; never once made a “right” bet; never flinched as they hauled in his chips!

So, was he a gambling addict out here on a Sunday morning before the wife and kids woke up betting the mortgage money in an attempt to hit it big? Was he an LA drug dealer in town for the weekend trying the best way he knew how to launder his ill-gotten gains? Maybe he was a dotcom whiz kid playing with his newly minted fortune like the chips were so many pieces of plastic? We never found out; we never even inquired probably because Las Vegas is so full of unbelievably sad stories associated with gambling that we didn’t want to hear another.

Next time you go, risk a ride into town in a taxi and ask the driver a few of the questions that every tourist is dying to know. Where are you from? How long have you been here? How do you like it? Chances are he/she didn’t come to Sin City to drive a hack. Chances are their story of woe is just another cautionary tale and no better or worse than the next cabby’s, or the next waiter’s, or the next lady of the evening’s.

Gambling is fun but it’s dangerous. It’s not dangerous to everyone but it is lethal to some. Maybe our Sunday morning Venetian guy was just having some fun; maybe some day we’ll be riding in his cab!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The New York Gaming Facility Location Board Report

The NY Gaming Facility Location Board, in the interest of transparency and in response to pressure from the unhappy people who were left out of the final selections, released it's entire December 2014 report to the public last week. The volume of information and the number of pages in the report are enough to put most skeptics off but if you are up to wading through its 785 pages or if you need a good sleep aide for the next month or two, here's the link!

Honestly I can only admit to having perused a few sections, especially those that have to do with the Orange County proposals. These were the proposals that would have put a casino within a stone's throw of New York City - by far the most lucrative proposals in terms of generating revenue and taxes. Unfortunately, in the Board's reasoning, these proposals met with too much local dissatisfaction and presented insurmountable traffic issues. If I were being cynical I'd say, "DUH!!!" since a lot of traffic = a lot of people = a lot of money = a lot of taxes, but now I know the powers that be in New York are not looking in the direction of a  successful, viable enterprise.

The Board did open up the process for more proposals in the Southern Tier region, a region which only received three lukewarm proposals in the first go around. Placing a casino closer to Binghamtom will do little more than encourage a slew of college students to "invest" their government checks in a effort to double up before they pay their tuition. Without a huge IBM presence, as there was many years ago, the area will remain depressed, casino or no casino.

When the new Montreign Resort Casino opens in Sullivan County (read Catskills!) sometime in 2016 if we are lucky, I will take a ride there some sunny summer day to check the place out.

My wife and I will throw a few bucks around the craps tables and the blackjack tables, I'll play some poker if they are smart enough to have a poker room, and we'll have something to eat before we leave. I predict that we will not return there (since it is a 3+ hour drive!) regularly. I doubt that we will even visit the others.