December 30, 2004

Trip Report: Canterbury Park Card Club

After about a year of playing online poker on a pretty regular basis, I made my way out to the Canterbury Park Card Club on Tuesday and played my first live poker (aside from a few friendly games at last year's SABR convention). The main difference between online poker and live poker is abundantly clear right off the bat. To play online, you have to be awake and have your computer on. To play live, you have to get up, shower, get dressed, drive out to the card room, park, go inside, sign up for a game, wait around for your name to be called, find the table, and buy chips.

The waiting-for-your-name-to-be-called part is by far the worst aspect of the entire experience. I showed up at around 11:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and the place was absolutely packed. They had all 34 tables up and running and, as I heard several dealers say to each other in frustration, everything was 10-handed. People were packed in like sardines and the waiting lists for each game were insanely long. I went up to the big board, said "Aaron G. for $2/$4 hold 'em," and then watched in horror as my name was written under a minimum of 100 other names. The list I was on was so long that I wasn't even in the first column of names. And there were similar lists for $3/$6 hold 'em, $4/$8 hold 'em, $8/$16 hold 'em, and $2/$4 stud, plus slightly shorter lists for other games.

So I waited ... and waited ... and waited. I had lunch (hot ham and cheese sandwich with chips, which was excellent), lurked over a few tables to watch some action, chatted with some of my fellow degenerates, and did all of that other fun stuff people do when they are killing what is a seemingly endless amount of time in place where the only real thing to do is not available to you. About three hours after I put my name on the waiting list, I finally heard my name called. I awoke from my boredom-induced coma, hustled up to the front of the room, and identified myself. I then heard the magic words: "Aaron G., you'll be at table one." Beautiful.

I took my seat two spots to the dealer's left and glanced around the table at my competition. The guy to my right was in his 60s, with a white beard and a bald head, and he had a buddy standing directly behind him chatting away the entire time. To my left was a kid who was somewhere between 18-22, and who I later learned was also heavy into Party Poker. To his left was an elderly married couple, who I eventually found out enjoyed spending their twilight years losing money at poker. The other five spots were filled by guys around my age, four of whom were wearing a baseball hat just like me.

I bought in for $100, which amazingly enough is represented by 100 light blue poker chips, rather than just "$100.00" next to your name like it is online. I had been practicing my chip shuffling technique, so I immediately began stacking and shuffling. Then I took a look around the table and saw that everyone under 60 was doing the exact same thing (and they were a lot better at it). One guy at the far end of the table (who looked like Erick Lindgren's younger brother) was shuffling stacks of 20, which is essentially the pinnacle of poker genius in my book.

I won the first three pots I played past the flop, building my bankroll quickly up to around $135. Then I took my first bad beat of the session, when my Ah Qd flopped a pair of aces, only to have the board fill with four spades. When the fourth one hit on the river, I figured I was dead, but I called the last $4 anyway in part just to see what my opponent had. Turns out he had Kc 9s, which means a few disturbing things. One, he called a pre-flop raise out of position with K9 offsuit. Two, he then called a post-flop bet with absolutely nothing, despite the fact that a) I raised pre-flop, and b) there was an ace on the board.

Of course, he looked like a genius when the turn and river came runner-runner spades. Although, I'm not sure why he would have stuck around to see if he could river a flush when all he had was the nine of spades. Had my ace or queen been a spade, he would have called a raise pre-flop with junk, called a bet post-flop with absolutely nothing, called a bet on the turn with nothing but four cards to a nine-high flush, and then bet at the river with his crappy flush. That one cost me a $35 pot, but it didn't even compare to my worst beat of the session.

Later on I raised from the button with Ks Jh and only the small blind called. The flop came K-x-x with two diamonds. He checked, I bet out, he called. The turn was a seven of spades. He checked again, I bet out again, and he called again. The river was a seven of clubs. He checked again, I bet out again, and this time he raised. I studied the board. The obvious stuff that had me beat was AA, AK, KQ, or a small pocket pair that flopped a set. Or, if he had K7 (which I couldn't put him on since he likely wouldn't have called the pre-flop raise and then likely would have raised once he hit his two-pair on the turn), I was facing a full house.

I had a lot of trouble putting him on any of those hands, so I just called. I flipped over my Ks Jh, expected to see him muck his hand, and instead saw him sheepishly turn over 72d. He saw that my head was about to explode and quickly said, grinning, "They were suited." Now, 72 offsuit is perhaps the single worst starting hand in hold 'em, and 72 suited is just slightly better (because of the flush possibilities, although a seven isn't exactly a strong high-card for a flush anyway).

As he was raking in my the big pot, he explained to me that he called the pre-flop raise with crap because he was short on money (don't ask what sort of logic that is, because I don't know) and then hung around after the flop because two diamonds showed up. He said he didn't like it when the first seven popped up on the turn, because he figured a pair of sevens was no good anyway (which was true), but he called again hoping to hit a diamond on the river. He did even better than that (since I could have been holding two diamonds too, for all he knew), as runner-runner sevens gave him three-of-a-kind.

I was going to take my bad beat in relative silence, but the whole table actually started laughing when he turned his cards over. It was the topic of conversation for the next 3-4 hands, which for me was like slipping on some ice, falling into a snow bank, and then having someone come up and rub your face in the snow while an audience pointed and laughed. I cashed out a little later down $19 (4.75 BB) for the session. My goal was simply to break even, so a $19 loss wasn't horrible. Plus, I thought I played very well and could have finished up $50 or so if not for those two tough hands.

Some notes on the experience ...

  • I'm not sure exactly how many hands I played, but it was a lot. I was at the table non-stop for over five hours and I didn't sit out a single hand. In that entire time, I got KK once, QQ once, and JJ twice. I wasn't dealt AA or AK a single time. It's tough to say if I had bad cards or not, but they definitely weren't good cards. I played extraordinarily tight, mostly due to the fact that I couldn't get a suited connector (which I love to play) to save my life. I got JTc once and 89s once, but other than that I can't remember getting any mid-range suited connectors.

    I got a fair number of low pocket pairs, but didn't flop a single set (three-of-a-kind) with them, so the stuff I found myself playing through to the end were hands like AQ, AJ, KQ, and KJ that connected on the flop for top pair. Not that there's anything wrong with playing face cards, but I don't think it's the recipe for winning poker.

  • The place has an interesting clientele. The players were basically the same group of people you see taking tickets at movie theaters -- either 20 years old or 70 years old, with no one in between. There were a lot of guys wearing sweatpants or pajama bottoms and very few women players to be found. In fact, in five hours at my table, the only female to sit down was the elderly woman who was playing with her husband when I first got there. (Incidentally, they each lost over $100 while I was there, and I assume they had lost plenty before that since they said they had been playing all day).

    Of the guys in their 20s (or late teens, I guess), at least 75% were wearing hats. Surprisingly few were wearing sun glasses, especially at the lower-stakes tables. Personally, I think the idea of an amateur poker player wearing sunglasses as a $2/$4 or $3/$6 table is laughable. It is the equivalent of wearing a batting helmet to a wiffle ball game.

  • The actual card room is very nice, although extremely packed. The tables were clean, there were waitresses constantly checking to see if you wanted a complimentary beverage, the air was less smoky than in a regular casino, and the seemingly chaotic system they had in place for putting people at tables worked well aside from the fact that there weren't nearly enough tables. It was a very nice environment, or at least as nice an environment as you can find in a place devoted to gambling.
  • As for the play, I found it to be surprisingly tight. There were still far too many people seeing flops on each hand and far too many people calling raises with junk before the flop, but it wasn't even in the same league as the $2/$4 tables on Party Poker. I even got suckered into it, playing a lot tighter than I normally do. It was due partly to a lack of good cards, partly to the fact that it's not as easy to get fancy when you have to look someone in the face, and partly to the fact that ... well, I guess I adapt to my surroundings. And yeah, I realize a good player would loosen up at a tight table. I tighten up at a tight table, which is perhaps why I came home with $19 less than I went with.
  • Online poker has all sorts of advantages over live poker, but there are a few things you get playing live that you just can't replace online. One is the ability to toss around real chips, which actually makes you feel like you're playing poker. It's silly, I know, but there's something that's just fun about throwing in a bet. The best thing is that rush you get when you watch someone bet out on the river, know you have them beat, look them in the eye and say, "I'm gonna raise it." If they made a pill that could duplicate the feeling that comes along with facing a bet while holding the nuts on the river, it would sell like some sort of Viagra/Prozac combination.
  • One thing I experienced that I wasn't expecting was the tipping. Apparently a player is supposed to tip the dealer after every substantial pot they win, which seems absolutely ridiculous to me. First of all, the dealer has nothing to do with the cards you are dealt. They shuffle the deck (and sometimes a machine even does it for them) and deal the cards, but unless they are cheating they have no say in who gets what cards. So why should I have to give them a buck or two out of what is usually a pot less than $30? It makes no sense.

    Yet the dealers all expect it and, for whatever reason, the players buy into it. At one point we had a dealer who suddenly started dealing extremely slowly, passing out each card with an exaggerated motion and sort of lofting them through the air to each player. Someone asked him why he was dealing so slow (there was a bad beat jackpot that ended soon) and he said, "I don't deal fast if I don't get paid." Now, keep in mind that this guy is obviously "getting paid." He has a job as a dealer in a card room, for which I'm sure he makes a decent wage for the skills required.

    But there he was, performing horribly at the job he is being paid to do, and he is doing it on purpose. And why? Because the players at the lowest-stakes table in the entire place had the nerve not to "tip" him $1 every time they won a $20 pot. Of course, immediately after he said that, people began tipping him, which is even more ridiculous. In what other line of work can you intentionally perform horribly, tell people you are performing horribly because you aren't being given extra money from the people whose experience is lessened because of your horrible performance, and then expect them to immediately begin giving you money.

    If I was more of a jerk I would have gotten up from the table and told someone in charge what was going on, because I honestly think the dealer's actions were a fireable offense. If you are paid to deal cards and you have been hired because you presumably deal them well, you should be fired if you intentionally deal them poorly while trying to blackmail the customers out of money. I was under the impression that people get tipped because they work hard, but apparently they just work hard because they get tipped.

  • Now, don't get me wrong, I tip. I tipped the waitresses when they had to go get me a Sprite because they didn't have one on their tray (which seems silly as well, but I still did it), and I even tipped the dealer several times when I won a big pot. I am not in any way against tipping for good service, so if a waitress or a dealer is performing very well and is enhancing my experience, they deserve extra money. But tipping is not some mandatory thing, it is a TIP!

    By the way, I lost track of how many blue chips I tossed to dealers and waitresses, but I'm guessing my $19 in "losses" would have been pretty close to $5 or $10 if I had gone completely tipless.

  • I got incredibly sick almost immediately after leaving the poker room. I had a headache for the last hour or so I was there, and as soon as I got in the car to go home it got way worse. Halfway home I felt like I was going to throw up and I was all sweaty and clammy. I had to open the window to cool down, and it was like three degrees outside. As soon as I got home I hopped into bed and fell asleep. I woke up about eight hours later feeling 100% better, except I suddenly had a cold.

    I'm pretty sure no one cares and I really don't have an explanation for it anyway, but I just thought it was weird. I've never gone from feeling great to feeling like I was about to pass out/throw up/die that quickly, and then it all disappeared (except for the massively stuffed up nose and sore throat, which stuck around). My poor little immune system was no match for a dirty poker room. Either that or that ham sandwich wasn't quite as good as it tasted.

  • One of my favorite poker bloggers, Chris Halverson, was apparently also playing at Canterbury on Tuesday, although sadly I never saw him. I looked around for a guy in a Ferrari hat a few times, since Chris has said that's what he always wears when he goes there, but I had no luck finding him. Of course, I've never spoken to Chris, so I'm not exactly sure what I would have said to him beyond, "Hey, I read your blog!" If you're interested in his take on a Tuesday at Canterbury, click here.

    I also had no luck spotting anyone who resembled what I imagine Taylor from Stripper by Night looks like (although, considering my imagination, there may not be anyone who looks like that). I checked out the high stakes hold 'em tables a couple times, but the closest thing I saw to a beautiful woman was a guy who looked like a ZZ Top impersonator. It was probably for the best anyway, because considering how slick I am chatting with the opposite sex I would have had less to say to her than I would have to Chris. ("So ... come here often?")

  • Today at The Hardball Times:

    - Picture This (by Steve Treder)

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