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 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.
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.
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.
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'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.
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)