What’s the Opposite of I won?

My poker tournament experience has ended. I didn’t win. That’s not to say I didn’t have a god time or I didn’t play well. Except for one small move early on, which I now question, I was pretty happy with my play.

I got to bed early (for me) last night. Sleep was not very good and I was up just after 6:00 AM. I left the house around 8:00 and drove the 70 minute trip to Foxwoods.

Though the roads around the casino were reasonably busy, I realized as soon as I got to the valet parking area that Thursday morning was not prime time. Mine was the only car there and a nice young woman quickly walked up and gave me a parking ticket.

If you’ve never been to Foxwoods it is a world unto itself. The complex is immense. It was, and may still be, the world’s largest casino. As big and bold as Foxwoods is, the area surrounding it is the opposite. Surrounded by the town of Ledyard, there is still plenty of farmland and low density housing and businesses in the area. As you approach from the north, the high rise hotels dominate the rolling terrain of eastern Connecticut.

I got to the poker tournament desk at 9:26. I know this because it’s on my receipt. I said hello, paid my cash, chose between a hat, t-shirt and $10 in food coupons (food – though not used) and headed toward the tournament.

How fitting is this for a seniors poker tournament, we were in the Sunset Ballroom!

I walked into the ballroom. It was a breath of fresh air because I felt, I looked, I (probably) was the youngest person in the room. I’m used to being the oldest at work. This is more fun.

I scouted the room and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I spied Jimmy Christina.

I have described Jimmy here before, so let me be brief. Jimmy is not tall, though he easily stands out in a crowd of people. His gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He has a Southern New England accent&#185 delivered in a voice reminiscent of a gravel road. Standing in his tuxedo, he is the absolute height of incongruity.

When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina.

There’s one more thing about Jimmy. If you watch him from afar, you will see a constant stream of people coming up to him, saying hello. All of them are smiling. Jimmy is smiling. He is charming.

I moved to my seat at table 30, seat 8. The room was filled with long, narrow, Texas Hold’em tables. Each was set to comfortably seat nine players. The dealer sat in what looked like an executive’s office chair. I am told they hate it because it has no back support.

This tournament was ‘sponsored’ by “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale. Johnny is old school poker, back when it was all guts and instinct. It was the era before mathematicians quantified the game’s nuances into a series of odds and ratios. Johnny introduced some other older players, shilled his own line of merchandise and books and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. He is everything you expect from someone who goes by the name Oklahoma Johnny.

In a poker tournament, you buy in for a fixed amount and then get tournament chips, in this case $1,500. They’re not good anywhere else, just in a tournament and can’t be turned into real cash. You keep playing poker, hoping to survive as more and more players bust out.

Today’s tournament had 295 players. The top 25 would win money, starting at $777 and going up to better than $40,000. The goal in tournament play is survival. Survivors are paid. Winning is of secondary importance. I hope that makes sense.

Since the game was No Limit Texas Hold’em, anyone could bet all of their chips on any card. It didn’t take long until someone did – and walked away the first loser. I was one player closer to the cash.

Compared to online play, live poker is very slow. And compared to online play, I’m not multitasking. The game at hand gets my undivided attention.

With forced bets and a few cheap peeks, I quickly turned my $1,500 to $1,350. I was somewhat uneasy, though it didn’t affect my play. I was very self conscious. I didn’t want to be out early. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

At the far end of the room a big screen TV displayed the current stats. What were the blinds (forced bets for two players each round)? How much time was left at this limit? How many players were left?

Table 30 was one of the first to get broken up. As players leave, and some tables have empty seats, tables are combined to allow everyone to sit at tables with a similar number of players. I was sent to Table 8, Seat 1.

Around me, the room was alive with the sound of cards being riffled and chips clinking. It is a steady castanet sound which permeates the room. It is actually reassuring to hear. I looked down at the stacks of chips in front of each player. Already there were huge differences with some players close to busting out and others amassing fortunes.

Life at Table 8 didn’t go much better. Slowly, as if I had a leak, chips were disappearing from my stack. Before long I was down to $320.

With a forced bet of $75 and a number of players already calling in front of me, I went all in with a pair of 4s. Being dealt a pair is good – but 4s… well even a pair of them… is no bargain. If anyone else matches any card other than a two or three (unlikely they’d be played anyway) you’re dead meat.

On the fourth common card, ‘the turn,’ a third 4 was dealt. I had a set (three of a kind) and was now back to nearly the $1,500 I started with. A few more good hands had me up to $2,000.

Meanwhile, on the TV screen the numbers were changing. As tables were consolidated the player count went down – 225, 200, 175, 150. My chip count had me below the middle of the pack, but I was still playing.

And then, I drove into oncoming traffic at full speed.

The limits had gone up to $100/$75. A few players limped in with minimal bets when the action got to me. My cards – two red Aces. In Hold’em there is nothing better to have than a pair of Aces. I raised to $300.

A few players dropped out and then, across the table, another player pushed his chips toward the center. He was all in. In order to play my Aces, I’d need to match his chips.

I had Aces. There is nothing better.

I pushed my chips in as we both turned over our cards. He showed another Ace and a Jack. This was wonderful. Additional Aces wouldn’t help him. He needed two Jacks or some ridiculous out of the blue miraculous one in a million shot… and there would only be five common cards with which to accomplish this.

The dealer rolled three and then one and then one more. Of the five cards exposed, four were 7, 8, 9 and 10 (the 8 coming on the last card, know as the River).

I still had my Aces. He had a straight!

I was left with a few hundred dollars. It didn’t take long to lose that when my King, Queen was beaten by a Queen, Jack.

I had played four hours and fifteen minutes, finishing 102 of 295.

Good play can get beaten. It is, after all, gambling. Yes, there is skill, but skill tempered by chance.

I’m glad I played. I enjoyed the tournament. I wish I would have come home with some more money.

&#185 – Usually limited to far Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, this regionalism makes a Boston accent sound soft and gentle.

Sunday at Foxwoods

Stefanie has been away for this entire week. So, Helaine and I have been taking it somewhat easy at home as temporary empty nester’s.

Earlier, Helaine had asked if I wanted to go to Foxwoods for their brunch. Foxwoods is a casino – the biggest in the world – and it’s about an hour’s drive away in Eastern Connecticut.

There are certain givens when going to a casino.

1) You will gamble

2) The food experience will be over the top

I had worked Saturday night (unusual), but didn’t stay up as late as usual and was out of bed by 10:30 to shower and make the drive. Our reservations at Fox Harbor were for 1:00 PM, so we’d have plenty of time.

Today was a spectacular winter’s day. The sky was blue with some high, wispy cirrus clouds. Even as we left home, before noon, the temperature was approaching 50&#176 (and got to 53&#176 at Willimantic, CT, not far from Foxwoods), well above the late December average.

I was apprehensive as we drove because normally light trafficked areas on I-95, The Connecticut Turnpike, were moderately loaded with cars. It was the last day of the Christmas holiday, and for many ‘going home’ day. As we passed the first entrance for valet parking, I realized this traffic hadn’t gone to the casino but was just passing through.

Originally there was poker at both of Connecticut’s casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. A few months ago, Mohegan Sun’s room closed (about a day before the huge new interest in poker began). Foxwoods is now busy day and night. Today was no exception.

I headed into the poker room before heading to brunch. I knew it would be smart to get on a list early, and did just that. There must have been 50 names for the half dozen tables at my limit.

While walking through the room I ran into Jimmy Christina, one of the floor bosses. Jimmy has been at Foxwoods since they opened their doors. He has the kind of gravely voice that shrieks of whiskey and cigarettes… and a ponytail that is seldom seen by people who wear suits. When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina. I have no idea what his official title is, but he wields power and settles disputes and is a poker room fixture.

Brunch at Fox Harbor was no disappointment. When we eat at a buffet brunch, Helaine and I know it will be our one meal of the day. This was perfect. I started with clams and shrimp then added lamb chops (incredible). After a few trips through the line I had sampled crepes, pasta, more lamb, and baby lobster tails like I had never seen before. And then there was desert!

We waddled out of the buffet and headed toward the poker room. Poker and Fox Harbor are at the opposite ends of the casinos… but we could have been walking to Las Vegas and not walked off this brunch.

I quickly sat down at a $4-$8 fixed limit Hold’em table. I hadn’t played poker at a casino since we began playing online in earnest. The casino was going to be slower and any ‘tells’ I had (hidden while I play online in my pajamas) would be obvious to all who watched. I pulled out 5 – $20 bills and bought chips from a neighbor at the table who had obviously done well over time.

It’s true. You do play more hands per hour online. On the other, the conversation was reasonably good and I had a nice time. Before long, I slow played a well hidden straight, check bumped one of the other players, and won somewhere around $75 on one hand. This was my high water mark. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

Before long Ashley Adams came up to the table and said hello. Ashley had been our union rep from AFTRA (The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) at the station. Though now repping teachers, I had sat alongside him during contract negotiations and knew him well. And, of course, I knew he enjoyed playing poker as much as anything else.

For years, Ashley has been an active participant in the Usenet group dedicated to poker and is recognized as an expert. Now, he pulled out a paperback book, and I realized he had also become the author of “Winning 7-Card Stud.”

Currently 62,418th on Amazon’s sales list, Ashley won’t be able to quit his day job just yet, but the online reviews are excellent. Five reviewers, and each gave it the 5-star maximum!

I’ve been skimming through it, and though 7-card stud is not my game of choice, it reads very well. If you miss losing one hand because of what he says, the book has paid for itself, even at very low limit tables.

Meanwhile, at my table the cards were not coming. In fact, during 4-5 hours of play I can’t remember being dealt a pair of face cards or Ace/King once!

My Waterloo came when I was ‘blinded in’ and flopped 2 pair, Aces and Jacks. I felt pretty good and started betting, only to have another player return and re-raise my bets. By the time all was said and done, I had invested well over $60 in my two pair, only to face 3 – Aces.

You want the odds? If I have Ace and Jack, and the flop turns up another Ace (and Jack), then there are 47 cards I don’t know about, with 2 Aces remaining. It’s 2 chances in 47 for him to have gotten an Ace on the first card and then 1 in 46 to get the second. All in all, his two Aces against my hand comes up less than 1 in 1,000 (.000925069)!

By the time the day was over, I was down $132.

I didn’t play poorly. Once, I peeked at my hole cards on a flush draw – tipping off my hand. Still, that was the exception, not the rule. I lost, mostly, because of bad cards. And, because my cards were so bad, and I looked so tight as a player, when I finally did go in, everyone knew I had a made hand and folded, reducing my win.

Helaine spent the afternoon playing blackjack, and left with some cash in her pocket.

On the way out we played some slot machines. Foxwoods seems to have less machines featuring licensed concepts, like TV shows or characters, than you see in Las Vegas. We played a Dick Clark Bandstand slot and quickly walked away. Monte Hall treated us very nicely at Let’s Make a Deal. We left the slots about even.

One more comment before I go.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun cater to a large contingent of Asian client