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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Atlantic City Trip Report

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Despite playing poker somewhat seriously for the last five years I had never spent one second playing poker in a live casino until the beginning of this week.  Part of the reason for that was because based on my location in rural Virginia, the closest legal casino was in Atlantic City, about a six hour drive away.  Also, after playing online for so long I was nervous that my game wouldn’t translate to a live setting, and that I would just be nervous and not be able to play my top game.  With those feelings in mind, I still felt that in order to be a “real” poker player I have to get the full live game experience, and who knows, I might even like it.

One of the main thoughts I had while driving to Atlantic City was hoping that I could at least find a way to break even.  Unfortunately nobody told me I would already be down over 20 dollars before I even get there because of the half dozen or so tolls that awaited me between home and my final destination.  Prior to leaving I had joked with my wife that how I did on the tables my first day there would determine if I treated myself to the Hard Rock Café, or if I would be eating a rock hard hot dog from the casino café.  Being 20 dollars down (not to mention gas and food) before I reached Bally’s almost gave me the answer before checking in.

In true “me” fashion I managed to lose my valet ticket between the moments the man handed it to me to when I got into my room.  After having to go through the protocol of showing the valet parking manager I wasn’t trying to steal a car, I got another ticket, put it in a secure place, and was ready to head to the poker room.

The sixth floor of Bally’s features a restaurant, racebook, and the moment I had been waiting for, the poker room.  When I got up to the counter I was looking for a 1-2 NL game, but didn’t see one.  Instead they offered 1-1 NL and 1-3 NL, both games I had never heard of before.  Through the course of the evening I learned that Bally’s is the only casino in America to offer a 1-1 NL game, and the only casino in Atlantic City to offer a 1-3 NL game.
I had heard that playing 1-2 NL live was the equivalent of playing .05-.10 NL online, so I couldn’t imagine what 1-1 would play like, but that was the game that was open, so I was game.

Over four hours of play that first night I saw at least 70 percent of the players see the flop.  I decided to play a tight game, and for the most part it worked.  Whenever I would raise a pot I would get respect from a few of the players who were actually paying enough attention to see that I wasn’t one of the seven people seeing a flop every hand.  To save everyone from a bunch of bad beat stories I will preface the remainder of my trip report by saying that every single one of my “big” hands over the course of two days was lost on the river.  At some point during this first night I was up almost 100 bucks, or double the max buy-in, but lost a big pot to an inside straight on the river, and shortly after, I left 30 dollars up.

Happy to head back down the escalator with $30 more in my pocket than when I arrived, my mind suddenly changed as I saw the Blackjack tables.  I was reminded of my Las Vegas story when I wrote about having a good time playing Blackjack.  I also knew I was only going to be in Atlantic City for two days, and to my fault, I wanted to get a full-experience.  My, how I would like to have these ten minutes back.

Unlike my winning streak in Las Vegas I was neither a beginner at Blackjack, or drunk, the two characteristics of a winning Blackjack player according to my uncle.  At $10 a pop I lost $200 in about 30 hands, winning exactly three hands.  It was the first time I ever felt a dealer honestly felt sorry for me.  Anyway, lesson learned, next time when playing Blackjack, get drunk.  After calling my wife, looking for pity over my bad beat story and my decision to play blackjack, which didn’t arrive, I decided to call it a night shortly before 1 a.m.

Now Tuesday, I had made plans to meet up with a friend I had met online on an internet forum, who was coming from Philly, named Mike.  Not to be confused with the Mike I went to Las Vegas with (who together we drunkenly tipped a cocktail waitress ten dollars for a 3 ounce bottle of water) I will call my new friend Mike, “Philly Mike.”  Philly Mike makes regular trips to A.C., and for about a month has been trying to get me to come up because the bad beat at Caesars Palace was at an all time high.  I had heard that the lines were ridiculous, and the Bad Beat Jackpot was now at $480,000, so after meeting at Bally’s we walked directly to Caesars and put our name on the list for the 1-2 game.  At about noon, two hours after signing up, we were put at the same 1-2 table.  A little hint for those looking to play at Caesars during the high traffic for the BBJ, a bunch of dealers start their shift at noon, meaning a bunch of tables will open then.  

I often joke with Philly Mike that he is the only one with worse luck than me.  His monster pairs, aces, kings, and queens were beat time and time again, and most of them by players who were admitting they were playing the hands only because of the possibility of hitting the BBJ – you win the BBJ when your four of a kind or better is cracked. I honestly saw someone get upset at another player when they had a pair and found out that the person that folded after them had 3-5 suited, because it was a “Bad Beat Jackpot Hand”).
Shortly before I decided to leave to go play in Bally’s nightly 40 + 10 tournament, I participated in the biggest hand I saw while I was there.  I was small blind with A-8 suited, and called the blind.  Three people saw the flop.  I flopped two pair.  I raised about five dollars, or just under the size of the pot, one player folded, and the other player went all in for about 60 bucks.  I decided to call, and he had nothing but air.  But the turn and river managed to land his gutshot straight, and as he jumped up in celebration I just laughed.  About a hand later this man told me that “he had to call me,” which sparked about five people at the table to remind this fella that it was indeed me that called his all-in raise.  Embarrassed, the man was quiet the rest of the time I was there.  Down about 125 bucks at this table, I wasn’t too upset when I had to scoot over to Bally’s for the tournament.

The tournament had 70 runners, with 7 places paying.  The blind structure of this tournament is awful, but for a $50 tournament that is to be expected.  By the third level of blinds (400/800), if you were still at starting chip stack (10,000) you were already almost in “all-in or fold” mode.  I was in that mode for about three hours.  I went all in about eight times, most of them with premium hands, and I believe I was only called once when we both showed A-K suited and chopped the pot.  With 12 players left I managed to cause a controversy in my very first live tournament.  When I say I want to get the full-experience, I guess that also means single handedly be responsible for having an entire tournament paused.

I was on the button and pushed all-in.  The small blind folded, and for some reason I throw my cards into the muck and wait for the pot to be pushed my way.  Problem is big blind had yet to act.  Slightly shocked, he says “give me the chips,” then proceeds to muck his cards without showing them, expecting to win all of my chips because I had folded.  After about 10 minutes the poker room manager decided that the big blind would get my blinds, but I would not be eliminated from the tournament, especially since the big blind never declared “call.”  I was thankful for this ruling for obvious reasons, but it was the talk of the tournament, all the way to the final table.

OK, I lied.  I have one more bad beat story.  I was sitting 5th in chips, with seven players remaining.  An early position player raised.  I looked down to find A-Qo, and pushed all in.  It wasn’t much for him to call after that, and he flipped A-4o.  The flop brought A-2-5.  After the flop I mumbled under my breath “here comes the three.”  Sure enough, the river three landed, and I was out in 7th, about just doubling my buy-in.  It was of course a painful exit, but it was a blast, and I can’t wait to play in another live tournament.

After busting out, I got a quick meal with Philly Mike.  Philly Mike had been playing the 1-1 game while I was in the tournament, and despite initial unlucky results, he was doing well in it, and over dinner he convinced me to play in the game.  I told him I would play for like an hour, but I was really tired and still had six hours to drive home the next day.
Of course I ended up playing until about 6 a.m. but in those six hours had a lot of memorable experiences, and feelings, and not much of them had to do with the cards.  When I first sat down at the 1-1 game I was seated next to a very large black man who had the most impressive set of teeth I had ever seen.  Over the course of the evening this man told the rest of the table he had played in the NBA, and that he played college basketball at St. Augustine College.  I couldn’t tell if he was pulling our legs.  Not to mention he was drinking enough White Russians for the entire table, so I figured he could have just been spouting out of the mouth.  As a fan of the NBA though, I couldn’t possibly imagine there were too many people who played in the NBA from tiny St. Augustine College in Florida.  If he was indeed lying it would be easy to find out.

I’m glad I decided to do a little research on him.  I first found out that there was exactly one player from St. Augustine who ever played in the NBA, and he played for the New York Knicks in the mid-80s.  Luckily for me I am friends with a man who covered the New York Knicks in the 1980’s, and boy did he have some stories for me about this particular player.  The following is not suitable for children:

Ken “The Animal” Bannister was known for biting opposing players (I wish I knew this before sitting next to him.)  He told my reporter friend that when he was 12 years old he was traveling on a bus when a woman took him back to the bathroom and f*cked his brains out (leaving him with none).”
On a team plane the reporter asked him if he wanted his extra bran muffin.  Bannister responded “I don’t eat cupcakes.”

While on the West Coast, my reporter friend noticed Bannister had a watch on and asked him what time it was.  Bannister responded “Oh, this thing?  It doesn’t work, this is New York time.”

He was definitely spewing money at the 1-1 game, but it seemed like he was a having a good time.  Another player at my table caught my attention though.  Maybe it was because I was getting really tired, or maybe I’m just too much of a softy, but I honestly began feeling sorry for this guy.  He was already down maybe 3-4 buy-ins, and physically he looked like he had seen better days.  He eventually started talking, and he announced that it was his birthday and he had driven 3 hours to get there so he could play.  I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that he had no other place to be on his birthday than losing his money at a 1-1 game in the middle of the night in Atlantic City.  Again, I have no right to judge or not judge someone with how they spend their time or their money, but for whatever reason I couldn’t prevent these feelings of sadness, and it was unfortunate that these were some of the last memories I had of this short trip.
Philly Mike was able to secure us a comped room at Caesars, and was also able to get us a late check-out.  At about 1 pm I stumbled out to the front of Bally’s (and into sunlight for the first time since my arrival) to retrieve my car and made the six hour drive back home.  For the trip I figured I was up maybe about 50 dollars, which was almost enough to break me even by the time I got home with tolls, gas, and food.

While you don’t need to tell me that it doesn’t compare at all to Las Vegas, it was still a good time and I would go back again.  In a way I can appreciate Atlantic City for what it is.  In Las Vegas you go with the thought to see all the luxurious hotels and casinos, the shows, and other attractions.  In Atlantic City you are most likely going with the sole purpose of gambling.  I’m not sure Atlantic City will ever be seen as the “Las Vegas of the East,” nor am I sure what the overall future of the city holds, but again, if it’s pure gambling you’re going to look for, you need only to head up the New Jersey coastline.  WSOP Circuit events will be held at Caesars in both March and April.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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