Sunday, October 2, 2011

Way Down South Where The Fish Play Slow

Another Poker Diary. It's all just a cry for help, really.

When I was a musician and a music journalist, we'd occasionally get the opportunity to cover or perform in Delaware. The rule of thumb for these gigs, in my bands and among my friends in other bands, was simple: Delaware audiences were on quaaludes. You could pretty much kill yourself on stage, and get nothing more than a sincere but underpowered stoner clap. They appreciated you, but dammit, this was Delaware. They just didn't have the energy to actually enjoy things.

And ever since the state of Delaware spat in the eye of the NFL in 2010 and started taking sports bets, I've had a hankering to make a run and dabble in legal fun. One of the best days in my life was spent going 4-1 ATS in Treasure Island in Vegas in October 2003, knowing that I was only one made figgie away from clearing an entire weekend of Blackjack 101 off the books. (That lesson, of course, is don't play.) There's something absolutely fantastic about being in a book where two sides are going nuts on a tooth and nail game, and having no action on it. It's more fun than cats, a slick floor, and a laser pointer. Seriously. So with the majority of my poker profit coming from outside the home this year, and a $65 10pm tournament available, a good degenerate friend and I made a night of it.

The first thing to know is that the drive is similar to AC, but easier. You don't have to stop at a myriad of penny ante tolls, and it's just a straight shot down; easy drive. Once you get there, the place is, like most converted race tracks, immense; much more room than the non-track places. The parking lots are outdoor but shuttle bussed, and free; that's another win over AC. And since it is in its own world of golf course and complex, you don't get that very un-fun sense of driving through the economic wasteland to get to your game that's killing the community. (Though, admittedly, that's more the slots and table games. At least, this is what we tell ourselves.)

It's also, well, big. You can park at this place and have no idea where the casino is, and when you walk the floor, it's easily bigger than Chester or Parx. In terms of ambiance, coffee is 75 cents, there's free soda from a self-serve beverage station, and I didn't eat anything while I was there, but it all seemed like a decent middle-brow or better place. I'd put it above Parx, Chester, Showboat and Lumiere, below Harrah's AC and TI in Vegas, and the fact that I've now been to a half dozen casinos is a sign of oncoming age, or winning at poker. You make the call.

We got in the place around 9pm, registered for our players' cards (yes, they make you do that), then dodged a scary Rolling Stones cover band to get to the upstairs poker room. (You make a grown man cry? Then don't make a fat girl sing backing vocals in tight clothing. Woof.) The $65 entry got us into a game with 90 players, where the final table got paid, top prize around $2K, pace of play coming in around 6 hours. They started you with 20K chips and 15 minute blinds, no antes. Pretty reasonable, and for the smokers out there, lots of close outdoor area to self-medicate.

A quick word about the sportsbook; it's parlay only, with a minimum of 3 teams to be chosen, so it's more or less a license to print money for the casino. Like any sportsbook isn't, really. I'm actually more than OK with this, since it meant that I got my juice in for minimal risk. I bought 3 $10 tickets for escalating insanity of 3, 5 and 9 games tomorrow, and if I hit, my family will be peeling me off the walls. If I lose, I'll shrug. I hope. Basically, all you can ask for out of a bet.

My tournament lasted about 90 minutes, past about a third of the field. I hit a few hands to get up to 24K, but probably limited my take from trip 10s with an overbet, rather than trapping against flush and straight draws. I also found myself between the two biggest stacks at the table, and knew I needed to make a move before my blinds became indefensible. With the table being freshly populated with new players, I made it 5K under the gun with A-K offsuit, with blinds of 300/600. A new player made it 20K, and with my tournament life on the line, I hoped like hell he was on air or a dominated ace. I called, he flipped over Js, so it was more or less even money. After the turn, I had flush, straight and over draws, but still just A-K. The river was a blank, I was done, and I wasn't even all that upset about it. I've yet to see anyone win a tournament without some luck, and even if I knew he had Js, I probably have to make that call anyway.

With my comrade still in, I then headed over to the cash tables to kill time, and wound up in one of the stranger $1/$2 cash games of my life. I'm used to big swinging chip games in places like Parx and Chester, and maybe that's Delaware Park, too... but not at this table tonight. Seated between two guys that had 5-to-1 chip stacks to my buy-in, I proceeded to watch fully half or more of the flops hit with no pre-flop raise, and few pots go behind the $50 total mark. In this environment, you could play tight, make continuation bets with air, go for 3X the pot with low pairs and then take it down with another 3X bet on a rag flop... so long as, of course, you chose your spots wisely and continued to broadcast that you were tight by not limping in on every other hand, like the rest of the table was doing. Weird. I slowly but surely chipped up, and didn't really get hurt, or make a lot, on anything. Delaware poker players are also, it seems, on Quaaludes.

Notable hands included a K-4 big button check flopping the K-4-4 boat for a whopping $20 payout (I called the $8 flop bet, but everyone else bailed and the raiser never fired again, or called my river raise with an Ace and flush on the board -- very disappointing) and 3-5 suited in middle position becoming the disguised straight in the river, again to no callers.

Honestly, for a tight player like myself to be at a table filled with bigger nits than me, despite the size of their stacks, was just kind of odd. And my first read of my tablemates was that there was going to be fireworks and big moves, giving the size of the stacks and the fact that you could only amass those by winning; Delaware Park's maximum buy in is $300 at the $1/$2 table. By the end of 2 hours at the table (the amount of time it took for my friend to leave the tournament, also without cashing), I had hit a bunch of hands, tipped the dealer a dozen times, made back my buy-in and my sportsbets, and felt a little bad that I hadn't made more. It seemed that soft.

But hey, when poker is a profit at a casino, giving the rake and the tipping, that means you've actually made more than you think. And I suspect it's not the last time we'll make the drive down there. The sports betting is catnip, the drive isn't bad, and the room is nicer and saner than Chester or Parx.

And you can't bet on the NFL in AC...

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