February 2007
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Origami is the new Chip Tricks

As I was working in London yesterday and it was somehow easier and cheaper to stay the night and get a train back saturday morning, I decided to take a look at how Gutshot was doing after the court case, and take my first crack at the cash tables there.  Something I decided I had to do before it’s too late, if there’s any chance the club won’t survive much longer.  It took me a good half an hour to get a seat.  I was third on the list for the £25-£50 game (that’s the range of allowable buy-ins, not the blinds) and I saw about three hundred people come up the stairs whilst I was waiting but never heard a seat called.  Turns out the waiting list doesn’t actually mean a whole lot, and the more practical way to get into a game is to ask one of your mates already at a table to throw a chip at a seat as soon as somebody leaves, and then it’s OK to jump the queue.

The tournament arena in the building next door has been closed down – a real shame – so space is at a premium.  The new arrangement is for cash tables to run around the clock (as late as the players want to stay) and tournaments go upstairs in the bar area on circular self-dealt tables.  I’d only played in the "old" club a couple of times before, and once was  a £5 pack-em-in-get-em-out rebuy, which was horrible.  Rebuy tournaments are off the menu now, on account of the new "donation" policy.  Since Derek Kelly was found guilty of charging a levy on gambling activities, the club runs rake-free and any money you wish to contribute towards the facilities when you play is optional.  For freezeout tournaments, the suggested donation is be ten percent of the buy-in, just like the old registration fee.  In rebuys they used to take a percentage out of the pot instead, so the easiest thing was just to stop them.

In the case of the £25-50 game, the suggested donation was £3 every hour.  A somewhat bizarre way to collect a very reasonable (it’s that phrase again) service charge.  I only saw one person opt out all night, and he didn’t get any grief about it from the players or staff. But he did have aces cracked brutally in a large pot and then steam off another couple of buy-ins before leaving.  Funny how things turn out.

Although the hourly charge is decent, tipping the dealers was also expected.  It’s illegal in a casino, but perfectly fine in an illegal card room.   Half the dealers working were there for tips only, which wasn’t a bad gig really (I’d love to do it!) but they only got to work one hour on, one hour off which slices your pay in half and leaves you hanging around in the bar for long stretches.

You have to sign a sheet of paper to say that you agree to make the voluntary donations, and the very presence of paper on the table let to an outbreak of players attempting to remember the fantastic paper folding skills they had when they were younger.  One guy did manage to construct a paper cube, then wrote "fold", "call", "raise" and "re-raise" on four of the sides.  The other two sides stayed blank, depsite calls for "trap check" and "check-raise" to be added from players who hadn’t quite thought it through.  Of course I managed to get involved in the first hand where he decided to use this.

With a straddle and 3 callers, I find AJs in the blind and raise the pot to £10.  The dice’s creator rolls a "fold" and throws his cards away.  The next player rolls a "call", chuckles and throws in another £8.  The next player throws a "re-raise" and bets the pot.  £36 more to me, and what can I do?  I could push for the remaining £70-odd I have left.  However I doubt I can make him fold anything now, and I’m either slightly ahead or way behind.  Do I believe he really just did what the dice said?  Or I can call and play out of position against two players, with not enough left to make a pot-sized bet, so I have to hit the flop.  Is folding here mandatory, or just weak?  I folded, he showed 9Ts and I started plotting to destroy the dice the next time it came near me.

The players were pretty solid on the whole, but I did manage to spot some value in this game – mostly it’s the habitual straddlers that provide it.  There were usually four of five straddles each round.  The dealers encouraged it with cries of "small blind £1, big blind £1… its £2 if you want to straddle".  Obviously bigger pots mean bigger tips, so who can blame them.  But straddling is one of the worst moves in poker.  You’re paying a big premium to see a flop with random cards out of position, and I figured that having £10 of almost dead money in the middle for every £2 I paid in blinds was a pretty good deal.

Anyway, the result of my six and a half hour session was an overall profit of £17.  Which is not a great hourly rate, but at least it’s profit.  Although this really sounds more impressive than it actually was.  I only stopped from going bust, in for £120, after I got a three-way all in with QQ against KK and AT, and hit the miracle queen on the flop.  I’m back down on Thursday, think I’ll try again!