December 2007
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From dusk till nearly midnight

May I be among the first to openly show my support for, and in fact to encourage, Dusk Till Dawn bringing in house-banked casinos games.  Because at 11:30pm on Sunday night, just after my pocket kings ran into pocket queens without me making a straight, I couldn’t be bothered to hang around waiting for spot in a side game to open up, so I just left.

I really don’t want to see this club fall victim to its own pretensiousness.  I already mentioned the state-of-the-art bathroom and thug-ass bouncers, didn’t I?  Good job I had the right shoes on, or my feet weren’t getting under any of their tables.  My word they think they’re great.

Indeed, it is all very fancy.  I was particularly impressed with the variety of colours of the poker tables.  Particularly the hot pink cloth.  Sadly I only got to play on a blue table, and that alone is probably enough to get me back for a second visit.  The bathroom was just as pictured, with the exception of a few puddles.  Some people just don’t respect a designer piss pot.

I certainly don’t want to see the incredible hard work it’s taken to get the venue finally open, in the face of extreme pressure from the major casino chains, go down the drain.  It should be of some satisfaction to the owners that word started to spread that Gala’s tournament only had 34 runners.  The resident know-it-all at my table – from whom I learned that iPhones do not have a screensaver and constantly display what you’re listening to in full screen; he was rocking out to Gold: The Best of Spandau Ballet – said there’s usually 80 or 90 in the Sunday game.

Dusk Till Dawn’s entire reason for existing is to be a poker venue that is not a casino, depsite requiring a full casino license to operate.  It’s been a conscious decision to snub the more profitable games such as blackjack and roulette and remain purely poker.

There wasn’t even a single fruit machine machine in sight, or even one of those equally-rigged but extremely popular "skill bingo" games where you slap "accept" or "reject" as quickly as you can to match balls to your card as they are drawn at a speed just just slow enough to stop you from winning with a perfect game, unless it’s time to satisfy the minimum payout criteria.

Before DTD opened I often said, only half-jokingly, that it would surely only be a matter of time before house-banked casino games start creeping in "by popular demand".  It’s not that I’m desparate to play blackjack or roulette in between hands – in fact my vote would be for video poker, although a poker-based table game like Let It Ride or Carribean Stud would also be a good fit – but I really can’t see how it would do more harm than good.

So I’m more than a little worried that the exclusivity they have striven to achieve, the very thing which sets them apart from any other casino, could also be an obstacle – and not just in terms of developing new players and generating enough revenue to keep the place afloat once the novelty wears off.  It’s just great poker.  I do mean great poker, but it is just poker.

The tournament on Sunday was a superb structure.  5000 starting chips, a 30 minute clock and every possible blind level you can think of (in fact, they slipped in 150/300 with no ante in addition to the levels listed on the web site).  I figure this structure has a half-life of about 3 hours, and when I busted after nearly 4 hours, there were about 40 players left from 90 who started, and (somehow, in an invitation-only tournament) one alternate.  The blinds were 200/400 with a 25 ante and the average stack was about 11k – about 30 big blinds – so it’s not even close to becoming a pushfest at that point. 

If my estimates are right, there’d be two tables remaining sometime after 1am, with the final table kicking off between 3am and 4am and average stacks of about 20 big blinds.  A little short, but it’s far from over as dawn approaches.  If you get this far and don’t have to go to work the next day, you’ll have a huge edge in any deal-making – just stall until you get the price you want!

So what is there to do when you get knocked out?  When I went to check, there were two sit-and-go lists, both for twenty quid and with a choice between normal (10 minute blinds) and turbo (6 minute blinds).  It’s awesome that they’d make such a distinction between getting three hands per level versus as many as five.  Quite the opposite of the main tournament, and remembering how much I hated the $60 SNGs at the MGM Grand (which had a massive 15 minute clock, and automatic shufflers) I decided this wasn’t for me.  Where’s the dice table?

I could have got into a £5/£5 No Limit Hold’em game, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s a little on the large side for my cojones.  There was also "4/5/6 Card Omaha" on the menu at the same limits.  Seems like a gamblin’ game to me

The smallest game was £1/£2 NL.  Hell yeah I’d be buying in short, but you know it makes sense.  The rake is high (5% rake is attractive, but a £10 cap much less so) and I expected the competition to be tough.  But there was a list, and I just couldn’t figure out what I would do in the meantime.  Who knew how long it would be to get a seat, or start a new table?  The tournament was busting players slowly and there’s no and I didn’t think many people who were already in a game would be calling it a day just yet.  What I really needed was a way to spit off a few quid on a different type of card game.

Call me impatient – I know I am.  But I also couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t come alone.  The venue is built for players, not spectators, so if you’re hanging around for a companion who is doing a little better than yourself don’t even think about being a railbird.  The dramatic ampitheatre-style layout actually means there isn’t actually a rail where you can stand and watch the action.  In fact the tables are a little too close together, with seats 4 through 7 on adjacent tables both getting bumped when someone walks between them.

It’s a bit easier to get a view of the ground-floor final table (they were still playing from Saturday night when I arrived) but you could go broke after a couple of hours and, if you’re not interested in side games, have nothing to do but admire the bathroom for another six before there’s anything to be cheering for.

I guess I’m lucky then to be content being a poker loner, and to have a partner who even encourages me to piss off on my own to play cards now and again.  At least, I think that’s a good thing…