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Not the eight o’clock tournament

As the Gutshot poker club no longer exists, while I was staying in London for work earlier in the week I headed down to the Powerhouse Sporting Club to enjoy their coffee bar and see if I could get a game of Jenga or Connect 4.

As it happened, there was a poker game about to start but of course it was definitely not for money. I did not pay £50 to enter, and there was no additional £5 bounty.

There was also definitely not any pressure for players to leave a voluntary donation.  I did not buy in with three £20s, so obviously they did not not offer me any change.

53 players turned up to enjoy only the thrill of the competition and to battle it out for no more than bragging rights.  It’s a game of skill… yada yada yada.

We started with 3500 chips and I picked up pocket aces on the second hand.  Blinds were 25/50 and an early position player raised to 225.  His neighbour called and I was next, making it 800 to go.

The player to my left called in a flash and it got folded round to the early raiser.

"How much to me?", he said.  "Five… what…. six…? fift…?  seventy five?".  He figured it out eventually and made the call, but not before proving what I’d always suspected: a raise to a "normal" amount plus one small chip has nothing to do with any strategy, it’s just so you get to see two different pretty colours tumbling through the air when you make your bet.  Wheeee.

I expected to see this player make a three-chip flop bet and show us all that he could count to 625, but in fact he checked, as did I and the third player.  The flop was a king and a ten and a seven, all different suits and I didn’t want to get too excited with one pair so early on.  In truth, I wasn’t really ready to deal with a tough decision yet.

The turn brought another ten – now I had two pair, for what that’s worth – and the first player bet 250.  With all that pre-flop action, the pot stood at 2475 so it may as well have been a check.  I raised to 800, again a tiny bet in relation to the pot, but I hoped it might buy me a little information – or a free showdown – while still keeping the pot quite small.  This line is either genius or ultra-weak, I’ll let you decide.

I didn’t have a great handle on the situation, but I figured that if a player who had only called my re-raise out of position pre-flop now decided to 3-bet on a king-high board, pocket aces were almost certainly not good and I would be able to fold and still have more than half a starting stack to play with.

However, if the third player decided to stick around (he’d already called two raises cold pre-flop, why not call a bet and a raise again now?) I was going to be completely stumped.  I was very glad indeed when he folded.

In for two fiddy, in for eight hundy, the other guy called and we went to the river heads up.  I don’t remember what card it was.  I didn’t look until he’d checked, and I already knew I was checking behind anyway unless it was another ace.  I flipped up the aces and he slid his hand into the muck.

"I had pocket nines", he said.  And now, the punchline: "I put you on ace-queen".

That was as interesting as it got though, I hardly saw another hand worth playing before I ended up flipping a little pair against two big cards and losing.

I took a nice long walk back to my hotel, thinking about what I could have not won.

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…

Car park flasher

I only managed to get this crappy photo before I decided that suspiciously hanging around the Dusk Till Dawn car park with a camera – which had already alerted three bored bouncers to my activity, when I’m sure I’d specifically told it not not to flash – was probably a bad idea.

In case you can’t actually see anything, it’s a Chrystler MPV, registration: K10 DTD.

So whose car is this?  Simon "king-ten" Trumper doesn’t quite have the right ring to it, does it?

Live Updates: Dusk Till Dawn Opening Weekend

After I’ve enjoted the champagne and canapes at the last of the Dusk Till Dawn opening weekend parties this evening, I’ll be playing a little cards.

The finest bathroom in all of Nottingham

It’s a lousy picture because I ripped it from a PDF copy of a magazine article that’s been optimised for print, and I have no idea how to convert that back to a version that looks good on screen – short of printing it and scanning in back in.  It’s not really worth that much effort.

This is a picture of the bathroom at Dusk Till Dawn, the UK’s first dedicated poker club and, self-proclaimed prior to opening, "Europe’s Premier Poker Venue".

"All our basins are done in cherrywood veneer.  A lot of expensive finishings have been done in this place.  Nothing has been done on the cheap".

I’d love to know if they’ve made the same effort with the Ladies’ bathroom, or are even anticipating any female members at all given their heavily tit-fueled promotion regime, but alas I’ll probably never actually know.

Dusk Till Dawn wins casino license

Word is out that Dusk Till Dawn have finally been granted their casino license this afternoon.

There’s such excitement that the Blonde Poker forum has effectively crashed right now – it just took a good five minutes to load this thread with the announcement, which already contains about 300 pages of awesome MySpace-style graphics or armies of clever dancing smilies congratulating them, with other wittily appropriate comments like "ship it".

The Nottingham card room should now open in November.  Good luck to them - they’ll need it.

The delay to the opening, originally planned for April, is thanks to objections from three major casino chains (two of which did not even have a casino in Nottingham when they protested) and has already cost an estimated £100,000 a month.  Building the club before being given permission to operate was a fantastic business decision.

They’re also still adamant that no house-banked casino games will take place on the property, even though the full casino license that has been granted would allow them to do this.  It is to be a poker-only venue, and poker – particularly low-cost, well structured, dealer-dealt tournaments that the majority of their pre-registration members will be expecting – is just about the least profitable game that a casino can offer.

Winning a license to print money but choosing to produce only a handful of fivers is another fantastic business decision.  The club will have all the overheads of a casino, but without any of the cash cows.  We’ll just have to wait and see just how soon blackjack and roulette are introduced "due to popular demand".

Meantime, they could use the the "session fee" loophole to charge whatever they need to do to survive, but thanking members for their support in showing that there is indeed enough demand to warrant a casino license by stinging them with a 30% or higher rake just doesn’t seem right.

So they’ll probably have to rely on live action for revenue.  Since September 1st, cash games can be raked or charged hourly - and how.  I picked up a copy of the new charge schedule at the Vic at the weekend, where they’re more than happy to lighten the wallets of rich Londoners by up to £15 per hour – and that’s without a dealer!  If people in the East Midlands are desparate for a game of cards, then maybe they’ll pay that too.

Crapshoot #3

The Vic has a dice table.  Just the one tucked away in the corner, but nevertheless it’s the first I’ve seen in a UK casino, amid the gazillions of electronic roulette stations.  The roulette there has two video feeds from separate wheels and you can pick which one to bet on.  This gives punters a reason to play on two adjacent machines at the same time – for the multi-tabling professional.

Vij had come along on Saturday to watch me set fire to his 5% and clearly had the urge to lose more money after he’d seen me bust out of the poker.  Craps was going to be his game of choice, although he’d mostly forgotten how to bet - and how to keep the dice on the table!  So Vij concentrated on trying to shoot while I got to call the bets with his money.

The thing with craps is that it has to be a busy, rowdy table to be fun. Well, the two of us made it three (although that miserable bastard wouldn’t bet unless he was shooting) and at one point there were as many as five people standing around the table.  We didn’t quite reach critical mass to keep the game going and hi-fiving and shouting were unsurprisingly not present, but if there was even a little bit of a vibe I’d probably have wanted to stay longer.  The game wasn’t that bad at all.

They only allow single odds but with 50p and 20p chips in play you don’t get penalised for only betting the minimum.  Place the 6 and 8 for £3 each and you win £3.50 when it hits.  If you can still find a $3 craps game in Vegas (clue: it’s not on the Strip) you won’t get any change when you press a winning place bet to $6.

Without the change, there’d be no point taking odds on a £3 line bet for any number other than a 4 or 10, but a 6-5 true odds bet pays £1.20 for every pound behind the line.  The English denominations actually work out pretty well for the small-timers.  They definitely don’t let you bump up the bet to get a round payout – I tried! – and when I only put £2 down for 3-2, the dealers really didn’t know whether that was allowed.  To prevent all hell from breaking loose, just make sure your odds bet is the same amount as your line bet.

Frustratingly, hardways had the same £3 minimum as all the other bets, so there was no chance of a heroic parlay with loose change.  The odds were pretty good though (for sucker bets) giving 9.5-1 on the hard 6 and 8 and 7.5-1 on the hard 4 and 10.  The deliberately confusing 10-for-1 and 8-for-1 in Vegas actually mean a payoff of 9-1 and 7-1 respectively for a house edge of about 9% or 11% – one of the worst bets in the casino.  These adjustments halve the edge, and if only they had made it a quid minimum I’d play a hard six or eight with 4.5% juice all day long.

Crapshoot #2

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t know how to adjust to the standard of play in the EPT satellites.  Particularly on Sunday, it seems I had a lot to learn.  The following mania all happened during level 2 (blinds 50/100).

The under-the-gun player raises to 350.  A frustrated Scandinavian calls and the next player re-raises to 900.  The re-raiser only has 700 left, so he’s going nowhere and I’m suspicious about why he hasn’t just moved all-in already.  I find pocket jacks in the cut-off.  It’s the best hand I got to see in either tournament, but with an UTG raiser who has me well covered, it’s not a good spot to gamble my stack so I fold.  UTG makes the powerplay of a smooth call.  Obviously he wants to take the flop 3-way, but the other guy dissapoints him.  Naturally with a pot of over 2000, the remaining 700 gets thrown in on a low flop.  We see the re-raiser’s pocket 9s hold up against UTG’s T8s.

Lessons learned: Pocket pairs are always raising hands.  Folding to a re-raise is weak.

I stayed out of the way for this one.  All folded to the button who raised to 350.  He had 98o, but the steal attempt is OK.  Big blind defends with J5, a little stubborn but in fact the best hand.  Soulscan successful.  When the flop comes J97, carnage ensues.  BB check-raises all-in with his monster top pair and the button decides it’s a great idea to not get pushed around, calling his last 4000 chips to win about 6000 with a gutshot and middle pair.  Seat open.

Lessons learned: Always defend your blind by calling out of position with garbage.  Folding a straight draw is weak.

That bustee had used up all his luck in an earlier hand when he had raised small preflop with pocket aces, followed by a massive all-in overbet on a 952 flop.  Just go ahead and tell everybody how strong you were before the flop and hope nobody caught up.  For sure you won’t get called now unless they got very lucky to outflop you.  But outflopped he was, by pocket 2s.  Then turn 5, river 5 put him back in front in the cruelest way possible.

Next, I limp after three others with 67s.  One more player calls and the short stack big blind moves all in.  I’m starting to get desparate and wonder if there’s any reason to call here after it’s folded back to me.  I decide it’s not even close - the pot odds aren’t good and the raiser has been quite tight.  In fact, in the land of the results-oriented, my 67 would have made a straight.  I know this because the player on the button called and also made the straight with 63o.  Pocket aces went home.

Lessons learned: Limp with any old shit if you have position.  Folding once you have put chips in the pot is weak.

I didn’t survive long into level 3.  In fact the levels were a complete trainwreck.  We were sent on a break at what I thought was the end of level 2, but when we got back it was still the same level.  "Another 2 minutes at this level", they announced.  About fifteen minutes later, the blinds actualy went up.

In level 3, blinds are 100/200.  The only reason there are still t25 chips in play is that antes kick in on level 4.  And to think I was worried that I might not be able to make an 8pm train home if I did well.

I was down to a thousand and change on my small blind and with 3 limpers already wanting to take a cheap look I completed with 78s.  The big blind pays no attention to the action so far and makes it 500 to go.  One of the limpers now decides to fold, but two do come along for the ride.  Having been unable to find any spots to gather chips so far and expecting to be called if I actually get chance to open-push in the next orbit, I decide I have to play this hand.  I could call and close the betting, then be the first to throw my chips at any flop that looks good, but I don’t fancy pulling a stop-and-go against three other players, and with less than 1/5th of the pot size left to bet.  By moving all-in here, I want to re-open the betting to allow the agreesor to isolate, and leave plenty of dead money in the pot to give a reasonable payoff if my second-best hand improves.  Not a superb situation to be in, but I’d run out of time and couldn’t expect to see much better.

In fact we take a flop four ways, and it doesn’t really surprise me – even though one of the callers has left himself with just 300 chips now.  Never mind.  I’m right back in the game if I get lucky here.  Flop: 89T with two spades – a pair and open ended straight draw.  Could be worse, until I see the other cards.  67 is loving his made straight and I can only split with him.  But we’re both actually drawing dead to QJ in spades – the current nuts with a flush draw to boot.

So there ends my EPT journey.  £660 for less than three hours of poker.  Next year, I think I’ll probably not bother.

What’s wrong with this structure?

I decided to try something different while I contemplated my retirement from Gutshot’s cash game with a perfect record.  So I went to The Vic instead.  Sitting proud on top of Argos – among all the retail space in Las Vegas, I can’t think of a one casino that is connected to a catalogue store - The Vic boasts that it is "open from 11am to play on the slots".  If you need to gamble earlier in the morning – maybe to try to win enough to buy breakfast - a motorway service station is about your only option still.

38 players. It was a quiet night with a travelling contingent of regulars apparently in Manchester for the GUKPTK.  9 spots paid. Yes, they really did pay 23% of the field.  9 get paid here whether there’s 38 or 72 players.  At least it goes some way to offsetting the variance in this crapshoot of a tournament that you get for £50. 

The blinds double every 20 minutes right up to 200/400, before finally slowing down a little but by the time it’s at 300/600 it doesn’t really matter.  The average stack for this level was only about 4000.

So I had to get lucky, and the way I got lucky was to somehow survive to the final two tables without really seeing any cards worth noting, having much of the garbage I threw away making monsters and dumping marginal hands that appeared to be way behind but in fact were winners.

6 limp, and only I fold with my 23o.  Of course it would have made a full house on a 3342 board, with plenty of action from pocket tens and a J7 who hung around long enough to catch top pair on the river.  Later, my 88 looked like nothing on a K9x board with a bet and a call ahead of me, but not only was I in front (against ace-high and a flush draw) but the turn brought another 8 and the river gave me what would have been quads.  You would think the crappy hands in that pot would never pay me off, but I just can’t be sure.

Down to two tables with still not many more chips than I started with, I picked up two decent pots by moving all in against a raiser and apparently having just enough to take it down uncontested both times.  Then I just blinked a couple of times while nine other players busted very quickly.  I’d only showed one hand (AK all in against another AK) the whole game right up to when I went out – obviously I didn’t win, or I’d have said by now!

At the final table, three big stacks almost had enough to see flops and stuff.  Nobody managed to catch up, so these are the prizes I was actually playing for.

9th £60
8th £80
7th £100
6th £110
5th £150
4th £190

Only £10 more for 6th place than 7th, even though the bottom three prizes go up by £20 a time?  Obviously, once I’d spotted that 6th place was getting stiffed, my fate was sealed.

The perceived greatness of king-jack offsuit was all I needed to see to take a gamble after being whittled down to my last 2000.  I ended up in about as good shape as I could hope for, drawing live against A2 and AQ with an added bonus of 1200 in dead money from the big blind.

I’d not helped myself by making a super-weak fold with A8s when I should have pushed with 9 players left, simply because one of the short stacks would be forced all in next hand.  In fact he doubled up, and the ghost of Dan Harrington lingered as I walked home.  He was waving a little flag that said "first in vigorish" and kept asking what my M was.  I wanted to punch him, but he was a ghost.  Also a ghost of somebody who isn’t actually dead.

£110 wasn’t all I won tonight though… must be on a roll.

Not on TV again.

Not yet anyway :)

I played a satellite last night at Gutshot for the Party Poker World Open, one of those six handed made-for-TV efforts that wishes it was Late Night Poker.  I lost one race out of one, my AK not getting there against 77 and that was that.  9th out of 20.

The signs weren’t good for this one anyway.  It was Friday the 13th and I was 13th to sign up.  Yes, there was a player called Jason.  No, he didn’t have a mask.  (Edit: Jason came 2nd; it was Saturday 14th by then though).  It started at 11pm, and the fact that these numbers even got me thinking about that awful Jim Carrey movie is a very bad thing: 11pm is 23:00.  But wait, there’s more.  23 is 13 plus 10, and ten is the number of players starting at each table.  The televised heat starts on the 27th of April: 27/4, and twenty seven minus four is twenty sodding three.  We started with 3000 chips, the levels were 25 minutes long and my coffee cost £1.50 and tasted like bleach.  What was my point?

As it was a late start, I spent the first part of the evening playing the £25-£50 pot limit game, and I’m now eight for eight in winning sessions and, on average, up £60 per session.  I may consider retiring with my perfect record.  It’s only about a month until I’m finished working in London on a regular basis, and I’ll probably have to work in the evening the next few times I come down anyway, so I can easily walk away undefeated.

On the other hand, Vegas is T-99.  And I know nobody will get this, but what the hell…

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Double digits now, but it’s still over three months away.  What am I going to do meantime?  I’m still running hot at Gutshot.  A good chunk of my £54 profit last night came from my AK top pair not losing to a massive 62s flush draw.  I think he’d paired the 2 as well, so it’s obviously impossible to fold in that spot.  Yes, I did raise pre-flop.  How can I quit a game like that, even if I do owe it money?

Just time for a quick quiz for wannabe poker dealers:

Q: At showdown, the board reads 444Q2 and there’s no flush possibility.  Two players flip over K9 and K6 respectively.  Do you:

a) Push the pot towards K9.  The board didn’t help either hand, so the best hand pre-flop must be the winner.

b) Stare at the board until someone says either "nine plays" or "split pot".  It’s their money: they’re paying attention so you don’t have to.

c) Anticipate the possibility of a split from the texture of the board.  Read the damn hands like you’re meant to and chop up the pot before anyone gets chance to tell you how to do your job.

If you answered (c) please apply for work at Gutshot.

Seriously.  I saw split pots with three of a kind or two pair on board pushed to the wrong person by three different dealers.  Fortunately there were always plenty of nits who weren’t involved in the hand to have a contest to see who could yell "split pot" first.