Atlantic City Day One: The Fish Goes to Atlantic City

I lost a big bet playing Halo with my friend V. At the first grudge match I suggested a trip to Atlantic City as the wager. I won the practice match, and then V cleaned up the floor with me when we played for the real thing. Turns out he’s an incredible Halo player, and he had played me like a fiddle. Time to start booking rooms for a weekend in Atlantic City.

[I setup a training night to teach V poker, and I’ve included the player profiles and a handy chart here, and here in case you want to have your own training night.]

Getting there is half the fun
Friday morning and it’s time to go to Atlantic City. I had intended to ride up with V but he has a meeting and even if it ends on time, he’ll still be a little late. And V is never on time. Based upon V’s timeliness at dinner the other night, I decide to take the Amtrak to Philly. I try and sleep on the train, but I can’t. I really need to rest; a cappucino last night after dinner left me insomnic.

I arrive in Philly’s 30th Street station about the same time Bradley is landing at the Philly airport. By now V should be leaving DC, but then I get a message that he’s still delayed. I kill some time walking around the station and Bradley and I SMS each other while he’s en route to the station.

Through our cellphones we debate the value of getting a rental car. Problem is we have to return it here in Philly or it’s going to cost a fortune. Bradley doesn’t drive, and I’m going back to DC with V so getting it back to Philly isn’t going to be easy. I hadn’t even planned on going back to the Philly train station.

I go into the rental car open-air market, stand in the middle of 5 car companies, and ask two at once, “You guys don’t really compete with each other, do you? If not, just tell me the price.”

The rental car people all smile and then the guy from National, which is where I usually rent, says $35 / day plus taxes. A one way rental is at least $75 / day or more, but we’re going to have a car as soon as V gets here, so we’ll be paying for a car to just sit there. Screw that. I decline to rent a car (I’ll regret that later) and escort Bradley from the local train to the NJ Transit train to AC.

NJ Transit: The Last Mile Is The Longest
The Atlantic City train line is populated with older people going to gamble, the odd traveler, and in between two stations, dozens of Catholic high school students. They all get on at one stop, noisily traipse through the train, and then exit at the next station.

If I told you the school was called “St. Joseph”, you’d accuse me of generalizing about Catholic schools.

But I swear to you that all their clothes had embroidery that said “St. Joseph”.

I entertain us on the 90 minute train ride by teaching Bradley backgammon. We play the version on my Treo, and when we inevitably decide to play for money (of course!) he demands 4:1 odds because he’s just learned the game. He wins with a series of lucky doubles and wins $4. We then play a few more games while I negotiate the odds some more and I end up winning back all but $1 from him.

Trip total so far: -$1

AC: We have arrived in Oz
Ninety minutes on the train and we’re in AC. Since we don’t have a car, we are going to have to take cabs everywhere until V gets here. I still am proud of the decision not to rent a car. So far not having a car has cost us $22. But the car is at least $35 / day. It’s a good decision that we’ll regret later.

We head to our hotel, the Quality Inn. The place is a dump but it’s cheap and we’re not going to spend much time here anyway. We unpack our stuff and have a fanciful debate about where to play poker. We have been having this discussion for a week, even though I know the answer will be the Borgata.

All the other supposedly non-smoking poker rooms have smokers nearby that waft into your space while you’re playing. Also, the Taj Mahal is having a tournament and is short on tables, so the wait for seats is going to be awful. I have a theory that the players who leave the tournament will sit down and play cash games poorly because they got knocked out, but it’s really not compelling.

We’re going to end up at the Borgata. We always do. It’s the nicest place in the city, it’s full of poor players who are drunken kids from the nightclubs upstairs or bachelor parties here for the weekend. The waittresses at the Borgata are hot and half-naked, the dealers better trained, and the room and chips are extremely clean. It’s entirely for appearances that we have a week-long debate about where to play.

The hotel manager on duty calls us a cab and we get in. He asks, “Where to?” A week of endless discussions of poker environment esoterica come rushing back to me. Bradley and I look at each other in silence for all of three seconds and then I say, “The Borgata”.

We arrive at the Borgata: Our Poker Mecca
The wait at the Borgata for poker isn’t too bad at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. The after-work crowd isn’t even here yet. We put ourselves on the list for $2/$4 and $6/$12 Limit Texas Hold’em. Bradley’s more comfortable at high limits and we’d like to be able to talk to each other in between hands, so I’m going to play above my head a little.

Before we get $6/$12 seats, $2/$4 opens up and we go sit down to play for a while. Bradley thinks the other players at $2/$4 are stupid, so he begins pretending to play crazily to setup a “maniac” table image. What Bradley fails to realize is that nobody takes into account your table image when they decide to call a bet.

He announces to the entire table that he’ll be playing this entire round of hands “Negreaneu style”. Not even I know what that means, so he announces for the table that he’ll be raising the pot on every hand after only the first two cards. He does this for two hands, speaking snarkily and basically throwing money into every pot. When he loses a hand that everyone at the table knows he shouldn’t have played he says, “Oh bummer, I missed” in a tone so sarcastic that I know his attempt to look like a poor player didn’t work on anyone.

He has however succeeding in convincing everyone at the table that he’s a jerk. I’m sure they all think “Yeah, but he’s throwing money away so who cares?” I make a couple of big scores and I’m up about $19 almost instantly. One of these profitable hands results from Bradley’s “Negreaneau-style” play. Heh.

$19 is pretty good. It’s estimated by poker experts that if you play well you should be making 1 “big bet” per hour. For this game, I should be making $4 per hour. In ten minutes I’m up an entire hour’s worth of play! Damn I’m good! I manage not to smirk.

Ten minutes after we sit down Bradley gets called for $6/$12 and departs, a wave of condescension in his wake. The woman in the seat he vacates says, “He really didn’t like playing at this table did he?” I all but confirm her suspicions that he thinks he’s too good to play $2/$4, and doesn’t feel challenged. I want to bond myself to the table in the spirit of cameraderie that the guy who just left is a jerk, and we’re all happy poker players. Happy poker players don’t mind losing money so much, and over time, I wish to build a castle of their chips.

I play for another 10 minutes and see no cards before Bradley grabs me a seat at his $6/$12 table. I make the first mistake of my weekend and depart a table where I’m probably the best player there and move to a higher limit table where I’m probably right in the middle of the skill profile.

AC 6pm: I am Jack’s Righteous Fucking Ego
I sat down at the $6/$12 table with about $619 in chips (a bigger stack than most people at this table) and began playing. On my right I noticed a guy who looks familiar. We got to talking and when he told me he’s from Northern Virginia, I identified him as one of the people I needed to interview for my article on home poker games. He’s not one of the arrested ones either, which means that it’s an incredible stroke of luck that I found him. I passed him my notebook and he wrote his name and number in it and then in between hands I interviewed him. I also played some good cards and picked up about $180 in wins.

Sitting on almost $800 a mere hour into my trip, I’m The Man. I’m better at this poker thing than I thought! Easy riches await me, all I needed to do was sit at this table and wait for the perfect hands to show up! Play the cards, cash the checks. I was the cliché, “Pride goeth before the fall” personified.

Over the course of several hours in any poker game where there’s a skill differential you see a distinct pattern of the flow of chips. You see chips flow first from the worst players to the semi-skilled players. They often trade piles of chips back and forth but after a few hours, the poor players have busted out and the mediocre players (that’s me at the $6/$12 level) have their money. Then you start to see the best players relieving the mediocre players of their money.

You must ask yourself, why don’t the mediocre players realize this and just get up and leave? The reason is because the mediocre players just got done winning a bunch of money and don’t realize there’s a shark with an even bigger maw right behind them. They, in fact, fail to recognize their spot in the food chain isn’t the top.

Over the next five hours I lost all my winnings from both games and an additional $44 until we decided to break at 10:15pm for dinner. At this point I’m up for 39 hours on only six hours of sleep.

AC 10:30pm: Dinner is more expensive than just the bill
Playing with enough sleep is an important lesson I’ve learned in poker. Nothing causes you to play more reptilean and less analytically than a lack of sleep. It clouds your judgement. Judgement that would have allowed me to decline having a glass of white wine and port with dinner. We return to the tables, tired, lacking sleep, but not drunk. I buy in for $300 at the $6/$12 table at 12:30am and proceed to play past my bedtime on very little sleep and with two drinks in me. In other words, I’m playing worse now than when I play badly sober and fresh.

V finally bails
Somewhere in the middle of this Bradley and I are negotiating about what odds he would give me for a side bet regarding whether V would show up. We’ve come to an impasse. I think he’ll show up, but tomorrow morning. Bradley thinks he might not show up at all. He proposes 10 to 1 odds against him showing up but I decline. V wouldn’t do that.

Sometime before midnight V calls to say he’s bailing altogether, leaving us with an extra hotel room and no car. A client of his has demanded his presence during a critical moment in their relationship, and V has prioritized appropriately. I can’t fault him for it, but I am disappointed. My ability to read V is no better than my ability to read the other poker players, and I relinquish $266 before admitting that perhaps I’m over my head. We leave for our hotel at about 2:30am. I get to bed at 3am. Since I can’t cancel V’s hotel room, Bradley sleeps in it.

Day total: -$311
Trip total: -$311

Coming soon:
Tuesday: Day Two: Humility and Cappucino Reward the Patient
Wednesday: Day Three: You have a short memory, don’t you?