Raking pots among the sunburned

I had to attend a business meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so I went 48 hours early so I could play some cards. I actually got to play about twenty hours worth at several different casinos on the area. Here’s my quick tutorial on low limit poker in Florida, a review of where to go and what you’ll want to do when you get there.

In case you’re wondering how I measure my poker rooms, here’s a sense of what I’d like to see in a Florida poker room:

  • In-table card shufflers to maximize your hands-per-hour
  • A ban on smoking at the poker table to maximize my lifespan
  • Good dealers and wait staff
  • Free drinks
  • A steady flow of people who don’t mind losing at poker because they’re enjoying themselves

Also, I learned some key things in Florida about poker.

Florida poker quirk: It’s $1/$2 or $2 straight

In Florida they have a $2 bet limit mandated by the legislature. Most $1/$2 games are played with a big and small blind of $1 each. They also offer a straight $2 game as well, but the wait for it is always longer than the $1/$2.

If you’re really good, you’re going to make $5-$10 / hour over the long term. You may crush the game for more in the short term, but that’s going to even out over time when you stop seeing playable hands for three hours straight. This low limit also explains why I don’t bother explaining a comp program; I don’t think anyone has one.

They do provide tournaments which have a higher buyin, but I don’t play No Limit, Omaha, or Omaha/8 well enough to make them worth my time to play. If I want to practice my no limit tournament skills, I can do that online and lose a lot less. And sorry, you won’t find a no limit cash game in a legal poker room anywhere in Florida.

I do recommend asking around though. While playing at the dog track, a dealer told me he hosted a $1,000 buyin no limit cash game on Saturdays. After watching me fold my hands for two orbits he told me about it but I had already missed this week’s game, and frankly, I’ve all but stopped playing no limit to hone my poker skills at limit. There’s certainly other underground games around, and the best place to learn about them is going to be the poker room.

Your two pair is no good, but theirs rocks

This was a lesson I learned really well on this latest trip: when you see the flop with six or more players, somebody hit two pair. If it was you, unless it’s the top two pair and you get a lucky board, that two pair is going to lose. However the player who hits two pair will happily build the pot for you, betting all the way to the river and dragging those drawing to their naked Aces and Kings with them. This is to your benefit. Because your opponents think two pair is such an awesome hand, they’re going to bet like crazy with two pair.

If you know this, you can beat them by simply raising your standards for what a winning hand is. If two pair is no good because too many people see the flop, simply don’t play it when you hit. I routinely threw away bottom two pair flopped for free from the blinds to a scary board with any aggression up front.

Slowplaying flushes and boats will make you a bundle of money

At higher limits you can slowplay big hands against two other players to earn anywhere from two to five extra big bets. At $1/$2 if nobody is raising on the turn or the river you are likely to see the showdown with four or five other players. If you get a couple of them to call your raise on the river, you’ll be making ten to fifteen extra big bets per hand.

I found the trick to milking these players for maximum value is not to betray your hand strength on the flop or turn. They won’t fold their trash hands to a dollar raise or even a straddle before the flop, but they’ll drop out on the flop for as little as a buck. If you hit your nut flush or your boat on the flop, you want to call it to the river so you don’t scare anyone out. If you saw the flop with five or six people, someone hit their two pair and will build the pot for you. Obviously you need to be able to handle it when your flush gets drawn out by a full house, but if you can’t handle that already, you shouldn’t be sharking $1/$2 games.

Of course you shouldn’t do this with trips or straights on a flop with two suited cards. The mob of players will draw out on you with only three to a flush, so make sure they pay for every street and don’t flip out when you lose.

Don’t loosen up your starting hand standards

Your opponents are going to play any Ace with a raggedy kicker. Don’t do that too. You’re already going to be fighting tilt when you raise with your AK and people call you down (and re-raise with A7) and then hit two pair and beat you. If you start playing raggedy Aces you’re going to ride the full swing of the statistical curve with them. You’ll also lose to all the sneaky sets, miracle rivers, and runner-runner flush draws as well as the paired kickers. You generally don’t ever want to see a river with top pair top kicker and 2 or 3 other players. Why? Because someone called your $1 raise with 93 suited because 9’s are lucky to him, and he caught two pair.

You didn’t see it coming because it’s not close enough for a straight and there aren’t three cards on the board for a flush. But he had it and he whooped your ass with it. Don’t be like him.

And now, the reviews:

Seminole Hard Rock Casino poker room at Hwy 441 and Stirling Road

I think this is the the place to play poker if you’re hanging around the Fort Lauderdale area. It’s about 3 miles from the Fort Lauderdale airport, and open 24/7.

The poker room allows smoking, but it’s a really big area set into a large slot room with a very high ceiling and great ventilation. The wait staff is attentive, young and attractive, non-alcoholic drinks are free, and they have in-table card shufflers. I spent a total of about 7.5 hours their on my trip and made $94. (About $12.50 / hr). It’s a brand new room in a casino chain that actually cares about their customer’s environment, so it’s not likely to become rundown any time soon.

The in-table card shufflers at the Hard Rock are the only ones I found in the area, and they seem to make a huge difference in the number of hands per hour you see. When you’re sitting waiting for playable cards, this is key. During my first trip there, I played for 5 hours and saw only one playable hand in the first two and a half hours. I was dealt a pair of Kings that I raised and saw the flop with six other players. Of course I lost to a raggedy two pair, but that’s to be expected.

After 2.5 hours I had leaked away $50 in blinds and loose calls when I was dealt King-Five on the big blind and six players called an early $1 raise. I goofily tossed my extra dollar in and won with my own raggedy two pair. The small win changed my mental attitude at the same time the deck began to hit me over the head. Pocket pairs all flopped sets or boats while giving other players second-best hands of trips, flushes or smaller boats. When I finally cashed out for over $190, I was feeling pretty good about my poker skills.

Player quality at the Hard Rock is ideal for crushing the game. You’ve got people staying at the hotel getting in their afternoon poker experience. The habitual players are over at the other casinos, the Hard Rock crowd is friendlier and happier. In town for bachelor parties, or for a little vacation in Florida, they’re not frequenting this place putting in hour after hour where they might learn something.

Finally, the Seminole Hard Rock uses the QueueOS poker room waiting list management software combined with restaurant buzzers that have a broad range around the casino. You can wander off into the food court, which has a decent selection of good looking food and not have to worry you’re going to miss your table call. You can even take a seat with your name on a second list and play until you’re buzzed for the game you really want.

This is the casino you want to hone your low limit game in while staying in Fort Lauderdale.

Seminole Casino Poker Room at Hwy 441 and Stirling Rd.

Also see my previous writeup of playing at Jai Alai and Seminole poker rooms.
This is the older of one of two casinos at this intersection. It’s a poker/slot/bingo room that should be your last choice for play. Because they allow smoking the place stinks to high heaven, the food is awful, the drinks cost (even the soda and water), and the players are occasionally talented. They don’t have automatic shufflers and the food sucks. I once found myself snowed out of the Northeast and stuck overnight in the area, so I spent the night playing cards at this place while waiting for a 6am rebooked flight. Try it out if you’re just plain bored of the Hard Rock.

The last time I pulled a shift there I sat down at an eleven-seated table (plus the dealer makes twelve) and I was the only one who folded before the flop. I guarantee if you routinely see the flop with 10 people the quantity of crap that will start to beat you is going to make you tilt. I just folded and chuckled while I made a little money and pondered the expense of dry cleaning the cigarette smoke out of my clothes.

Oh, and the tournaments are often $100 to enter, and an ADDITIONAL $45 fee. That’s robbery, and you shouldn’t pay it. I wouldn’t play here again unless it was my only choice. It is open 24/7, though.

Dania Jai Alai Poker Room

This is an off track betting facility that also has Jai Alai games you can wager on. It’s only open until about midnight, so don’t get too comfortable in that seat. It’s frequented by retirees some of whom play pretty solid poker. That will cut into your earnings, so avoid them. It charges an admission, which seems wrong to pay just on principle. I wouldn’t play there again when I could drive another 20 minutes and play at the Hard Rock.

Palm Beach Kennel Club Poker Room

About an hour north of Fort Lauderdale is the dog track in West Palm Beach which also has a poker room. The room is non-smoking with competent waitresses and dealers. You can often find poor players there trying to multitask between following the races and playing poker, which is good for you.

They still shuffle by hand of course, and the drinks cost. The food selection is minimal and they annoyingly charge a fifty cent admission. I played about 11 hours there and only made $25 due to my mis-playing a number of hands when I thought I was invinceable with second best hand (and no, it wasn’t two pair).

That being said I enjoyed my time there and would happily play there again. This however was the only place that I saw two really good players sit down at a table during my entire trip. They came in an hour before the place closed, and removed $50 from the table a piece. It helped that they got dealt monster hands, but they knew exactly what they were worth and how to extract the biggest reward for it.

Though this poker room is new, it’s not likely to stay that way, and over time will become a dive. It closes at midnight.

Pompano Horse Track Poker Room

I didn’t play at the Pompano but another player told me it was his favorite place. He said their tournament juice is less greedy and they get a lot of players for their multitable tourneys. It’s not in Fort Lauderdale proper, so you may have to hike a bit to get there.