Another week at the beach: Poker at the Tropicana

So I just got back from what was nearly a dream week.  Sarah rented a beachhouse in Brigantine, right next to Atlantic City, and we piled ourselves, Moishe, and the nanny into the mommy-wagon and headed out for a week.  Sarah had just returned from Burning Man, so she was still having re-entry problems, but I was raring to go.  A solid week of 7 card stud online had me excited to play the game live.

That’s sort of like saying I had built so many roads playing SimCity I was excited to try ditch-digging myself for real.  Live stud had really none of the excitement of the online game, but more on that later.  After slogging through some positively evil traffic we arrived at the most perfectly chosen house whose only flaw is a lack of high speed Internet.  For that, Sarah had to drive to the Borgata to work all week.

What follows below are the lessons and results of my week in AC.  To save you skipping to the end, my net profit was exactly $1 for 25 hours of play time.  25 hours?  Didn’t you say you were there for a week?  Yes, but I had to come back for 2 days mid-week for an important pitch, so it wasn’t really a whole week.  In case your math skills are weak, I made four cents an hour playing poker.

I won’t be quitting my day job, or if I do, I’ll play different games.  But more on that later.

Lesson #1: Get yourself a horse racing sheet
I like to take notes during a game.  Sadly, taking notes freaks people out, so I was thrilled to see an idea from 2+2’s forums that suggested you go get a horse racing schedule and take notes on it.  Holy crap, it really works!  Nobody noticed me taking notes, and somebody even asked me who I was going to bet on, and I said, "I haven’t really got a read on anyone yet."   The truth!

Horse racing guys, who often make bad players with a lot of gamble in them, often try and strike up conversations about the upcoming races.  I just smile and say I really don’t know what I’m doing.

Lesson #2: Improving my 7 card stud play
I played a lot of 7 card stud at the Tropicana.  Twelve hours worth to be exact.  Almost half my play time last week.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. You need to be at least 60 to play $1-5 spread limit 7 card stud.  If you’re not yet retired, you will play worse as a result of being forced lectured to by people 20 years your senior.
  2. 7 stud games without antes have very, very small pots.
  3. Old people tip for shit.  Dealers who make $5 per hour must hate dealing low stakes stud tables.  When confronted with the challenge of what to tip on a $5 pot when nobody has any fifty cent pieces, the right answer is to tip NOTHING.  Especially if you’re over 60.  (I always tipped a dollar while saying my catch phrase, "We all gotta eat.")  When the senior to my left said, "If I tip I won’t be able to make money at this game, and how will I know if I’m playing well?" I replied, "You mean you can’t analyze your hand after it’s done and tell if you played well?"   Nobody was listening to the young whipper-snapper.
  4. I bet hidden premium pairs way too much.  Chip Reese says you must pay to make players play against you when you’re holding Aces through Jacks.  What he doesn’t say is that you must make them pay every street if they don’t improve.  Mistake corrected.
  5. People reliably bet two pair or trips the same way on the river every time.  If they bet two pair on the river once, at low limits, they will always do it.  If they check it, they always check it.  It’s like a big fucking neon sign on their forehead telling you what they have.  This allows you to not only make the wonderful river value bet, but occasionally the river value raise.  That’s right, a value freakin’ raise.  Unbelievable.

Result: 12 hours of play for -$89

Lesson #3: Low limit Hold’em continues to be a money maker for me
I appear to be a monster at $2/$4 and $4/$8 hold’em.  This is where I made all the money that I pissed away slanging out $5 bluff bets every street at 7 card stud.  I reliably know when to bet, when to raise to create the massive pot in case my hand hits, and how to read my opponents.  However I am still learning new poker techniques, and when my friend from Philly Eric came down to play poker, I wanted to play with him both for the fun and to help coach him if he asked for it.

When Eric arrived, I presented him with a copy of Small Stakes Hold’em that I had bought for myself, but that I thought he would put to better use.  Eric is making plenty of virtual money on the free tables, and after watching him play for a couple of hours I had an epiphany.  Although Eric is several years behind me in his poker development, I wouldn’t dream of saying something so condescending like, "He has the making of a great poker player."  Hell, I’m not a great poker player, and to say that kind of thing about somebody else is obnoxious.  I will say this though, Eric is a million times better at this point in his poker career than I was at that stage in mine.  That’s almost certainly because he’s a freakin’ MIT level genius.

When Eric showed up I decided I wanted to play my best game, so we parked ourselves at the Borgata and got to work.  The Drunken Master did not make an appearance.  We ended up at the same table next to each other and began our long session.  We promptly invented a new trick that really improved our play.  Eric counted orbits, while I kept track of every time we voluntarily put money in the pot by making little stacks of chips.

After a while this became a sort of competition, with both of us trying to play tighter than the other while still playing good poker.  Fans of Poker Tracker know that I’m talking about the VP$IP statistic, a measure of how often you voluntarily put money in the pot.  We were computing it manually, and tracking it was having the intended effect.  We were both playing tighter, even folding junk in the small blind because it was such a long shot to hit.

We both played really well, with me telling Eric his pre-flop play was perfect, and more than that, miles ahead of the other players at the table who played 3-5 hands out of every 10.  His post-flop play was where he was really having to work hard, and when I told him to slow down, give the dealer a "time" signal and count his outs, he began playing flawless poker. 

Honestly, he made it look that easy, all while taking some horrific beats (his full house got Katrina’d by quads).

I continued to use this live VP$IP trick through the rest of the trip and it really was an awesome way of assessing my play mid-session.  I highly recommend you steal it wholesale for your own use.

Result: 9 hours of play for $108 profit

Lesson #4: You can spot juicy games, just look!
I had one of those poker epiphanies one day when playing 7 card stud and deciding whether to play in the traditionally wild pink chip ($7.50/$15) game.  Stepping away from my rock garden 7 card stud game, I peeked at the pink chip game and saw a hand developing pre flop.  The blinds were in, an early player called, a middle player raised, and then three other late position players called the $15 bets cold.  Each of these players had at least $400 in front of them, and one had what looked like $1,100.

In that moment I realized I was good enough to detect juicy games and use that kind of knowledge in table select.  (Of course I went and put myself on the list).  I ended up playing just a couple of pink chip sessions that trip and coming in down $18 (about 1 big bet), but I was pretty happy with my play.  My favorite part was when our table broke, and a big winner with $1,400 in chips said, "If you want to play while I’m racking up, I’ll stay with you."

I loved this.  He had no idea that I was a heads up fanatic.  I ended up playing an extremely aggressive, knife-edge 15 minute heads up game, trying to learn quickly all his patterns and then exploit them.  In the end I made $15 for my 15 minutes of work, but it was well worth it.

Result: 5 hours of play for -$18


And so that’s the trip.  I hope to return soon, as this is becoming an excellent vacation spot for us that combines beach and cards in the same place.


  1. BilldaCat on September 11, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Much like in low-limit hold’em, pairs decrease in value in low-limit stud. Play weak 3 flushes and high gap straights more often (the latter if you can get in for the ante), because that’s where you make the money — as unless you are showing 4 to a suit or a straight, you WILL get called down. every time.

  2. ShabbirJSafdar on September 14, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    You know, I often think people should start playing 7 card stud before hold’em. Understanding that you can bluff purely based upon your up cards is a quicker lesson in image than anything I learned in Hold’em.