A little over a week ago, I had some time to kill and a great deal on a rental car, so I did what any self-respecting poker fiend would do, I drove to the nearest casino. The plan was relatively simple. It was a weekend day, I had a car, and my bro-in-law Marc was also looking for some hot poker action, so we would travel to the nearest live casino, the Bethlehem Sands, for some 1/2 NLHE action and whatever else tickled my fancy.
The ride was interesting, to say the least. If one’s poker luck is related to one’s driving luck, it was going to be a tough day. I probably made four wrong turns before getting out of Jersey City. However, once we hit the open road, it was relatively smooth sailing.
Amongst my local poker-playing friends, Atlantic City is king. It’s certainly how I’ve felt about New York area poker for as long as I could remember. We had essentially two options until about 2010 or so: Atlantic City or the Connecticut Indian casinos. In Atlantic City, there were a slew of casinos, a beautiful and easy to navigate boardwalk, and other attractions, albeit none that actually interested me or my poker degenerate friends. In Connecticut, it was like a trip to Poker Island. The two Indian casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, were far from each other (or at least far enough that it wasn’t realistic to hop back and forth, so once you arrived at your poker destination, you better enjoy yourself, because your options were severely limited. Add to the fact that the Connecticut casinos had high room rates for hotels, and AC, the place where I practically grew up, became king of the hill.
The same is probably true today to my group. But Bethlehem Sands is making a strong argument for title of the best nearby poker.
I have already described the poker room in prior posts, but briefly, the casino used to be a steel mill, so it’s a huge open area. The poker room is set back from the self park garage, but close enough that it is 2 minute walk. The poker room itself is open to the casino floor, with a half wall somewhat surrounding it (or is it a velvet-rope-type setup?). Regardless, if you don’t like the noise of a casino floor, then this is not the room for you. On the other hand, if you like players who will just as soon be playing slots as poker, then this is an ideal setup. The poker room invites less serious players by being open and looking exciting.
The room has 30 tables, soon to expand to 36, and whereas tournaments used to be nonexistent, they are now regularly held, not that I have had an opportunity to play in any of them.
When we arrived, it was probably around noon, and there was a small wait list for 1/2 NLHE, maybe 5 people deep. We joined the list and were happy to hear that a new table would be started, with Marc and I two of the ten participants. We agreed to sit away from each other. I chose the 2 seat because it provides a nice view of most players. Marc went with the 8 seat. We didn’t converse during the poker. Instead, we mostly ignored each other. However, we never outright lied or acted like we didn’t know each other. When it was time for lunch, for instance, we left together. I just made it a point not to shout across the table to him or appear buddy buddy. We don’t soft play each other, but if people know that you are friends with a fellow player at the table, they may see soft playing where none exists. Worse, they may ask him about me or vice versa, or they can read how we play each other to gain further insight into our respective games.
Marc and I have a friendly competition in just about everything we do, so in a couple of hours, when I had amassed a nice stack of about $550 from my $300 starting stack and Marc was still at around $350 from his $300 starting stack, I was happy to see that (a) we were both winning and (b) I was winning more. My favorite ATM at the table was a guy in the 6 seat, wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. There was something effeminate about him, to the point that the 1 seat, an old man, referred to Hoodie multiple times as “her” or “she.” I wasn’t 100% sure it was a dude either until Hoodie spoke up. He looked like a dude, for sure, but his features could easily lead you to believe that he was a woman dressed to look like a stereotypical poker player, like reverse drag. Whatever the case, Hoodie clearly understood the game and may’ve been a rounder (grinder), but those same traits made him exploitable for a guy like me who understands the mindset of a knowledgeable intermediate poker player.Days have passed, now, so individual hands are murky. I can, however, remember a couple of spots where I feel very satisfied by my play.For instance, the one seat eventually left, and was replaced by a skinny Caucasian guy with a goatee who seemed pretty conscientious about what was happening at the table. Thankfully, like Hoodie, Goatee knew just enough to get him into trouble. I caught him twice on bluffs, the first time holding only fourth pair. The second time was even better. I held AQo, raised preflop in early position, and only got one caller, Goatee, out of position. The flop were all under cards, but when Goatee checked, I put out a continuation bet. He called. The turn was a blank and he checked again. This time, I checked, feeling that my AQ (Ace high) may’ve been good, but uncertain. On the river, he led out, betting a decent amount, $40, which was probably about 3/4 of the pot. It was the size of the bet and the action that stood out to me. Once I checked the turn, I demonstrated a certain amount of weakness. If he were setting a trap, a bet of $40 would not work against a weak player, who would just fold. I certainly wasn’t showing strength, so there was no way the $40 was a value bet. Therefore, I figured, it must be an outright bluff. There was a flush draw on the board that never got there, so I thought I was maybe playing against a busted flush draw. I called and he showed JTo, for an outright bluff. The table seemed impressed with the call, which is great for image, but frankly, irrelevant to how I would have played it. Whatever the case, it was nice to see that I could follow my gut and call off $40 with nothing but Ace high.
Unfortunately, it was a roller coaster day, and what went up (my stack) eventually came down. I went from a high of around $550 ($300 starting stack), to even, to down a little bit, then a bit more, and finally, at my worst, I was down around $300, having rebought three times for $100 apiece each time my stack dipped below $200. I wanted to make sure my stack was ready for when the good times were coming, but that also meant that the table saw me rebuy multiple times. On my last rebuy I simply asked for a black chip. I had no idea how wonderfully profitable that black chip was going to be.
In the major hand in question, I held KJ preflop and ended up against Hoodie. The flop was awesome for me, having flopped trips (JJx). I bet out and Hoodie called. I had been dominating him most of the day in hands, so I think he had it in for me. The turn was a blank and the action was the same. I bet, fairly large, actually, and he called. The turn was another Jack. DQB! (For newer readers/bloggers, DQB means, “Dems Quads Bitches!” Don’t ask.). I bet out $50 on the river. I wanted to make sure I got some action. Hoodie tanked and then pushed $100 in front of him. Damn, bro was going to raise me? I was silent for a minute, acted like I had a lot to consider, and then pushed a $100 stack or reds with my black $100 chip atop into the middle of the table. Hoodie immediately flipped his hand face-up. I don’t recall what he had now. I think the river was an Ace and he filled up for a boat. Whatever the case, as soon as his cards hit the table, the dealer corrected him. “That’s a raise sir.” He said, “I call” fairly quickly. He looked like he had just taken a gulp of sour milk. I think on some level, he knew he was beat, but he had such a strong hand and a split second ago felt so confident that he couldn’t fold there. Hallelujah! I showed my hand and raked in the chips.
Of course, one DQB isn’t enough. I made quads again with 66 in a hand where I flopped the set and then check-raised the turn before rivering quads. The hand was between me, Marc and an Indian fellow. On the flop, when I flopped bottom set, Indian checked, Marc bet, and the Indian and I both called. I considered raising, but I wanted to keep both of the players in the pot. On the turn, the Indian bet, Marc raised and I decided not to mess around, re-raising a lot on top. The Indian called and Marc folded. I was ahead the whole time. The Indian had TPTK (AQ on a Q-high flop). Almost as easy as winning money playing online slots.
By the time Marc and I left, my chip stack had taken quite the trip. Even to +$250 to -$300 to +425. Marc’s path was more steady, ending ahead $360.
We grabbed some dinner at the food court using our comps we had amassed over the 8 hour or so session and then hit the road. The trip home was easy…until we got to Jersey City. The PATH train was shut down, so I had no choice but to take the car back to NYC, proper. But, at least it was a successful trip.
If there was a lesson for me, it is about keeping patient. In the middle, when I went on a -$550 swing, I was probably not playing super well AND I hit a cold spell of cards. I can control the first part, but not the second. Alas, all is well that ends well.
Until next time, make mine poker!