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As the Stone Turns (Syracuse Trip Report)

This weekend, I joined wifey Kim and our mutual bud, B, to Syracuse to visit a few of wifey Kim's friends who just bought a house. The 'Cuse was a revelation for me...a revelation in what I would probably never have. Living in NYC is tough, in some ways. Overall, I consider myself blessed to be in the Center of It All, but after spending a weekend seeing the alternative, I admit that I am a bit tempted to pick up my stakes and move camp. Living in Syracuse would allow me easy access to a poker room, the Turning Stone Casino, cheap property and probably a decent enough salary as an attorney without the hastle of taking a new bar exam. It's a dream world, which I find a tad ironic for a guy who a year ago would've said that he never wanted to leave the City. But it'll probably never happen because wifey Kim and I have our roots near the City and it'd be hard leaving friends and family behind. Besides, all I need is wifey Kim. Location is secondary.

One of the highlights of the weekend was my trip with Craig to Turning Stone Casino for a $90 tournament that started at 11 am on Saturday. Craig and I had played on a few other occassions. When he lived in Vegas with wifey Kim's friend, Craig showed me around to several poker rooms while the girls caught up. When we all met up in Colorado for the Anti-Semitic Wedding, Craig joined me for our excursion into the Colorado poker scene. Now it was time for me to see his new home turf, and overall, I was quite impressed.

The Turning Stone looks like a convention center/hotel complex in the middle of nowhere. I didn't get a feeling for the surrounding area, mostly because we exited the highway, drove on some open roads in the middle of nowhere and pulled into the complex. Upon first sight, it's pretty impressive looking, a sprawling complex with several towers. Inside, it was just as impressive. It may not have had the sheen of a new Vegas casino, but the place felt mostly new, clean, expansive, and overall seemed like a good place to play.

As we walked in, I asked Craig about how busy it would be. Apparently, the poker room has been hurting. Craig has his own theories, with one being that the poker room made a big mistake by changing their tourney schedule. Instead of having different events every day, it's a general tournament ran daily. This reduces the menu of offerings and the temptation/need for a player to attend on a particular night. For instance, if you like rebuy tourneys, you may show up for a Wednesday rebuy event instead of waiting for the weekend. When every day is the same tourney and buy-in, though, there is no incentive to play on one day rather than the other. So, instead of regular "events" that bring in customers, you have a general incentive to play that probably only attracts a very casual type of player.

The Turning Stone allows gambling at the age of 18, but does not serve alcoholic drinks. In fact, there is a club on the premises that apparently allows the clientelle to bring in their own alcohol. I assume this was a compromise to allow the 18 minimum age requirement. It seems odd to me, but when in Rome...

There was another odd quirk, too. Apparently, some law requires that the poker room be a private club. Hence, Turning Stone has to take a cover charge for all players. It's a once-a-day fee of $2, paid at the entrance of the room. For your $2, you get a little card that you must display at all times at the table. Seems silly to me, but whatever works. Craig, meanwhile, grumbled about the $2 as only a poker player could: "Fine, there's a law, but why not charge $1 instead of $2." Craig also pointed out that Turning Stone's slots had a 50 or 60% payout, well below Vegas' regular 95%+ payouts. "It doesn't stop the blue-hairs from running through their social security checks though." And sure enough he was right. Those golden oldies swarm like bees.

We were twenty minutes early, so after paying the cover charge and signing up for the tournament, I found a seat by a TV and thumbed through the free copy of Card Player, once again marveling at what passes for poker media. Eventually, it was time for the tourney to start, so I took my seat and waited.

The tourney had a buy-in of $90, although I don't know what the breakdown is from buy-in and fee. There were just short of 100 players on a Saturday afternoon. The tables were clean, comfortable and overall in good condition. The tournament chips, though, were old and pretty dirty. The green 25 chips were of varying shades of green, not just because of the dirt, and the tourney chips generally felt cheap and flimsy. However, the dealers were quick and courteous, which is probably the most important thing.

My table had an eclectic group, mostly white male with ages ranging from young 20s (maybe younger) to senior citizens. More than a few players were clearly clueless and did not understand simple concepts like being first to act when under the gun. I tried to take mental notes as I gathered info from my table.

The table's general demeanor was tight and scared. I liked it. Once I realized no one was really playing fancy, I knew that it would be a good table to try the limping-light strategy. It's basic small ball poker, playing lots of hands for cheap with the hope that I could outplay my opponents after the flop. I limp-folded a few times with suited connectors and suited gappers. I finally played my first hand due mostly to position.

There were a good 4 limpers into the pot, if not more, before the action got to me on the button. I held Qd3h, hardly a stellar hand, but since there was a lot of money in the pot, I decided to call merely to see a flop. I suppose a bunch of you are grumbling right now, since Q3o is hardly a premium hand. I don't blame you. For the casual observer or player, it makes little sense to play such crap cards. To me, I saw deep enough stacks (5,000, with blinds of 25/50), quickly escalating blinds (which lessened my chances for these light preflop calls), impressive pot odds and a predictable player base.

The flop came down Q-high with two low hearts. It checked to me and I considered checking as well. Finally, I opted for a bet, due to the draws and the fact that the action pretty much announced that no one hit top pair. I got called in two places and the three of us saw the turn, an Ace of hearts. It checked to me and I wondered if anyone was slowplaying their made flush. I didn't want to bet out since I very well could be behind a stronger (but still weak Queen) from one of the less experienced opponents who didn't know well enough to fold their better hand to my flop bet. I checked. We saw the river, a fourth heart. It checked to me and I checked as well. One person announced second-pair on the flop. I was surprised that no one had a heart besides me. I tabled my hand, Qd3h, and won the pot with a flush.

A very short while later, I received KK in EP. I decided to raise 3x the BB to 150 and got two callers. I was in the 9 seat and one of the callers was sitting across the table from me in the 3s. He seemed like one of the few players worthy of concern. He was a white male, aged in his mid to late 20s, with dark, bristly, short hair and a scraggly, tight black goatee. He seemed to be pretty serious about the game.

The flop was Q9X, rainbow. It checked to me and I bet out 350, hoping to get some action. To my surprise, the 3 seat check-raised for 850 total, 500 more to me. The action folded to me and I took my time. I didn't want to lose to a flopped set, but I couldn't imagine him playing so coy with QQ preflop. I also knew that my image was pretty wild, so he could've made this play with a wide range of hands. AQ seemed the most likely, so after weighing all the possibilities, I decided to get more information by re-raising 1500 more. That was a sizeable amount of our 5k stacks. His call told me that he did not have a set, and probably didn't have two pair either. AQ or KQ made the most sense to me at the time.

The turn was a Ten of Hearts, creating a heart flush draw. My opponent checked and I moved all-in. He thought for a while and I announced, "Just fold and nobody gets hurt." He did not acknowledge my statement and did not even look at me while he contemplated what to do. I can't understand that type of behavior, although I've fallen into it myself more than once. Really, he should have been staring at nothing but me. His cards weren't going to change if he stared at them. The board wasn't going to reveal anything. But maybe he could pick something off of my mannerisms. After a long wait, he called. We flipped over our cards, my KK vs. his J9d. He had flopped second pair, check raised me and then called my re-raise, turned a straight draw and a flush draw, and then called my all-in. His all-in call wasn't bad. His flop play, though, was fairly weak. The river came down, 8d, and he hit his straight to win the pot. He had me covered by 50 or so, and that was it for me and the tournament.

I was friendly to everyone as I gathered my stuff. As I left the table, I heard the 3 Seat explaining himself to his neighbors: "He showed the Q3o earlier. I couldn't put him on Kings!" Whatever, dude. It's clearly his effort to assuage some embarassment or whatnot. Lord knows I didn't give him any shit for the hand.

I walked to the next table, where Craig was still playing in the tournament. He had won our last longer bet, but we had a caveat. If he won more than $1000 in the tournament, I'd get my buy-in back and the last longer bet was nil.

With time to kill and poker on the brain, I signed up for a 1/2 NLHE game. When I sat down, the table was tight. Super tight. Everyone was folding to $6 raises preflop. I accepted my fate in this tighty table, since I was really just killing time. I was also getting a feel for the players.

The dealers at the cash games were universally good. They were quick and mostly friendly. When I got a bit uppity, they mostly played along. One dealer shared that the room was going through tough times and had laid off a bunch of staff. The room didn't seem to be rocking as much as it should have on a weekend afternoon, but it wasn't quiet either. When I first sat down, there were maybe 6-8 different cash games going. By the time I left, it was more like 16.

A little while after sitting down, an Asian guy took the 2s. I was in the 4s. The Asian guy looked familiar, but I couldn't place it and still can't to this day. He actually looked like someone I had played poker with before, although I probably never had any words with the guy. I could tell immediately that he was a loose player. He limped in a bunch of pots with crap cards and hit showdown a few times. I made it a thing to get into pots with him.

I don't remember my first pot with him, but I ended up winning it for about $35 profit or so. I remember thinking, "That was what I was waiting for." I had position and a loose player. I was ready to rock and roll.

A few hands later, I was dealt AA. I raised preflop to $10. I was considering a smaller bet, $7 or $8, because of the tight table, but the Asian was in the SB, so I figured I'd get a call from him at the very least. Instead, I got two calls, one from a guy on my immediate left and the Asian.

The flop came down K83, rainbow. It checked to me and I bet out $15, hoping to keep the Asian on the hook. The guy to my left folded, but the Asian called. The turn was a blank. It checked to me and I bet out $30. The Asian raised $55 on top. I took my time trying to figure out my play. He had lost a few pots already and had topped off his buy-in at some point. I figured he was chasing his losses and was willing to gamble. I went over the hand in my head and I assumed that he thought I was running a play. I had established myself as a skilled player and my betting pattern in the hand could be construed as a sign that I held less than stellar cards. To recap, I raised $10 from EP, meaning that I had something in my hand. I bet weakly on the flop, suggesting that I was probing for info or hoping to buy the flop for cheap. On the alternative, I may have a monster and was trying to get action. On the turn, I raised my bet considerably, suggesting that I no longer wanted info; I wanted to end it. If I were the Asian, I might think that the other guy (i.e., me) probably missed his two high cards or felt vulnerable to the flopped King. I would raise him (me) to force a fold and take down a considerable pot. If the action played back at me, I could fold.

I considered all of this and re-raised all-in. I figured he might call me light with a strong King. I was wrong though. At showdown, he tabled K3h, for flopped two pair. I had been played. Unlike the hand where AA was cracked, this one was more my fault. I think my thought process was ok, but I could've gotten a better read on my opponent. Looking back, I suppose he may've been more comfortable than I like.

Interestingly, when he got up to play at a 2/5 game, he lightly tapped my shoulder and said, "sorry." I replied, "hey, it wasn't your fault." It was a good 15 or 20 minutes after the AA was cracked, but we both knew what we were discussing. I think we developed some mutual respect, crafted from the recognition that we were the only real players at the table.

I wish I could say things turned around. They didn't. I was three-outtered on the river in one hand that lost me another $100+. I lost many more hands and finally cashed out down a little more than $300 in the cash. I just couldn't get traction. I don't even want to go into it too much here because it just sounds like excuses. Suffice it to say that it wasn't the best day I've had at the tables. Overall, I felt like I was playing well, but it was hard to overcome some of the natural obstacles that are a part of poker.

At one point, I was called for a new 5/10 O8 game. I was stuck probably $250 in the cash game at that point and considered heading to O8. When I got to the table, it was 8 or so old white guys with grey hair. I walked back to the NLHE table and mentioned to the dealer that I just checked out the LO8 game. "Good luck getting in there." "Actually, a seat is open, but the table composition looks kinda...(I didn't want to say old)...tight." "Yeah," the dealer replied, "those guys are all regulars. They just want to pass time." I accepted that the game would not be juicy and stayed at the NLHE table.

After the several hours of play, what really struck me was the different ways that the two players who cracked my premium hands (KK in the tourney, AA at cash) acted. The first guy was immediately looking for excuses to justify his play. He was clearly less experienced than the latter Asian guy and felt embarassed about his good fortune. It kinda pissed me off because I was beyond the hand already and didn't need to hear him going on about how his play was justified. No one critiqued him, myself included. In contrast, the Asian guy just kept his mouth shut and quietly "apologized" on his way to a new table. His "sorry" seemed to be as much about acknowledging the bad beat as opposed to asking for forgiveness. And his response was really a lot easier on me, largely because of my reaction.

In both instances, I accepted the results. I didn't like my play in the second hand against the Asian, but I couldn't and wouldn't fault myself for the play with KK in the tournament. I looked for opportunities to learn from each, but didn't dwell on what could have been or how bad my luck was.

Down about $400 in a day, my total for the year is increasingly bleak. I'm still in the black, but I am so far behind my intiial goal for the year as to make it completely irrelevant. But I am committed to the game for the long haul and I take this year as merely a step along the way. It can't all be forward progress.

One bright thing that came out of the trip, poker-wise, was the fact that Craig had just finished Gus Hansen's new book. I'm not one for poker books any more, but I decided to check it out and so far its been a revelation. I guess my style is closer to Gus' than I realized. Like Gus, my play may look erratic and reckless from the outside, but internally, its all calculated aggression. I can already feel my game getting stronger from the book and I hope to continue.

On the way out of the poker room, we stopped at a food court, which had a decent variety of stations. I settled on a simple burger, paid by Craig with my last longer money. He failed to cash, so we left the poker room after he busted, about 3 hours after the tourney had began.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 9:48 PM,


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Dawn Summers said...

oooh, so jealous! I've wanted to go to Turning Stone for freaking cold was it up there...might not be too late...

At 8:34 PM, Blogger BWoP said...

Be careful what you wish for. You've never lived through a Syracuse winter - which lasts from the end of October until the middle of April.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger BWoP said...

Did you get the Asian guy's name? From his play, it sounds like someone that I've tangled with before at Turning Stone.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Karol said...

"Besides, all I need is wifey Kim. Location is secondary."

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. Jordan has a heart!


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