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Staked to Death (Colorado Trip Report)

Five days at an antisemetic wedding with an assorted list of people who will never be members of the HoP fan club has set me a little off of my usual routine. But five days 'vacation' was still a nice change from my usual grind, and I have been running roughshod through the office today, semi-recharged from the break and semi-panicky about the torturous months I have ahead. Yesterday, when waiting at the luggage carousel with wifey Kim, wifey Kim smiled and said to me, "We are going to California in four weeks." All I heard was, "You've got major pending deadlines just a little over four weeks away and a week in California to cut into your time." Not a good attitude at all, so I have resigned myself to simply do that which needs to be done, whether it requires weekends at the office or late nights five days a week.

I've got tons of stories from the antisemetic wedding, and I'll probably share a few of them here, including how I had to step in when some dude was hitting on my woman, how I made a drunk girl cry, and probably a few more odds and ends, as I begin to repiece together this weekend of drunken debauchery in Colorado. But since this is a poker blog, let's start with the poker.

When wifey Kim first told me that we had to go to Colorado for her college friend's wedding, I immediately thought of the Black Hawk casinos mentioned by PokerPeaker when I last saw Peaker in Vegas last December. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I have a goal to write a particular book on poker, something a little different than we are all used to, but nonetheless a potential money maker. I won't give the details here, but traveling to some random casino in the MidWest with crappy betting limits fell right into my book's plan. (By the way, is Colorado the MidWest? Everything east of Pennsylvania feels like the MidWest for this New Yorker.)

Wifey Kim and I arrived in Colorado Wednesday, early afternoon, and met up with her other college friend, H, and her fiance, Craig. Craig and I had met only four or so times before, but we got along well since he was a fellow poker player. We had already laid plans to head out to the casinos on the first night in Colorado while wifey Kim and H were at the Bride's bachelorette party.

After dropping the girls off, we followed the Garmin GPS to the Gilpin Casino, a random casino in Black Hawk, CO. I had chosen it after researching the various poker options in Colorado. Colorado law caps all bets at $5, so the usual cash games are $2-5 spread. For those not in the know, in a spread game, players have the option of betting any amount within the spread. So, after the flop, a player can bet anywhere from $2 to $5. The same is true on the turn and river. Most of the time, players bet the full $5, mostly because everyone was staying in the pot anyway. Whatever the case, though, since most of you are NL players, you can see how frustrating it must be to play a spread game with such small limits. (Rumor has it, there is potential legislation raising the max-bet considerably. A similar situation in Arizona allows bets up to $150, so casinos spread $1-150 spread games, which is almost like $1/$2 NLHE.)

The drive was surreal in and of itself. Black Hawk is a good hour and twenty minute drive from Longmont, the Boulder suburb where we were staying. Directions shown online suggested a direct route using mostly highways, but since we had the Garmin (and no printer) we just followed the GPS directions, which took us via a one-lane road through twisty mountains. The ride was pleasant, if at times harrowing and a tad long. Still, conversation flowed nicely, mostly about poker things and the absurd amount our respective girls were paying just to see their friend marry a wannabe Nazi that doubles as a spineless jellyfish (not that there is anything wrong with that).

It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and I commented on how Colorado had so many wonderful places to dump dead bodies, which is always good for future reference. And then, we turned a corner and we were suddenly confronted by a strip of casinos in the middle of nowhere. Most look fairly new upon first glance, like a series of new, cheaply crafted townhouses, attached to each other, and backed by a mountain wall. We drove a short distance until we could turn and make our way to the Gilpin.

Upon entering, I found a security guard and asked about the poker. "Third floor. Take the elevator." He motioned to another room. He had a couple of missing teeth, but was dressed professionally enough. The room, albeit small, was filled with slots. It sorta felt like a mini-casino, complete with blue hairs spending their social security checks 5 cents at a time. We hit the bathroom first, and when we exited, I laughed at the Progressive Slots jackpot, now up to $342.65! Granted, it was a nickel machine, but that seemed like a pretty shitty jackpot when you use $20 in gas just driving to the casino.

We found the elevator and made our way to the third floor. The poker room actually impressed at first glance. There was probably twenty five to thirty tables, with only a handful in use. A sign stated that the bad beat jackpot was $60,000. I think it may have been casino-funded, but I also thought I saw a bad beat drop during our cash game session. More on that later.

I had chosen Gilpin because of its advertised $70 tournament. It was the most expensive tournament on the "strip" that night, the "strip" being the seeming strip of casinos in the middle of nowhere. The other options were $60 and $40 tournaments in nearby casinos with the same start time. All rooms seemed to close at 2am, likely also due to the law. As a result, there were no later tournaments.

Craig and I were impressed by the room's appearance at first glance. We saw a cage with a scrolling light board that said Tournament Registration. We walked up and I pulled out $70 from my poker wallet. The woman at the counter told me it was $100 tonight because of a special fan promotion. At least that's what I thought she meant. After paying, I discovered that fan was actuall WFAN a local sports radio station that was throwing the tournament and giving five seats to some October semi-finals to the top 5 finishers. I didn't even ask how much of the prize pool was taken out for WFAN's semi-finals or whatever, mostly because I had already paid and I didn't need to know how much I duped myself. Instead, I did what any other guy with an hour to kill would do....I saddled up for some $2-5 Spread Hold'em.

Craig and I were seated at the same table, and by seated, I mean the floor guy just pointed and said grab some seats. He took the 3s or thereabouts. I took the 7 or 6s.

The table was fairly quiet at first, but it took no time to start having fun. I hammed it up, as per usual, trying to justify losing money playing this dinky spread game. The waitress came over and asked about drinks and once I got confirmation that it was free, I ordered a beer. She was quick and courteous. A little while later, I asked to see a menu. I was starving and I didn't feel like leaving the table. As it would turn out, it was a good move; later in the evening Craig would go looking for food only to discover that the poker room was the only place serving grub in the entire casino.

I ate and donked off chips, eventually losing about $40, which wasn't bad considering my lack of cards and luck. I made some decent laydowns, which means folding to a river bet of $5 when it was obvious my opponent made his flush to beat my two pair. It was a hard fold, in a way, since "it was only $5" but limit poker is all about saving those extra bets. Someone else called down my opponent, who did, in fact, show down the flush with two random clubs.

Craig and I were both down about $40, but the tourney was about to start, so we cashed in our chips and headed to our respective tables. About a minute before the start of the tourney, I got up, tapped Craig on the shoulder and offered a last longer bet of $20. He agreed. We love our gambling.

The tournament started with something like 10,000 chips, with blinds of 25/50. The chips were probably the worst of my career. They contained no denomination markers, and the colors were seemingly chosen at random. 25s were orange. I can't remember 100s, but the 500s were gray. 1000s were violet. A single red 5000 chip was red. All of the chips were covered in a mostly-white design, the result of which was that, aside from the red, the chips blended together very well. I was wearing by brown-tinted sunglasses, so it all looked the same to me.

I was confused at first, so I asked the dealer about the denominations. I was in the 4s and the 1s was a buff-looking, goateed, short-haired, slightly older construction-type guy wearing a muscle shirt and showing off his tats. He was clearly a regular based on how all of the dealers asked him about his day and personal things like his kids. He was complaining about how is 22 year old son was bringing home hot chicks who walk around in skimpy clothing. I was biting my tongue not to say, "It could be worse; he could be bringing home dudes." It didn't look like that humor would fly with him.

He heard my question about the chips and offered some advice: "Announce your action when its your turn. If you throw in one chip, it's a call." I internally giggled at the thought that he was trying to be helpful. I considered embracing my image by forgetting to post blinds when it came around to me, but considering I was wearing sunglasses, had an iPod and a card cap Buddha statute, he must've be 'tarded to think I was a newbie by the time the blinds got around to me. Granted, the glasses and iPod could be the work of a WSOP/WPT fan, but the card cap at least suggests a minimum amount of live poker knowledge.

Blinds lasted 20 minutes. I did my best to fold away, trying to figure out if it would be a loose or tight table. There were more than a few calling stations which left me concerned, since I had no good cards.

I waited for my time to shine, basically folding away as I got a gauge on which players were calling light and which were nut peddling. The guy on my immediate right made some poor calls with Ace-rag preflop, so I kept him as a possible target.

As I got more comfortable with the table and the blinds raised, I took more opportunities to steal. This included doing the simple continuation bet when it seemed like the light preflop callers made, well, light preflop calls. It also involved raising preflop in position or from one of the blinds (which technically is in position preflop) to take down the blinds. In one such hand, there were three or so limpers and the SB before it came around to me on the BB. I raised from the 600 ante to 3600 and easily got everyone to fold to me, netting me some easy dough. I think I had 96c or something.

I didn't really see any good hands aside from an AQ which did not hit the flop. I continuation bet, but folded to a loose player who re-raised me and then showed his set of 5s on the flop. Everything was pretty straightforward.

Meanwhile, Craig was amassing a stack, or so I thought. About 20 minutes into the tournament, I checked out his table and saw him in great shape. By then, I was already dwindling a little bit as I tried to gauge my table. I figured our last longer bet would be a tough one.

But suddenly, Craig came by with a look of resignation. His high pocket pair was called preflop by a woman with 9Tc who flopped a flush. The same woman was willing to call off a third of her stack preflop! This was the second or third incredulous call-and-catch from the chick, but Craig took it in stride, even if he did give her the verbal stink eye once or twice.

He stopped by and then decided to go on his hunt for food, eventually learning that the poker room was the only food venue. I played on, and hovered between 10,000 and 15,000. I was at about 12,000 when I got 99, one of my few pocket pairs, and my best one for the night.* The loose preflop player on my immediate right decided to limp, so I raised it up to 3000, hoping to take down the 300/600 blinds. It folded around to my neighbor, who called. The flop came down J64, rainbow. My opponent bet out 2000 and I read it as a weak probe bet. I only had 9,700 behind, but I felt confident that he did not have the Jack and I didn't see a set possible either. I sincerely thought his probe bet was weak, since it was less than my preflop raise. I pushed, and we counted it out. 7,700 more. He had me covered, but not by more than 3k. He thought for a moment and even flashed his card to his neighbor in the "could you believe what I got myself into" way. Then he called, reluctantly, only to show 66, or middle set. I missed the turn and river and am busted. I said my polite good games and walked off. I didn't feel much of anything. It's just a part of the game. I probably shouldn't have overpushed with 99 there, but I felt like his range was wide.* It may have been, but the bare facts was that he had me beat. Perhaps I over- or underestimated my opponent in this one. After all, I saw the small bet as a probe bet. In reality, it was just a value bet on the flop.

Craig and I considered our fates and opted for more cash games. That's where we discovered that it is impossible to win at 2-5 spread over the long run. The first indicator to me was the rake. I watched as the dealer pulled $5 out of each pot...prior to dealing the flop. I didn't do the complete math, but from what I could see, it didn't seem to be based on a percentage of the pot either, unless the dealer was working on the implied odds that no one would fold (which was highly likely). The other thing I thought I saw was an additional dollar set aside for the bad beat drop. Now, mind you, I'd been drinking, so perhaps I am off on these things. Locals, feel free to correct me. But that's a lot of money to take out of every pot. Consider this: if we saw 30 hands an hour (we probably saw significantly more), the total rake in an hour would be approximately $150 to $180, including a $1 bad beat drop in the second figure. If it's a 9 person table, that's $15-20 per hour being pilfered from each player's stack. Those might be beatable in the short run, but it must be impossible in the long run. As proof, all you had to do was listen to the players.

No offense to my CO readers, but I had never seen a larger group of losers in my life. The whole aire of the room was one of loserdome. There is no reason for a shark to spend time grinding at unbeatable stakes. Even if the game is beatable, the amount it is beatable for is likely less money that the average fast food gig. So, immediately, the stakes weed out skilled players.

What you are left with are a tiny amount of nits (super tight) and a whole lotta gamblers. There were players raising preflop with 26o because (I shit you not) "Sixes keep coming out." Oh, and he flopped a six on an AQ6 board and rivered a 6 for the win. 25o was another favorite hand. If there was a flush draw that hit, there was a player that hit it. After all, there were more than a few family pots or family -1 pots, most of the time subject to a late raise...which was called all the way around.

Now, lest I sound bitter, I should point out the real reason why the room was filled with "losers." The amazing thing was that throughout all of this, the cash game, the tourney, and the cash game after, every player was complaining about bad luck. I mean every fucking player. Every one. It was the most absurd group of sad sacks ever in my poker experience. And why were they complaining about bad luck? Probably because they did not realize that the rake made the game unbeatable and it surely couldn't be their stellar skills that caused their stacks to be reduced by $15-20 per hour.

When God gives your lemon, curse God, and then make some delicious lemonade. So after having a heart to heart with my lord Gambopolis (may he rain joy upon us, amen), I decided to do what any self-respecting poker blogger would do in this situation: drink my way to a profit or a good time, whichever came first.

The drink of the night was rum and coke, the official alcoholic beverage of High on Poker. They go down quick and get the job done. I had more than a few as Craig and I accepted our fate and decided to have fun with the game. We tried to see who could donk off their $100 stack first. He got close, getting all-in twice, but I eventually beat him out. During that time period, we yucked it up with the locals, doing my usual routine like booing when a late player raised preflop and complaining that it was a 'friendly game'. The drinks were flowing for a while, but toward the end, they began to slow down. I eventually got the waitress' attention and she came over to explain to me that I was cut off for a half hour. "I don't want to get in trouble," she said. All I could think is that I should have tipped higher.

With drinks flowing and the pressure of winning off, I enjoyed the rest of my time in the poker room. At about 10:30, after several hours of poker, Craig and I had both lost our final $100 and decided to head back to civilization. On the drive back, we contemplated what we would do with ourselves during other lag times, but we agreed on one thing: no more Black Hawk poker. It was a decent time, but too far out of the way, and too difficult to win anything meaningful at the stakes available. However, sometimes it's not about the money; sometimes it's about the experience.

I have a couple of other stories I could probably tell about Colorado, including the many racist comments made by the groom, the many differences between a New York semetic wedding and Colorado antisemetic wedding, and how I made a girl cry (not wifey Kim) in the early hours of the morning. But that's probably all for another post.

Heading to Foxwoods Saturday night, if anyone will be around.

Until next time, make mine poker!

*I cannot say this enough. Just because 99 was my best hand of the night, it does not justify overplaying said hand. I cannot understand players who justify bad play with a mediocre hand by saying, "It's the best hand I saw all night." It's the equivalent of eating a turd sandwich because all you had at home was white bread and a steaming pile of poop.

*Range, much like being card dead, is another common excuse for an error in play. However, it does not justify errors either. In fact, arguably, when someone argues that it was a good play because of range, what that person is really saying is that they estimated range incorrectly or overrelied on the possibility that he or she was ahead.

posted by Jordan @ 12:45 PM,


At 12:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

That's pretty much why I don't play there that often, though I am itching to get up there again. I love live poker but Black Hawk makes it difficult to really enjoy it. I'd say you had the perfect attitude for it; just go up there and have fun and hope you get good cards. I really hope that legislation passes.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good report! Sorry Colorado didn't leave an impressionable impact. Longmont, while nice, isn't exactly what Colorado is all about.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Almost as bad as when I played in NM when all they spread was 2-5 Limit. EVERYONE CALLED. There were no folding.

Sorry Jordan.


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