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Play at the Bay (Bay 101 Trip Report)

I'm in beautiful sunny California as I begin this post on vacation with wifey Kim, and I couldn't be happier. The San Francisco portion of the trip was surprisingly cold. Mark Twain said it best when he said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

The first day was spent walking around the city and sightseeing with wifey Kim's friend who lives in SF. The second was a driving tour in the morning and then my escape to Bay 101 for some poker.

The drive to Bay 101 was great. It was about 2pm and sunny out. I dropped the top of our rented convertible and threw on a cheapo snow cap to protect my precious head from the cold. The trip itself was around 1 hour south in the town of San Jose. Once you get off of Hwy 101, though, you are right at Bay 101, so I didn't get to see anything other than the Bay 101 card room, but frankly, that was more than enough.

The Bay 101 has an expansive parking lot, so I found a spot fairly easily. A fountain featuring dolphin sculptures is by the main entrance. Once you walk in, the room is clearly split into two main sections. To the left is table games, which I took a walk through but never played. -EV is not for me. To the right is a large poker room area with probably 40 to 50 tables, all completely full. Several lists were going, and I put myself on the 4/8 half kill O8 list, as well as the 2/3/5 NL Hold'em (max buy-in $200). Both lists were around 10+ people long, so I headed to the small cafe area and got myself a hot dog and a cookie. Both were pretty bad, but I ate most of them anyway, so I wouldn't be hungry while I played.

When I was done, little had changed on the lists, so I added myself to the 5/5/10 NLHE list ($400-1000 buy-in). A little while later, I added myself to the 8/16 limit HE list as well, trying to cover as much of the board as possible. After all, I was on a time schedule, so any poker would do in a pinch.

While I waited, I watched some Olympics on the TVs scattered around the room. I was watching girls' indoor volleyball when a pudgy, pleasant black guy came up next to me and started up a conversation about the Olympic games. We chatted briefly and I toyed with the idea of asking him to email me so I could get more info from an insider about Bay 101. As a poker player, I am fascinated by the variety of games available around the country. As a blogger, I am always interested in other people's views, especially if the other person is an insider with knowledge that I just don't have. I could tell that the guy, who I would later know as Willy when they called his name for the 8/16 game, was a regular.

Willy was called for 8/16, and I noticed that I was next on the list, so I neared the podium, anxious to pounce on the next seat. The 4/8 O8 game had an empty seat too, and Willy was ahead of me on that list as well. Between the two, he opted for the 4/8 and suddenly, I was sitting at an 8/16 table, admittedly the highest Limit poker game I had ever played at a casino.

As a Poker player, and not just a NLHE player, I have no problem playing limit poker, but it isn't my strong suit. Since I was also not used to the higher stakes, I was a little perturbed as my stack dwindled from my starting $400 to about $160. A $240 swing, though, is not crazy at a 8/16 game, and aside from one mistake, I was making the right decisions.

The mistake came when I was on the button and everyone folded to me. I held K4s and decided to raise. The BB called. He had been calling loose preflop, so I figured he was defending.

The flop came down 679, which didn't do much for me. The BB checked and I bet. He called. The turn was an 8 and the BB checked again. I bet. He called. The river was a Jack and the BB checked. I figured he wasn't folding so I checked as well. He showed a bare Ace, and I folded. Everyone seemed to think it was a crazy hand and it was, mostly because I should've fired that last bullet. In hindsight, he probably would've finally folded. Whatever the case, that was my one major error, which arguably was getting involved in the hand in the first place.

I was card dead, so when I heard my name called for 4/8 O8 with a half-kill, I tucked my tail between my legs, wished everyone good luck, and made my way to the other game.

I sat down in the 3s. Willy was in the 6s and seemed to be jawing at the table. To my immediate left was a guy with a shaved head aside from a row of bangs at the front of his head. He wore a crazy mesh vest over a loud green jersey, both tucked into WSOP boxers that were clearly showing over the top of his sweatpants. He also was wearing a fanny pack or something with a WPT logo strap. He had the aire of crazy about him, but was pleasant enough as I got settled in.

I'm now at the airport as I pick up the story. I'm waiting for my flight to leave from San Diego to NY. I've gone over how to best tell the next part of my story about a dozen times. My greatest concern when writing a blog is balancing honesty and decency. I prefer for honesty to win out, but I do not wish to hurt anyone. So, as I go forward, honesty will win out, and I apologize in advance to one person in particular that will be the subject going forward.

Sitting at the table, I tried to bide my time, getting used to the game and the players. During the chit chat, the player on my immediate left, the same guy I mentioned two paragraphs (and almost a week) ago, lamented his bad fortune. It wasn't luck he was complaining about. It was the people.

"When I win, everybody my friend. Now, I've been losing and nobody knows me. Nobody." I am generally a friendly guy in such situations and agreed along with the guy, who I believe someone referred to as Sammy. "It's the sad truth about poker," I added, although I truthfully had little to add. I was just agreeing to be friendly. No sense in making enemies or goading someone on a losing streak.

Over the course of the game, he slowly let his story out more. "When I was on TV, everybody my friend." I heard TV, and I looked over Sammy. He looked vaguely familiar, but I hadn't watched poker on TV seriously in years. Plus, we were at a 4/8 limit game. What sorta TV pro sits at 4/8 limit?

My interest was piqued, and I slowly extrapolated more information. Admittedly, I probably stroked his ego a tad, too. Most poker players love their egos stroked. Hell, most people do.

Sammy was apparently featured to some extent in an episode of the World Poker Tour from Bay 101 casino. This all came out while Sammy's luck began to change. He began winning hands, specifically against Willy, the black guy who I chatted with earlier in the evening. I, meanwhile, was treading water, making all the right moves at the wrong times. I folded my second-nut low hands that were behind but would've hit on the next card. I folded my all-spades cards to see my nut flush flop.

In one of the hands, it was me, Willy and Sammy. I held A4 on a board of 258K. I had the second nut low, but after a raise from Sammy and a re-raise from Willy, I felt my hand could not be good. Willy was silent. Sammy, meanwhile, was jawing. I didn't really fear Sammy in the hand, based on the way the hand played out, but Willy concerned me. While Sammy jawed, Willy got red and finally yelled with fury, "SHUT THE HELL UP, SAMMY! STOP TALKING HIM OUT OF THE POT!" I had yet to act, but once I saw Willy's reaction, I threw in the cards and cracked a big smile. I replied to Willy, "I wasn't worried about Sammy, Willy. I was worried about you. Thanks!" As it turned out, Willy had A3, for the nut low...I'd call him a sucker, but the river would've given me the wheel. I still felt happy I used Willy's anger against him. He didn't know what I had, so the "lucky" river didn't mean shit to him.

This interaction solidified Sammy and my budding friendship. He began to tell me about how his losing streak had been tough. Players came by and asked a few of the regulars, Sammy included, about the $330 Omaha tournament the next day, but Sammy replied, "If I don't win today, I don't play tomorrow." Sammy's bankroll had taken a huge hit with his losing streak. He was not blind to the cause. "When you have bad luck and you start to play bad, the money can go quick." I did my best to agree with my usual refrain, "Losing begets losing." Sammy was already lost in his monologue: "You have to put out positive energy for good things to happen. I was negative, so I kept losing. You have to be positive."

Over the next hour or so, Sammy let on about his current situation. It shocked me. "I'm homeless. My landlord had some problems, so I was staying at a hotel for $60 per night. I stay with a friend now, but I pay him $40. It's cheaper than the hotel. And if I have to, I can play all night." His appearance began to make a little more sense. I originally thought his random clothing and multiple layers were a getup, like my Superman t-shirt and cargo pants that aid my goofball image. Maybe it was an image thing for Sammy, but it was just as likely that he didn't have many options.

All the while, Sammy's luck changed. His stack size grew and he finally reached a point of almost Zen once he was sitting as the table chipleader. In fact, it was as though a light switch turned, and Sammy went from loose aggressive to uber tight. While this was happening, he separated one of his stacks of chips and began to place other chips, one at a time, around the base. Once he had this first layer, he began a second layer of chips on top of the outer rim of chips. He continued this slowly for a good 20 to 30 minutes while we talked about the tough road of poker.

It was clear that building the chip tower helped Sammy reach a place of calm. He barely looked at his cards before folding. He was merely passing time at the table while he prepared his art. He pulled out a small box and opened it, displaying the contents. It was a series of trinkets, none more than an inch tall or wide. Some were insects, others were potted plants. He looked at them with pride. A female player to my immediate right asked about them. "What are they?" she asked, barely hiding the undercurrent of disgust. "This is a donkey, and this one is a fish, and this one is a...." He was making no sense. The chick cut him off. "No, I mean, what are they for." "I just like them," Sammy explained, like a little kid surprised that someone questioned why he would carry his favorite action figure with him. "They make me calm." And sure enough, they did.

He explained that during the WPT Bay 101 broadcast, they brought cameras over to his table just to film his chip tower art. "I could do much better than this if I had time." Apparently, it was his claim to fame. His chip tower art.

After completing his chip tower, Sammy began to add the trinkets. He added little shelves to the side of the tower to display more of his trinkets. Here was a man who was suffering through tough times able to find solace in quiet art, surrounded by people who couldn't give two shits if he built the Leaning Tower of Pisa or had dirty stacks of different denominations. This was his own personal therapy.

I wish it was all good though. "See this one?" Sammy showed me a flower pot with individual hand-crafted flowers. "This one cost me $37. I get it from this guy in Chinatown. His eyes light up when I come in. I spent $300 or $400 on these things at a time." He even referred to them as "these things." They had no real purpose or identity other than that given to them by Sammy. The chick heard this and snickered. I wasn't there to judge. I just remained agreeable. "It's cheaper than booze, drugs, or women." "I used to spend on those too, but not anymore. Just these." He seemed to reflect. "They make me feel good." I acquiesced, "That's all anyone can do, try to be happy."

I, meanwhile, had earned back most of my losses. When I finally stood up, I was down $94. At my worst, I was probably down about $300+. Sammy was still sitting pretty now that he was in fold mode. We tussled in one hand, and when I lucked out to hit a low (I had a good high too), Sammy said he was happy that it was me. I told him that if anyone had to beat my high, I was happy it was him.

I gave him my card and asked that he take a look at the site and email me. I wanted to ask him some questions and post his response here. I knew he didn't have access to a computer to easily, but nowadays, any public library has free Internet access. Or maybe his friend had a computer where he was crashing. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me he'd email me. I'm still waiting on the email.

If anyone knows Sammy or his chip tower from the WPT broadcast, hit me up with a comment or email. I couldn't find any record of the guy who I believed to be named Sammy Bruno, just based on overheard conversations. I never asked him directly. Odd how that is, I got to know the guy pretty well over a few hours, but his name was unimportant in the nameless world of the poker table.

Speaking with Sammy reminded me of the reality of the poker world. Fame and money is fleeting. Negativity can bring anyone down. But so could obsessive behavior. Poker can be an obsessive pursuit, and many of the people who are attracted to poker are also susceptible to the other obsessive, self-destructive pursuits out there. Women. Drugs. Booze. Even dinky trinkets. No homeless man needs $300 worth of mini flower pots, even if they make him "feel good."

I wish Sammy the best of luck. In the end, he is no different than any one of us chasing the dream. Poker is a brutal reality, though, and I am just glad that I can vacation there, but I can live elsewhere.

The rest of my time in California was amazing. Hiking the novice trails in Pt. Lobos (thanks for the advice, BrianMc) was a nice change of pace for wifey Kim and I. The small town of Cambria on the coast was an experience in small seaside living. Santa Barbara was surprisingly hip and had a lot to do within walking distance from our hotel and beach. LA was a different sorta place altogether, and frankly, should be classified a big town, because it doesn't fit within my definition of a city. However, it had a lot to offer too, including some surprisingly great comedy from Improv Olympics, the place where the Real World Hollywood cast "worked" last season (all wifey Kim on that one, but it turned out to be great fun). The beach at La Jolla was fantastic, and probably the best beach we went to during the trip, and the San Diego Zoo was, well, a zoo, but a good one at that.

Thus concludes this California trip report. I hope you all had a fun week without me. Lord knows it was nice getting away for a bit.

One last thought. Aside from Bay 101, I didn't play a lick of poker during this trip, even though I had Internet at every hotel. Thank god for the break. I needed some time away from the videogame we call online poker. Of course, don't be too surprised if I binge like the addict I am when I return to New York.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 9:09 PM,


At 4:18 AM, Blogger kurokitty said...

That was a really good story.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger NewinNov said...

Sammy Singh

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Thanks Notes. That very well may be my guy. But without a picture, it is hard to confirm it.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger genomeboy said...

you have K5ss, flop comes 679, turn 8.

Didn't you have a straight?

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Thanks for pointing that out, genome. I originally wrote it as K3s, but that didn't feel right. I wasn't 100% sure of my hand but I was sure of the board and action. I changed it to K5s on second thought, but you are right, that couldn't have been the case. I switched it again to K4s. In the end, it doesn't matter the exact cards. Only that I was K-high at showdown.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Great post. Maybe he bought those things when he was running well. But in the end it is sad.

At 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post, I really enjoyed this one.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger jhazen said...

I've played next to him before. The WPT segment on him was not flattering -- they basically made fun of him for his outfit and his haircut.

I can tell you that the outfit isn't the result of recent events. He's dressed that way since at least several years ago. He basically only plays omaha, and plays it both at Bay 101 and Garden City (which is where I've played with him a couple times).

BTW - Did you photoshop in that hummingbird? I like it.

Anyway, I really enjoyed your profile piece. He's definitely a character.


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