Thursday, June 17, 2004

“Trip” Report: The Lithuanians

A month or two ago I signed up at MeetUp.com looking for poker players and, by extension, home games. May's meeting didn't happen due to lack of interest, since they will only hold the meetup if at least three people RSVP that they're coming, in hopes of getting at least two of them to show up.

June's meeting was Tuesday, and as it happened precisely three people RSVP'd and ended up showing up. I also brought my buddy "Cactus" Dave, so there ended up being four of us. Dave needed to trade his computer in at Circuit City, since the original one he bought was malfunctional, so we did that first. That ended up taking far less time than I'd assumed, so we ended up at the downtown TGI Friday's about 45 minutes before the meetup was to occur. We let the hostess chick know what we were there for, and went to the bar to drink Guinness and talk about random crap, including poker.

Close to 7:00, the hostess came up to the bar and asked if we were the poker guys, and directed us to a table where there was a 50ish fellow and a 25ish fellow. The fiftyish fellow (Jerry), who ended up essentially controlling the conversation, said that he has a game at his club about every two weeks, including the following Thursday (today), and we were all invited. That was about what I wanted to get out of the meetup, so the rest was eating a sandwich and shooting the shit.

The $1 to $3 stakes were a little rich for the guy whose name I don't remember (how about "Youngie"), but he thought maybe next time. Dave was interested, but he found holdem hard enough to figure out (as far as the mechanincs), and didn't want to play if the game was going to keep changing. (He's never played anything other than holdem.)

Gil couldn't make the Meetup, but he was interested in the game. He didn't like it, though, when I mentioned that I was specifically warned that one regular loves to call "Follow the Queen," which is a 7-card stud game where Queens are wild, and whatever card is dealt following the final queen to land face-up, is also wild. I'm not terribly fond of wildcard games, and Gil isn't either, and on that basis (and about three other half-assed excuses) he decides not to go.

I should maybe say something about Grand Rapids' Old West Side. Traditionally, it's blue-collar ethnic, with construction between the 1850s and the 1950s. Today, the neighborhood, or collection of neighborhoods, largely consists of the descendants of those white ethnics that stayed blue-collar, as well as an influx of Hispanic newcomers. Prewar redlining kept African-Americans out of the West Side, and this pattern largely holds true today. In fact, the single biggest problem the West Side faces as a whole, is absentee landlords letting their properties go to pot.

Still dotting the West Side are the "halls," essentially private clubs with nominal membership fees. They generally aren't much different than dive bars with regular customers, but their memberships were originally supposed to be from a particular ethnicity. Today, their members might be from any ethnicity at all (and most of their members are second, third, and fourth generation descendants of anyone who might seem "ethnic" at all), but the halls still have the flag of whatever country, maybe some photos—they're still identifiably ethnic. Once a year (October, I think) the halls all open to anyone and everyone for "Pulaski Days," a celebration of Polish heritage. Interestingly, it's not just the Polish halls that celebrate Pulaski Days.

This particular hall is Lithuanian, in a building that likely dates from the 1910s or 1920s. I couldn't spell the name of it to save my life, but here's a way to come close: Type the letter "T". Now, punch your keyboard a couple of times. If you typed any numbers, delete them. Now, remove all the vowels. You're that close to having spelled it right. Jerry tries to sign some of his guests up as members. There's a $5 application fee, and then membership is $12/yr. I may do that next time; one of the weird liquor laws about private clubs is that technically, a member is only allowed to bring one guest. Jerry had three.

Now to the game. The game had started when I got there, because I didn't write down what time and I figured 8:00 was a safe guess. There did end up being one straggler behind me, though. Let's decide that I was in seat 1 at the end of the table. Then, clockwise, seat 2 had another Dan, who was a typical loose stay-in-too-long type. He was particularly clueless about how to handle games he didn't know. He was a big donator. Oddly, he clearly has played a good bit of poker, but I'm guessing almost entirely 7-card stud, because (a) that's what he kept calling: "7-card stud, straight, one winner," and (b) because he asked a few times why this or that house rule from some other game, wasn't in play at the hall.

In seat 3 was our "chick," Trisha, another big donator. Trish had the makings of a good player, eventually, because until she got drunk she was observant enough to notice and comment on my play. (She said, "You're either out, or you're way in.") She was the one who loved to call Follow the Queen, but she'd been warned off of it before I got there. She called it once, anyway; I folded a miserable hand on third street.

Seat 4 was the other straggler, Keith. He was another donator, who brought his wife with him as an observer. (Actually, the wife was the only one who consistently laughed at my non-sequiter jokes, so she was fun.) Keith would probably be hard to be around for a long time, truly, but he got quieter as he lost, so it ended up not bad. And plus, anyone giving away money is always welcome.

Seat 5 had an interesting fellow, Terry, the closest we had to a true "action player." He was in most pots, even raising, but he ended up following big wins with big losses, and he probably finished somewhere around even. He did particularly well when Seat-2-Dan dealt, because he got full houses and even a couple of sets of quads while Seat-2-Dan dealt. Terry really missed Seat-2-Dan when he left.

Seat 6 was Jerry, my host for the evening. He said he finished down $10. He was almost an action player. He wasn't afraid to raise, but he rarely raised the maximum. He also chased far too many hands, far too long. He thought he had more of a handle on the game than he actually did, which is common in "the guy who brings the cards." And so, he finished down $10.

Seat 7 was Todd, husband to Trish, and the only other nice winner of the evening. He was pretty well broke at one point, but took a few pots later on (including one from me) to finish up about $50 for the night, he said. The true number was probably higher, because he tossed chips to his wife from time to time, but she went through a bunch of $10 stacks of chips, so as a pair they were probably even. Todd was the only player other than myself who I thought really played the game well, and of course it showed in his bankroll.

Which leaves me, in seat 1. I had a stellar night. Mostly, I had flops hit me hard, including flopping a set in holdem, without ever truly having a premium starting hand. Probably my nicest hand, and biggest pot, was 33355 for the high and A2356 for the low in Omaha, for a scoop of a huge pot from an all-low board. I had two big bonehead plays, one where I forgot that whatever game we were playing had no qualifier for the low, and I tossed a pretty nice low on the river because the river was a Queen, and the other where I assumed I had the nut straight when I didn't, on the very last hand of the night. All in all, I was still the big winner of the night, finishing up $7150. I don't know how to translate that into big bets, because different games had different betting structures, but it was a good night. I was hurt a bit by the "winner buys the drinks" rule, but beer was surprisingly cheap in the hall. (A bottle of Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark was $2.) I was warned at Friday's that there was a "winner buys the drinks" rule, so they didn't add a house rule just for me.

Some of the house rules were strange. First, the dealer anted for everyone. That made it simple, but it sure provided an incentive for the dealer to call a flop game that favors the dealer. On the other hand, and even odder, in those very games (Holdem, Omaha, and Pineapple) they rotated the first bet around the table. If everyone stayed to the river, the dealer would generally always be late, but might not always be last. If a number of people folded, the dealer might even be first.

For Holdem, Omaha, or Pineapple, the maximum bet was $1 before or after the flop, and $3 after the turn and river. For Stud or Draw, the maximum bet stayed $1 on all streets. But you didn't have to bet the maximum. In fact, if someone had just bet the maximum, it was permissible to raise a single quarter! This strange rule made for an interesting tactic. If one were planning on calling a raise and reraise, one might put in an extra quarter to cap the betting, and prevent it from being raised the maximum again. I saw this done a couple of times.

Although the board was dealt more-or-less as in the casino for Holdem, most players dealt out the board for Omaha (always Omaha/8) in advance. The burn-one-turn-one in Holdem is supposed to guard against marked cards, but if these cards had been marked the Omaha board would have been great for whoever knew how to read them. It created practical problems, too; a couple of times one of the board cards would find its way into the muck, and it would have to be dug out. When I called Omaha, I dealt the board holdem-style. Nobody objected, so maybe that's my contribution to that game.

There were a couple of wildcard games, maybe ten hands total, but nothing astoundingly new there. The strangest games we played were Crazy Pineapple High-Low Split with Declare, and what they called "Washington Omaha."

Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple are real games, and there's no reason you couldn't call it high-low with a declare. But it was a strange one. Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple are both flop games, in which the player is dealt three cards. In Pineapple, the player discards one immediately, which in Crazy Pineapple, the player discards one after the flop. After the discard the game is identical to holdem. My understanding is that the game isn't usually played high-low, but here it was, and after the betting is complete on the river each player must declare whether he is aiming for the high or low, or both. (I don't know why it isn't cards-speak, but it isn't.) If only one person ends up contesting one direction, he wins that direction automatically, and the other direction is determined among the players contesting that pot. They said that a player contesting both ends has to win both ends, but I didn't ask what happens if he misses.

"Washington Omaha" wasn't nearly as strange, except for the name. Omaha was supposedly invented in Seattle, but "Washington Omaha" is such a strange and contradictory name that I don't know why they don't just call this variant "Washington" or something. In any case, it's played identically to Omaha (Eight or better again, here), except that a player is dealt five cards down rather than four. The same two from the hand, three from the board rule applies.

I'll probably go back. I was looking for slightly higher stakes as to a possible regular game, but this was fun, and profitable. They do it every two weeks, I'm told, and even if I find a game on a different night with a $5, $10, or $20 big bet, I can still do this one when it's held. Looking forward to it, in fact.


—These no-limit ring games are going well, at least at the $25 and $50 buyin levels. My BB/c at the $25 buyin tables has actually improved to 22.27, over 1084 hands. On the one hand, that's great; on the other hand, PokerTracker considers a big bet at that level to be $1. $22.27 per hundred hands would be okay, if it were sustainable, but it really wouldn't be stellar. On the other hand, four-tabling is about 300 hands an hour, so maybe that $67/hr would be OK. If it were sustainable, which it's probably not, at least not at four tables. I've spent a little bit of time on the $50 buyin tables, and done well, but I don't have enough hands to make a judgement from, yet.

—Gil's daughter Dagny has been home for the summer for several weeks now. Since her computer area is right by the bathroom I use, I noticed her earlier playing the fake-money games on PartyPoker. If I blogged the radio-station game a couple of weeks ago (I can't find that I did), I mentioned that that was the first time she'd really played. Between her strong finish there, and having Gil playing constantly on another computer in the same room as hers, she may have caught the bug. Her handle is a reference to either her web site or Orson Scott Card's later "Ender" books, in case you run across her on the fake-money tables. And there may be another 50¢/$1 shark brewing, too.


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