Back in the swing of things

July 12, 2009

 I recently had the opportunity to play at a casino I’ve never been into before, which was the Seminole Hard Rock just outside of Tampa, Fla. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been in any professional casino setting. Not that a whole lot has changed, though. The floor was still infested with hundreds of different types of slot machines (I played a few video poker only, winning a staggering $6). I was pleased to see, though, that off in the corner was a sizable poker room.

I wasn’t planning on playing much money here. We were really only there as a time-killer, so I cashed in $50 and went to sit $2-$4 low-limit Hold ‘Em.

It was a full table when I sat down, all nine seats taken. It took me a minute to adjust to the pace, as the dealer was throwing the cards out like they were on-fire, and the players were making decisions like their comp depended on it. Of course, what’s nice about Hold ‘Em at a full table is that you essentially get to play 7 out of every 9 hands for free, so if you’re not feeling it, you can dump and get settled, and wait for the next one.

It just so happened that I got caught up in the first hand quickly. I had J, 8 clubs, and called the blind. Both blinds and two other players stayed in beside me, making for five players before the flop. Nobody raised, so there was a decent pot but nothing to write home about.

The flop was 8, Q, 4, no club in the bunch. I was sitting second to last at the table, and not having played a single hand before this, had no feel for how everyone else was betting, or whether there was a bluffer at the table, etc… I was just going off odds and my position at this point – not the best place to be in, but I felt I had to run with my options.

Three checks before my play. I bet $2. I had a pair, but it wasn’t top pair, I thought the minimum bet would give me a good chance to see if anyone was trying to coast on a high card. The next player raised to $6. The other three players folded in order, and I quickly while staring at the felt, raised back to $10.

It’s not often you see the all-in in low-limit games, but this guy threw in the remaining $4 he had left. After I called, he tossed up Q, J. I showed my hand, and realized I was in serious trouble. In fact, there was only one more card that could’ve saved me now, since both of us had the Jack and he had the higher pair.

The turn was no help to either of us, and he wasn’t threatening a straight or flush, either.

The river, ah the sweet river, was the 8 of diamonds. Welcome home big pot. I caught a lucky card on the river on my first hand, forced the competitor to buy in with more chips, and started stacking $5 chips like I was riding a bicycle. A thing of beauty. I kept the sly grin to myself and played tight the rest of the time. It paid off, too, as I walked away a winner on my terms, something I’ll get into more in a future article.

After the hand, one of the other players, not the one I beat, starting singing “On the river.” I couldn’t tell if he was making it up as he went along, but then the dealer started joining in, too. It was a surreal moment I’m sure I wouldn’t have even noticed if I were as drunk as some of the people there. Oh, did I mention this was midday? Yeah, around 2 p.m. Of course, inside the casino, in the back where the poker room is, gated off and secluded from the rest of the quarter sliders in the joint, it’s so dark and musky you wouldn’t know what time of day it was anyway.

Anyhow, it was proud win for me. I’ve always felt better winning in a casino than in an online game. You can see the expressions on everyone’s faces, and you can stack your own chips right in front of you. I love that.