Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Falling Up an Escalator

We have a patron down! Patron down!

A couple of years ago, I innocently visited Iowa for a cousin’s wedding and ended up in a bloody casino escapade.

Weddings are almost always among the most fun events to attend, especially big ones. My Iowa relatives truly went all out to make sure everyone had a great time. It was a monstrous event with a cathedral style assembly hall filled with hundreds of people. I let them know my appreciation by periodically bellowing “IOWA!” as loud as my lungs would permit. The groom’s friends, being the youngsters they are, put on a good show and even had me playing the drinking game with a dangerous punch: Flip Cup. Ahh…good times.

It had been years since I visited Iowa. Life out there has a slightly different pace to it; everything is about a half hour drivem through endless corn fields, and every breath delivers the faint hint of cow manure.

In Iowa, there seems to be a universal bonfire that you eventually discover at some point in the night. After the rehearsal dinner, I was heavily plied with alcohol when we ended up there, and somebody mentioned a casino located in nearby Des Moines. My card playing cousin was miraculously sober, so off we went.

It turns out that this beautiful country is literally infested with places to gamble; God, I love America!

Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino doesn’t have the opulence of Vegas or the beach of Atlantic City, but it has the only thing that matters: action. Drunk as I was, I deftly sniffed out the poker room on the top floor and was saddened to discover an hour long waiting list for the tiny room. Dejected, I returned to find my cousin parked at a roulette table with a stack of chips.

Now, I know I was severely intoxicated because I actually decided to pass the time by playing a few spins of the wheel (by the way, if you ever catch me playing roulette, I freely invite you to give me a good healthy smack in the face). However, I hit a lucky streak that night and my patented “IOWA!” cheers reverberated around the casino. I was making such a scene that people started yelling back “CAROLINA!" One woman, playing blackjack at a neighboring table, even had me placing bets for her. What can I say? Stupidity is infectious.

The hour passed rather quickly; in no time I was racking my chips and heading upstairs to claim my seat in the poker room. The difficulty arrived when I tried to utilize the escalator; in my state of intoxication, operating the device was surprisingly challenging.

My sandal refused to obey my commands and tripped on the first step; I fell hard on the sharp metal, and my chips scattered about in the chaos. Stunned at the sudden turn of events, I desperately tried to scoop them up, fearing they would be lost in the teeth of the machine as it approached the top. In the final panicked moments of the ride, I scooped up the last one and rolled forward off the final step.

Dazed, and trying to figure out what just happened, I looked up to a security guard speaking hastily into his radio:

“We have a patron down! Patron down!

In the moments it took to force myself back to my feet, two more guards had come running. Despite the long scrapes, and blood trickling from my leg, I insisted I was fine and tried to slip around them as I counted my money. I was half sure they would try to kick me out, right then and there, through door, or even window.

When I miraculously escaped to the poker room and located my seat, I noticed all the players eyeing me with more suspicion than is typical when at a new game. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see a security guard motioning me out of the room. “Damn,” I thought to myself, but it turned out, that unknown to me, I was bleeding rather profusely from the chin, no doubt aided by the alcohol in my bloodstream.

After being bandaged, I returned to play some cards.

I’m sure the players were licking their lips to get their piece of this new arrival reeking of booze, but I had to disappoint them and showed I could actually play, even in my condition. I hit a couple of sets and ended up making a few bucks.

I’m not sure why, but the casino has a no profanity rule that my drunken attention span couldn’t seem to grasp; my foul mouth violated it worse than a hotel heiress in The City of Lights. It all goes to show how far a casino will go to keep an inebriated patron inside…as long as he is gambling.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dude, I Can See Your Cards!

In the world of amateur poker, there are loads of players who don’t understand the basic premise of protecting their hand. They lift them too high, hold them too far out, and unknowingly show the world their holdings. Many good natured people (myself included) will be kind enough to help these players and tell them to protect their hand. I’ve seen it many times and it often becomes the source of drama…

Years ago, when I started to get more serious about the game, I organized a weekly tournament among friends. In our very first game, we all gathered around a hastily constructed table, made of two pieces, and short of chairs, the girl to my left took a low seat on the couch. It was her very first time playing the game, and, in the friendly nature of the game, she was intentionally showing me cards and even occasionally asking advice. A few hands were inadvertently lifted cards high enough that they crossed my field of vision. I wasn’t deliberately looking, but she lifted them so high, they often interrupted the casual angle of my eyes. It was just that kind of game. One hand, she lifted Kings out of the pocket. She happened to be in the hand against her husband and I watched her catch a third King and waited to see how much see could win. Then, amazingly, she decided to dump it! I was so astonished, that I made an absolutely colossal mistake; I told the table what I had seen. All the camaraderie of our group evaporated in an instant as I had all but accused the couple of cheating. As suspicious as the play was, I should have kept my fool mouth shut. To this day, there are few poker regrets I have bigger than this decision.

People often get very offended when you tell them to protect their hand. On my very first trip to Las Vegas, I was playing at the world famous Binion’s Horseshoe when the player on my right (a young guy, stinking of weed, in a Carmelo Anthony jersey) was lifting his hand way too high. Politely, I discretely told him to guard his cards, but he apparently took offense and asked to change seats. Another time, we were playing Omaha at my home game when a player made a big call and turned over Ace high to win! With two players, holding four hole cards each, the chance a simple Ace high is a winner is a marathon long shot. Everyone at the table was completely floored for a few hands before the player sheepishly confessed he had seen his opponent’s hand. He was trying to be a friend, but, as usually happens, the player took offense and stubbornly didn’t change a thing about the way he held his hand. Shockingly, he ended a loser.

When someone tells a player to protect their cards, they should be treated like a good friend. Instead of taking every dime a player has, this saint offers an olive branch worth its weight in platinum. If anyone ever offers you this token of good will, take the advice, swallow your pride, and give genuine gratitude.