11 November 2004

The only game in town

Odds are that as you read these words I'm either watching a movie, sitting at the computer or asleep. But if you had to pick a fourth option, I'm playing poker.

In a sense, I got lucky. After two decades of monkeying around in occasional or regular home games, I made the jump to casino play in 2002, about a year or so before televised tournament coverage created the current boom cycle and brought an influx of new pigeons to limit Hold'em tables. Most of these folks have learned their basic moves by watching the top pros engaging in (heavily edited) no-limit action, and as a consequence they are all but giving their money away. I thank them. Without their valuable contributions, I'd be dead broke right now. (Lest anybody from the Internal Revenue Service stumble upon this post, let me categorically state that I have NOT made nearly $10,000 in soon-to-be-undeclared income at various poker tables this year. No sirs. Go find some real malfeasance. I will not be garnering you a promotion. Goodbye.)

Anyway. For about three months, right after I left Time Out New York and when I was still alternating the Esquire column with (egad) Richard Roeper, I played what I guess you'd call semi-professionally, traveling by Greyhound to Atlantic City twice a week -- usually either the Taj Mahal ($10-20) or the Tropicana (the weird, raucous $7.50-15 "pink-chip" game, so called because of the pink $2.50 chips employed therein). My goal was to win $500 a week, which in retrospect was pretty unrealistic given that I was only playing 12-20 hours. I wound up averaging about $250 a week, which is still pretty good for something that doesn't remotely feel like work. (Hey IRS: But then I Iost all of it and more.)

Thing is, sitting on a bus for 4-6 hours twice a week is kind of a pain in the ass. For one thing, all the Greyhounds now smell like Lemon Pledge for some reason. It's really nauseating. And even if you have a book or your iPod or whatever, you're still stuck in a tiny, cramped space next to a complete stranger with (a) a squalling infant (b) a 3-pound bag of Cheetos or (c) a penchant for sharing his complex views on the delicate balance between national security and civil liberties vis-à-vis the random screening of passengers engaged in air or ground travel.

Once I got Esquire every month, therefore, I stopped going. (That I depleted my bankroll moving to a new apartment in Park Slope was also a contributing factor.) I still had various home games, including a new, pretty lucrative (IRS: in the sense of establishing potential business contacts) no-limit game with a group of book editors and agents on the Upper East Side. But I could no longer sit down at a table whenever I felt like it.*

Now, I am not saying that there exist underground poker clubs in New York City, where poker is incorrectly viewed as a form of "gambling" and is therefore illegal. I have never even heard of this "Playstation", frankly. But wouldn't it be wonderful if such a place really existed? And wouldn't it be marvelous if my friend Colin had finally, finally, finally gotten around to taking me there on Monday, thereby allowing me to apply for membership? And wouldn't it be just plain fab if I were headed there to have some fun and make some extra spending cash tonight?

But I'm not, revenue goons.

* No, I'm not interested in playing online. Mostly because no matter how many killer algorithms the sites claim they've developed, I still believe collusion is probably rampant at "tables" where two or more players could very easily be talking to each other on the phone throughout every hand, assuming they're not sitting at adjacent computers to begin with.

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