Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Nick the Greek, Einstein and me

When Nicholas Andreaa Dandolos (Nick the Greek) started off to play his day of poker he would often toss a roulette bet on red or black and interpret his roulette win or loss as a predictor of how much luck he could expect in his day.

There is no way I would do that. I can’t seem to get my teeth around that 5.6% vigorish on an American roulette wheel.

But I was thinking about Nick when I took my Foxwoods $25 matchplay to the craps tables soon after arriving at Foxwoods yesterday.
Robin and I had split a matchplay on our last trip and lost in just two rolls: 10 - 7 out and we had gone on to lose at poker too.
Losing on just two craps rolls is a real downer. It hardly gives you time to anticipate outcomes, to experience that breath taking moment when the dice arc gracefully through the quiet air to clatter and roll into that randomness that will determine your wealth or poverty.
I love craps, but since I discovered how to get an edge at low limit poker, my frugal nature makes it harder to risk real money at a craps table when I could be playing Hold Em. In craps there is always a mathematical advantage for the house. Whenever I am in Vegas, I play a little on really low limit tables, $3 or under, with 10 X the odds.

However, I always play matchplays.

Matchplays are the hot fudge sundaes of frugality. For one bet the gambler has one huge edge over the casino and the revenge is sweet.

So there I was with my quarter chip and my little piece of paper which if the randomness flowed my way would also be worth a quarter.

The old guy rolling to the right of me was on a fine roll. He had worked his way to making his point of 8 after hitting number after number even before I placed my bet. Now I wondered how it could go. In craps a guy like that is called a “hot roller” and often will attract a crowd. The belief is that he has luck and everyone wants to get a part of it. In Vegas there already would have been a crowd yelling and hooting and clapping and supplications for numbers:

“Come on........”

But this was Connecticut at ten in the morning. No hooting. Just a little tension as the shooter set and aimed.

“Point 8” I can begin to sweat.

$25 on one roll is a big bet for me, and now I had Nick the Greek telling me this would also be my luck prediction bet for the day. In the realm of subjective superstition many things were hanging on this roll.

In one sense I had already been lucky with this matchplay. My gambling buddy Louisiana Mudgriff Dan heard I was going to Foxwoods and immediately mailed me some Casino Player coupons. Dan is like that. You tell him anything and when you check the mail, there will be a present. I asked him once about a CAT bus route and got a thick Transit guide, asked again about Tunica and in came a Mississippi guide. Lately we have been talking about alligators, so I approach my mailbox very gingerly each day.

Dan and our Florida buddy, Lucky Pete, are coupon lovers who collect Silverstrikes but don’t use matchplays. Gamblers dream of such friends. If any of us have to pay full price for anything in Vegas, we feel as if we have failed. But to Pete and Dan matchplays are just junkmail that take up buffet 2-4-1 coupon space the wallet.


This fellow liked the six. He wasn’t making the famous V- six dice set and his throws were no where near controlled, but six easy came often. When you are hoping for eight, six is frustrating. Six and eight are sister numbers; when the wrong one falls you use another of those “Come on” supplications and think that her sister must not be too far behind.

The shooter also loved throwing two sixes together. When they come, you just sigh. What a useless waste of suspenseful anticipation! They are unless you bet them. And if you bet them often, your gameplan is useless. Now here they were over and over again to frustrate my expectations.

“So where the hell is the damn eight?” I asked myself, trying not to think about seven.

And then the old guy hit it.
$50 in winnings in my pocket. What a fine way to start the day!
If Nick was right, this was to be a very good one.

The truth was that this entire trip had already been very lucky. When I had gone with my free voucher to book this bus trip, they told me it was sold out and that the waiting list for cancellations was long. In fact, all the seats for the week were sold and it was next Tuesday before I could get a reservation and then I got the last seat. This Yankee Trails sale was at a tipping point and very popular. $16 bus fare that includes a Bonus of $20 of free keno, and a free $16 buffet is a frugal player’s delight.

And this was the week I really wanted to go. Elizabeth is away nursing a sick friend, so I have been trying to play poker like I was in Vegas rather than in this place where even in March 2 feet of snow can come like a seven after the spring point is established.

On Monday, Greg bought me lunch (we play on line for lunch) Afterwards we played some head to head nickel no limit and he fleeced me $60 before I gained the edge and came back with $7 profit. After his wife Annie fed me supper, Greg urged just 10 more minutes of play and in those few hands got a $9 edge on me. Greg has learned well from casinos how to feed people and then take their money.

Wednesday, Bill, Slink and I planned Turning Stone. Friday the union sponsors a free buffet get together at Saratoga Harness. Saturday Slink holds his first spring Hold Em tournament. I could not let Yankee Trails spoil a perfectly good week of wagering.

I got up and met the bus at 7 AM with no ticket. Sure enough, there was one empty seat. And it was a fine, comfortable seat, too, right next to a tiny, very old Chinese woman with the most delightfully well aged face whose smiling face spoke a pleasant song of Chinese to her with her nearby friends. Greg has to travel hours on a plane to get to Kunming to have this other culture experience. I was having it for free.

When we arrived at Foxwoods, my luck was still with me because, as Jean Scott always says, “the smarter I get, the luckier I am.”

Every senior citizen in the greater Northeast had descended on Foxwoods at the same time and each one had free keno vouchers and some business with the Player’s Club. People in walkers are slow in lines.

Remembering that old Disneyland open gate strategy, I skipped ahead a couple casino areas and found another Rewards counter, validated Mudgriff’s matchplay, and won my craps luck prediction money before many had shuffled their walked a yard. On the way back the old folks were still waiting in an even longer Wampum Rewards line, but the Keno line had thinned to nothing.

Ahhhh.....I felt like such a winner. Money and a short line. This had to mean something.

I could not get a seat at 4-8 poker table and played a while at 2-4. Holding two spades I lost a king high space flush to the ace high. Then I caught a couple small pots. The young folks around me were talkative, very happy, funny, and friendly. I liked their banter. But the one to my left was a lover of the blind straddle. His buddies warned me that my big blinds would suffer a threat almost every time to this idiocy. I took him once when his blind straddle encouraged him to play an 8-3 offsuit and to rebet after the flop. And then I got really lucky; they called me for my 4-8 seat.

I shouted to the floor person to lock it up , but by the time I got my chips to the table, some line cutter had already tried to take my seat. He had not been called. He had just jumped in and put his card down to go buy chips. A Mohegan Sun card at that. It is so frantic in the poker room that the floor people cannot manage very well and don’t have time to listen, but this time one did and so once again by being assertive I lucked into the last seat, and my favorite, right across from the dealer, and on a brand new table. Starting a new table means starting with people who are new to the game that day and starting even. No one knows how anyone plays.

My luck was running very good indeed.

It got better. There was one young fellow who overbet constantly. He did not overbet by raising or reraising. No one reraised much at all. He bet out on nothing, stayed in with nothing much and called easily. If I had cards, I just let him bet in to me. Once in the lead he would not relent, even on the river, even after many of my check raises should have taught him better. Once I my pocket nines develop into the second biggest full house. I lead each betting round from the button on this one. and I was getting calls until after the turn. He stayed for the river and bet into me. I raised and he folded in disgust.

The table was very frustrated with me. I kept winning. They were sure that I was bluffing, but they did not have the goods to call me often and when they did, since I was not ever bluffing, I beat them. It was a good thing to happen at the beginning of the play because it gave me a loose table image. Had it happened after I had played like a rock for two hours, I would never have gotten so many callers. It was a fine long streak of good flops followed by win after win, and they were tired of it.

Once I acted after the big blind and raised pocket jacks. The woman to the left of me called as did a couple others, and then a fellow just two players to the right reraised. There are so few reraises in this game that it was notable. I called. And the woman to the left of me now capped the bet!!!

I was totally confused. A called. Then a third raise? These were good players. What was happening?

A jack made me trips on the flop. But it came with a king. If the raisers and reraisers had pocket kings, I was beat. I bet. They called. On the turn the board developed so that a straight and a flush were possible. I was confused. I checked my trips figuring anyone who called with that board would have me beat. I checked. They checked and each of them turned over pocket aces. What a fine hand to win! And what an oddity. The strangest thing was that not more than 6 hands before two players similarly each held pocket aces.

But my win did not make me more popular at the table. I had been beat when I raised preflop, and by the end there were so many ways for me to be beat that my trips holding up seemed to be a miracle against odds.

Soon after I had 8-2 in the big blind and 2-2-5 flopped. I checked and that maniac guy bet holding two jacks. A couple others called and I slow played by checking. An 8 came on the turn. I now had a full house. I checked, maniac bet and I still slow played and called. On the river came another 8. I now had the nut fullhouse 8’s full of 5’s. Of course I checked. Maniac bet his jacks, one older tight player after him called.

I raised. Well, you never heard such groaning. How lucky I was to keep “catching” these cards. And a “check raise” no less. Maniac and the old guy folded and I collected, but I did not show my 8-2. More grumbling. Speculation on my hand. Some suspicion that I might have bluffed.

Later I had a pair of kings and a straight draw after the turn. I bet. The lovely young black woman to my left called me, and as she did she softly said to me, “Don’t hurt me!” That was the most sensual moment of the day. But of course, I caught the straight, bet and beat her two pair, and the table hated me even more.

And then as fast as it started it ended. I hardly played a hand for the next hour or so. I was very quiet. I sat back and ordered a strawberry milkshake wishing that I could still sip Johnny Walker Black and that I wasn’t old with arthritic fingers and alcohol-precluding meds, but young enough to ask the Black girl with the tender voice to come with me to supper.

My mind drifted.

I had to be reminded to fold.

New players trickled in. It probably was time to go, but I just let the cards shuffle, fall, enjoyed the randomness, the downside of excitement. Nick had been right. The luck had held. When I left to collect my $5 in keno winnings from the free tickets and to eat the free buffet, I counted $429 in profit. Not a bad day of poker.

I still had time after the buffet. I walked in some new section and there was another reminder of Nick the Greek, a Sic Bo table. They called the game Chuck-a-Luck in his day and the three dice were then in a cage. Now they rested in a little plastic globe which vibrated after a player hit a button to start the game. The game was crowded with Asians and felt very friendly and fun. People smiled when it was their turn to hit the button, rejoiced when they won, and even smiled ironically when they lost. How could it happen to lose so often? How could they change their bets only to see the old numbers pay? What was this all about? The table is very colorful with fine green dragons and lots of red. The dice rattle, the board lights up the winners. It is a delightful diversion with a house edge on Small and Big bets that is lower than the slots and half the edge of roulette, 2.78%; however, the rest of the bets are killers, many much higher than keno. At Turning Stone my old college buddy Mike and I used to play it with $5 matchplays when the craps and BJ tables were full. If I did not think about the house edge (in the teens on most bets) I could enjoy the game.

And this made me think of Nick the Greek again. And of Einstein. Nick used to introduce Einstein around Vegas as "Little Al from Princeton - controls a lot of the action around Jersey." One day Nick noticed the famous thinker fascinated with a Chuck-a-Luck game and watching the three dice. intently. Nick got nervous. He did not want his famous friend to get caught in this sucker game. So he went up to Einstein and said something.

But it turned out that Einstein’s quick mind had easily done the mathematics and was simply fascinated that people who actually wager on a game with such impossible odds. I wonder what he would think today when people will wait in line to play 6/5 Double Bonus poker.
Nick estimated that he won and then lost 500,000,000. He died broke. I have my $429 in my pocket, but I also just got lucky again and against the odds, with fifteen on the waiting list ahead of me on Monday, I just booked another $16 bus ride to Foxwoods on Thursday. And I have a $10 matchplay for this trip.
So we’ll see.

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