Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tampa Downs

While Neighbor Ron escaped the brutality of the Northern winter for another few days of basking in the Florida sun, I emerged from two days nursing a fairly nasty cold with orange juice and bed rest to pick Ron up in Tampa and hit Tampa Downs just in time to lock up a no limit seat and allow Ron to handicap some ponies and marvel at how rich and green the Tampa down turf looked.

Poker games run for just 12 hours here in Florida and Tampa Downs chooses 12:30 to 12:30 so I am fortunate to start at a new table where everyone is equally chipped with the one hundred max that defines no limit in Florida.
I am very pleased to find three players at my table whom I have faced before. I remember how they play. Added to that is one young fellow who is one of the worst poker players I have ever seen. His loose play keeps the bluffing at the table contained because he will call with a low pair, and basically the table passes him around while he rebuys and loses.
This is an ideal game for me.

I catch some good cards early. The kid pays me and I am about a hundred or so ahead when everything just dries up. The kid wins with lucky draws, rebuys when he loses, and is a great source of entertainment, but I am really just watching everyone else play for a long, long while.

These old regulars make one huge mistake. They mutter and shake their heads and in many little ways send the kid the message that he is a bad player. He gets it. He justifies some of his plays, but gradually he tightens up, and finally he leaves to lose his money at a 2-5 table where he won't feel like an idiot. We have tossed the fish back into the water.

I am content for a while playing tight with the regulars, and then my cold catches up to me, and I know I will do something even more stupid than what I generally do when I am healthy, so I escape to a 2-4 table to play a bit of easy poker, watch the horses on the television, and listen to the horse banter.

Here I make one huge mistake. I don't bet any horses. I had decided earlier to just take a dollar to win on long shots and cover each race, so that I have a bit of distracting fun, but the cold and the sleeplessness of the night before put me off that plan. Of course, this is the day for long shots at Tampa, and I'd have probably turned my few dollars into profit.

Woulda, shoulda......well, you know the drill.

But I love the banter and the cheering and the energy of my table mates as they talk about which horse they like and how close they came to the daily double or a triple or anything. It is not so much about poker here. Poker is just something to do while they study which horses to bet.

Except for the horse talk, it is a dull table. I suspect a couple of the players were in special classes in school forty years ago and did not learn a while hell of a lot. They have trouble keeping their place. The dealers are over tired and somewhat removed from the game. This is unusual in Florida. The dealers last week at Tampa hardrock, even when dealing 2-4 were alert and quick. These dealers are slow, spend way too much time watching the floor for their next break, and fail to control out of turn betting. At one point I pause to think in early position and five people behind me bet before I decide just to call. The dealer is so out of it I barely get my two dollars in before the chips are gathered.

But they call hands accurately.

At my table are passive players who see every flop chealy and may raise a bit after the flop on anything really strong, but will pay just about any good hand. The pots are nicer at times than the no limit pots I have left on the other table.

Many of these players know one another. I am very lucky to sit to the left of the tightest player at the table, and it saves me money. I don't get anything approaching good cards, not even the jacks full of deuces or better that would qualify me to compete for a $350 seat in tomorrow's tournament.

Today's promotion is that anyone with a full house of jacks full of deuces or better can sit at a table where an open hand of hold em is dealt out to determine one winner. This winner gets a tournament seat in tomorrow's game which is a nice $350 prize. It is not really high hand bonus. It is a middle hand bonus. One seat is given every hour. But I don't get even one shot.

One hour three people from my table compete and one takes the prize. He jokes that he'll have to explain to his wife how he just has to go back to the track this Sunday because he has this great free tournament seat and certainly can't let a $350 freebie go to waste. He'll act annoyed that he'll miss Sunday dinner with the mother-in-law , but whattarya gonna do.

The truth is that he can sell the seat easily for $250, and the dealer will help him connect with a buyer. So the promotion also benefits regulars who get a bargain price on seats winners can't use. This means that every hour some player who had a full house catches a bonus worth at least $250 and a full table of players get the chip and a chair dream of that happening. For me it is a brighter promotion than those bad beat once in a lifetime awards.

It is a delightful afternoon, but by the end of the races I am beginning to fade.

Poor sleep and my persistent head cold, can't be overcome even with my very large mugs of coffee. I brought my car coffee cup along again, and the pretty waitresses will fill it up for me rather than bring me one of those small and hard to handle syrofoam cups.

The coffee will stay hot. The cup will be easy to hold.

And old age arthritic clumsiness will not cause me to tip anything or spill anything or worry about it. And today I am very pleased with myself because I have finally found a dollar store car cup that fits perfectly in those little plastic cup holders. Between coffees the cup stays in front of me, so I don't have to give up my cup holder. In fact, this cup locked up seat up when I arrived. And I get twice as much coffee out of every tip.

I am a very frugal gambler; I delight in very small things.

Except I don't delight in all these small cards. I practice various methods of tossing the cards in when I fold, working on my spin. This is a good exercise for my fingers, or so I tell myself anyway.

Except for the horses I am not much into the banter here today. I feel in a bit of a fog with the cold.

Also, I am not a regular.

What is so nice about 2-4 poker in Vegas is that the crowd, even if it includes some regulars, generally collects friendly tourists with interesting life stories from all over the world. This game collects only regular horse players. They are nice enough and not as grumpy as at most tables, but generally quiet and old. The guy to my right is too busy handicapping to every have a word with me. The really old guy to my left can't hear me say check out loud.

The only pretty girls to watch are the waitresses, and they are friendly and cute and wonderfully attentive. Each coffee is delivered with a smile. Still they are there an quickly gone.

Meanwhile back at the races Ron is not doing so well. He is not betting the long shots that rush out from no where to frustrate the careful, concentrated study with book and pencil and stats. He is not losing a lot, but he is not winning.

More frustrating is that he is not predicting anything. Gamblers, when they lose, like to lose by just a bit. They feel so much better knowing that they did know what they were doing, and that it was only last minute luck that took them out of the money and then just by a little bit.

In poker they might whine about bad beats, but the underlying message is that they knew what they were doing and in that sense bad beats are very reassuring. Life is much more complicated than poker or horses and most of us rarely really know what we are doing. That is one reason gambling can such a comfort.

I know exactly what I am doing. I am trying to spin my folded cards so they land perfectly flat on some previously folded cards, and the dealer never has to make a special grab for my cards but just rakes them away in one easy swoop. I am doing a similar thing with the chips in my blinds so the dealer rarely has to reach for anything. I am very proud of myself. I can't raise, but I can be an efficient folder of cards and chips.

I remember that in poker it is nice to have two cards that match. I get them too. Once I get sevens that match and once I get deuces. The sevens actually last to the river and are beat by eights without costing me much.

I win a pot now and again. My 2-4 suited flops a set. My rare ace-king turns an inside straight on the turn, after I call against the odds on the flop. So my preflop raise here pays me. I win a hand with 5-2 when it flops a set of fives and folks bet into me probably chasing a straight. One guy bets into me on the river and is amazed I have the third 5. I guess he is one of the kids from special class.

I see no pocket pair higher than the sevens. I do see connectors, but few straighten or flush. I win a hand with 6-8 that goes to two pair on the river, and guys who have checked along with me call me on the river and lose with their one pair. I find that very hard to believe, but I smile and rake in my small pot.

So I stay about even. Finally it is time to go. I play all my free hands and in my very last hand of the day I'm under the gun with A-K. So I raise. I figure I'll probably lose this hand and cut in half my small day's profit. Queen-Ten flops. I bet, and it goes around for a few calls with no raises.
And yes, on my last hand of the day, the jack comes on the turn AND someone raises me who has a straight to the king, so I can reraise on the river, get called, and pick up my chips a winner. Nice.

I rack my chips and go off with Ron to eat the special cordon blue chicken at the nearby Grill. I am a winner. I am up $35 after four hours of poker and happy.

I know my cold is fading, and I know tomorrow is going to be warm and sunny after a week of chilly days of waking up to frost in Florida.
I am too tired to safely take take charge of my new van on the trip home, so Ron makes the long drive back to Homosassa while we talk and get caught up on things back in upstate New York.
Tomorrow Ron and I will work the pontoon down the river to see if there are any Manatees and pull into a pier to eat a Seagrass Salad in the sun. I won't swim with the Manatees until my cold is really gone, but at least I will be on the water after a week of Florida winter, and Ron will delight in the sun and the warmthm. having exchanged the snow and ice and near zero biting wind of upstate New York for what seems to him like summer.

Life is good.

No comments: