Tuesday, September 21, 2010


For a poker player who strongly believes that frugality precludes penury, playing weekend Hold 'em at
the local Turning Stone Casino poses a dilemma.  Since most of my poker play is low limit (and at Turning Stone this means 2-4 because they rarely have more than a small interest list for 3-6) I can't have expenses of more than a hundred a day and ever expect to turn a profit for the trip.  

At the same time, weekend poker, especially around midnight, is fun and often full of loose players who are tired or in party mode.  On weekdays at Turning Stone, the cheap 2-4 game is likely to fold up at 10 PM, but on weekends full tables can be found until 2 or 3 AM.  I can only play No Limit when I am fully rested and alert, but Limit poker I can play tired or drunk or distracted, and while No Limit is more exciting and much more complicated a game, Limit is more social and full of folks who laugh and joke and tell stories between hands.  It is more about cards and luck than the subtle tells of players.
And while a couple hours at a No Limit table is plenty for me, win or lose, I can easily sit at a limit poker table for ten hours waiting for cards and watching the pretty girls.

So I want to go to Turning Stone to play on weekends.  I want to have a cheap, comfortable place to sleep.  And when I have a winning weekend, I want the wins to cover my expenses so my entire experience is free.
Gas and tolls are about $40 from my house to Turning Stone.
However, hotels prices are not like Las Vegas.

Staying in a room at Turning Stone is only a bargain for slot players who get lavish free room offers based on their play.  Poker players get a poker rate of $80 at the casino hotel or at times $55 at an the Inn down the road.  Often these are rooms filled up. Unlike Vegas I rarely plan very far in advance for these local trips.
This past Friday an available  room online at Turning Stone was $235, almost what I will pay for my 17 November nights in Vegas.

I located a good Super 8 just 3 miles away which can be had for as little as $40 plus tax, but the price goes up to over $60 on weekends.
The cheapest way to go is to sleep in the back of my van somewhere in the casino parking lot.  I don't mind trying this for one night, especially if I am basically playing into the early morning and catching a nap before I get breakfast, play a couple hours, and drive home.  However, I sleep poorly even at home and should always use my apnea  machine, so while sleeping in the parking lot is the most frugal plan, it does not satisfy my sleep needs and I arrive home sleep deprived.  And if I play for only one night, I lose value on the travel expense.  If I can play a second night, I save $40 over making a second trip another time, and if I play Sunday afternoon I can add another saved $40.

This trip I wanted to stretch my play over three days, getting both the action of Friday night and Saturday night as well as some Sunday afternoon fun.

I took a look at camping grounds in the area.

Turning Stone has a RV park where I probably could stay with my van and I have heard it was nice.  It was $45, more than the price of hotel on weekdays, but a bit less than the weekend hotel.
I kept looking.
About twenty minutes away I found the Oneida Lake area of Sylvan Beach with a State Park and a number of little campgrounds along Fish Creek. I decided to take a day and poke around that area, sleep in some campground, and see how I liked it.
Added to the frugal utility of the decision was the value of the water.  In Vegas free alcohol adds value to every 2-4 game.  Turning Stone gives none away.  But waking up near water is added value for me and will give me something to do if I wake up at 6AM which I do often even if I have played until 2 AM.  I don't like wandering much anymore in casinos.  I like the poker room.  But in the early morning hours when the poker has yet to start or is only peopled by local regulars, I like some other diversion.
I thought I would spend more time exploring a number of alternatives, but my first pick was The Landing Campground and there I could get a site with electric for my sleep apnea machine, hot showers and a bathroom just a few steps away, quiet, free wifi, and open access even at 2AM and all for $25 total a night.  So I took it.
Nearby is another spot I might try if The Landing Campground is ever full.  It is fairly new and called Mayfair Campground.
Also nearby is Tagosoke, but one walk through there on Saturday afternoon was enough to discourage me.  I found out this was really a camp for dogs and the human occupants just came along to see that they could be fed, walked, pampered, and kept out of trouble.  No one played the radio because the barking offered plenty of disharmonic jazz to insure against any intrusion of wild quiet.  All wildlife must have avoided this place.  Were I a tent camper, I might pick this place because there were a few spots off in the woods, but when I walked near the one tent that was set up in the woods, I found this one too was apparently owned by a dog who was the only creature around and apparently unhappy to have me poking around at a nearby site.  If I did stop there, I would probably pick the cabins at $41 a night compared to $38 for my van and the same electric I got at The Landing for $25.  Mayfair is priced at $35 a night.  Nothing gave me such easy access as The Landing. Here is a good place to start if you would like to see other possibilities in the area.

The Landing worked very well.  It was very quiet and yet the owner did not mind me rolling in at 3 or 4pm. "Quiet as a church mouse" she rated me.  And while I rolled in at 2 AM on Saturday, I was awake at 8AM.  Motels never give me anything to do in the morning except go to eat.  I don't need to eat. A bit of fruit and a handful of trail mix makes a fine breakfast if I am going to indulge the buffet later.  Here on Saturday morning I walked along the Fish Creek and watch blue heron and migrating geese while I fished for any hungry bass. Then I went for a stroll in the area, checked out the other camping area, watched minnow feed from the bridge, and in general had a very pleasant Autumn morning before heading to the buffet and another night of poker.
This is the best time to do this.  I could not sleep in my van in the humid heat we had this summer.  And the campground would be filled with folks escaping home.  Most of the sites are RV or hard shell campers all fitted in like sardines in the small space of the grounds.  If it got crowded, it would not be much different than the city. This spot had some of the regulars, but with poor predicted weather most stayed home and many had left for the season or were getting ready to go.  I had the shower in the morning all to myself.
Hot showers still feel odd to me while camping.  When I was younger, I spent a good bit of time camping and there was no hot water where I went.  Even Arrowhead Campground which was built by the Bull family, long time friends, did not have hot showers in those days.  I spent a good bit of time sleeping there as I was best buddies with Dick Bull on Lime Lake before his father bought the dairy farm and converted it into a campground.  A hot shower and a shave sure adds value to sleeping in the parking lot.  That alone is probably worth the $25.
Sleeping in the van also had the added advantage of giving me a fine place to take a break from poker, nap comfortably right at the casino, and come back to play.  My bed was always with me. If I was overtired on the drive home, there would be a comfortable place to nap a while as well.  And all my belonging were always with me.
Finally, I did not have to worry about bedbugs because I carried my bed from home.  If someone does not soon find a way to eradicate these bugs, they are going to be everywhere.  Philadelphia and NY city rank as the most infested.  This past week a NYC  Nike clothing store closed down because it was infested.  Exterminators who were getting  calls a year now say they are getting 5 calls a day.


Winning was more difficult this trip than sleeping.  I played over 25 hours of poker and rarely was ahead.  The first hour I was down about $150 playing No Limit.  I brought that back by the time I moved to the Limit table and left down $83.  The second day I won $20 more back.  But Sunday I caught losing cards again and so I left down $193, all of it lost at Limit Poker.  I had a good bit of fun, payed only a total of $10 to eat, and was sleeping so frugally I spent less even with my losses than my wife did on her weekend with her old friend, so the hobby still makes good financial sense, but I sure wish I could just get over the hump and begin to grind out a few dollars each trip.
No free alcohol meant that the value of that was lost.  At Foxwoods I would have drunk my share of Myers Rum and almost broke even.

I did do well in table selection.  I managed to get new tables whenever possible and moved when the table seemed full of rocks or good players just passing money around.  The hardest table I played was a couple hours at a No Limit on Sunday morning.  I did win two hands, but the small bets drained me, so that I had just ten dollars in profit left.  My best play was to call a bluff by a good player who had just a pair or jacks to my three tens but represented a straight.  I am working now on trying to get a better sense of bluffing.  There is none in Limit poker, but in No Limit it is part of the skill of the game.  I think I have a good sense of how much to bet, but I don't really have a sense of how to read a bluff.

The 2-4 games were lots of fun.  I played against some crazy players.  One raised and reraised every hand he played.  I played him well with my pocket Aces, letting him cap preflop and then check raising when my third Ace came on the river.  He stayed until the end.  Another fellow liked to put up $4 in the dark when he was under the gun and play it blind as long as no one raised him.  He would look if someone raised him.  I was next to him, so on any playable hand a raise would generally isolate him and then I'd just call his blind bets down.  He won more often than you might think, but the odds were with me, and I'd do it all night on good high cards.

I met plenty of interesting folks.  Three Black girls played for a while and they were cute and funny and good retirement therapy for me as what I miss most from my teaching days is being daily in a community of young people.  I met a fine and friendly young fellow from Corning. I saw many of the regulars including this one fellow who calls everyone cousin and is very friendly until he gets beat for a while and then turns a bit nasty.  I met a Marine who had served in Afghanistan who was preached at for a while by an old, loud regular whose sermon was that the cards would come if the kid just said, "Just one time."  I suppose the fellow wanted to keep him loose, but he really insulted the kid in some ways acting like he could tell him how he should live his life.  It was after midnight and folks often get a bit nutty then.  The kid was very young.  It was hard to picture him as a Marine.
I met a fellow who solved my sleep place dilemma by just staying in the casino around the clock and drinking energy drinks. He was almost fifty and when I played with him on Sunday had been going for almost 24 hours.  He left the table to get in a blackjack tournament.
I don't know how these guys do it.  Nick the Greek used to play for days and hardly get up to go to the bathroom.  At Binion's once I played with an old guy who told Benny Binion stories and had been up playing for 38 hours.  He napped  a minute or two between hands.  At the El Cortez I played with "Jimmy" who the dealers said just came to Vegas and took a seat and stayed in it for three days.  Jimmy was alert and full of good humor.  " Bring me a whiskey," he liked to say, " and leave the bottle 'cause me and the boys are gonna play some poker."  I think I am doing well to play into the early hours of the morning.  At home I generally am in bed by 9PM.  I don't seem to tire at poker.  But I want a few hours sleep a night even to enjoy Limit poker.
The buffet at Turning Stone was tasty.  I liked it on Friday night better than Saturday noon.  The price of $17.00 to $20.00 is certainly high compared to Vegas, but if I don't eat there, my points go to waste.  I like to catch a meal at the Savoy in Rome, but this time the only meal I bought was an interesting omelet at Mary's diner just around the corner from the campsite.  It was full of Italian sausage, peppers, onions, potatoes and served with garlic toast.
At the buffet I liked the chili with added taco meat from the Mexican section, mushrooms, olives, hot sauce and cheese.  Also the mixed summer squash and carrots were good.  Friday the meal included a dozen steamed clams.  Nothing else was very memorable.  I filled up on salad.
I bring my own stainless steel coffee cup into the casino and find it a good way to get a drink of coffee or a coke. So I also carried coffee from the buffet in my cup to the poker game.  I get more in my cup than they give in those little cups.  They are fine about filling it at a little bar set up in the casino and I go there more often than I wait for the waitress and juggle everything while playing.  The tip is the same.  And while it is now frowned on, I bring a bit of Myers rum in a hip flask and add it under the table.  I only had one drink  this trip. Last trip I asked a dealer about the new policy and he said that he would not turn anyone in even if he noticed.
Turning Stone now sells beer, but it is $3 to $5 a cup and not very good. Other drinks are more.  It is a ripoff.  And what a shame that they do not support the local brewery in Utica which brews Saranac beer, one of the best in the nation in my opinion.   They should be pouring only versions of that brand and supporting the local, depressed economy.
Always the argument is that casinos bring wealth to a community, but I don't see the evidence here in this very poor section of upstate NY.  Most of the people buy food and drink only at the casino.  Nothing else is close.  Few seem to venture out anywhere nearby.  Using the GPS to drive from the casino to Sylvan Beach, and winding through country roads following the promps, I passed through wonderful farmland on roads where I was the only car.  I'd be worried about breaking down out there in the middle of the night, but driving with my bed and a cell phone, I suppose it would not be such an inconvenience as it was in the old days.
I drove by turkeys and hawks and corn stalks and silos.  One early morning a fox was pretty surprised to see me coming along the road, and he quickly scampered back into a corn row.
Sunday the poker was melted into the football.  I am not much of a sports fan, so that was no treat for me.  Even the dealers were watching the screens rather than the game and the conversation was all football.  There was no room for humor or stories or even very good attention to the game.  It would have pleased me to have my opponents distracted  if I could have gotten cards.  Along with the poker two people at the table were lost in their earphones and hardly could hear the dealer talk.  It was isolating.  I was losing. It was less fun than the late night poker.
I drove all the way home without stopping and was back before 9 PM.  I had to get up at 4 the next morning to take my son Peter to the hospital and I felt rested enough, so the campground must have been a good choice.  I'll do it again this Saturday when I am in the fingerlakes area for a small reunion of a few of us from an  International Club I belonged to in college.

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