Monday, November 23, 2009

Atlantic City Adventure

Atlantic City really is kind of a dump.

It's dirty, or dingy, maybe that's a better word. Grimy, that might actually be even better.

It certainly seems dangerous, at least if you wander off the boardwalk where you're comforted by the casino paramilitary security forces.

It's also filled with cigarette smoke and old people, each of which make things a little inconvenient and a little less fun. At least with smoking a lot of places now have 'smoking rooms', which are little tiny glass encased rooms for smokers to sit and puff in. Really just makes me think of a prison gas chamber. Can't figure out why they can't have the same setup for the elderly (note: this does not pertain to the fun old people that occasionally dot the gambling landscape, I'm really talking about the ones who wheel their oxygen tank to the slot machines).

So yeah, Atlantic City can be kind of depressing, and given my gambling track record, it usually has been for me. But I went down there this past weekend, and for the first time in my gambling life (or career? Is career a better term? I guess I don't want to suggest it's a job, so no), everything seemed to be coming up roses.

I was meeting some friends from home after work on Friday, and figured I'd just take the bus down from Manhattan to meet them. Without a car in New York, and with an oddly irregular train schedule (departures at 2pm or 8pm, really?), I felt like Greyhound would actually make some more sense.

I thought I was taking this thing called the Greyhound Lucky Streak, which is a bus that will charge you for a ticket, take you straight to a casino, where a nice casino host will give you money to go gamble. Seemed like a good deal, although Greyhound was essentially pimping us out to the casinos, delivering us right into their clutches with the promise of a few dollars. At least I got to keep my clothes on.

The bus ride itself was its own adventure. Apparently Greyhound's NYC-AC run isn't really popular with young men in their 20's. You know who it is popular with? Overweight people. So I spent the ride fighting over the armrest with a portly older woman like the British and Germans negotiating over the Sudetenland. I ended up with it, which makes her Chamberlain. It also makes me Hitler. Whatever, I really wanted that armrest.

There was also a great moment departing Port Authority bus station. As we rounded a corner in the underground bus terminal, there was a big booth that appeared to house station security or some other group of employees. They had one of those big digital counters that read, "Number of consecutive days without a collision." The counter had four digits, which means it could hypothetically get up to 9,999.

You know how many days Port Authority had gone without a collision?

Five! The counter literally read 0005, in big red numbers. Now, if you're the manager, do you really want to illuminate it when it's at five??? Why not wait until you've at least gotten to 10...then you're in two-digit territory? Or maybe seven, a full week? I guess they just have a lot of accidents. Makes you feel good right before a 2+ hour bus ride.

Anyway, the bus finally arrived at the casino, and after a while, I finally met up with my friends. We threw our stuff in the room (even though we're in our late-20's, we haven't yet reached the point where we're willing to pay for multiple rooms. Blame it on the economy) and we headed out to find our fortunes.

It was safe to say that Atlantic City was glad to have us. The casinos were so dead I actually saw a cocktail WAITER for the first time in almost a decade of gambling! It was an actual dude serving drinks, that has to be some kind of apocalyptic sign. I think the Mayans may have covered that in their 2012 end of the world scenario.

But we wandered around, unfazed by the bad sign, and at some point (and after a few drinks), wound up at a section of our hotel called, "The Ridge"

What is the Ridge? Well, let me try to explain.

Picture a casino/hotel that's a little run down. It's not really got a lot going on, not a lot of young people, and definitely not hip. It's not the Borgata, but it wants to be. Or at least it wants its young blood like some kind of non-Twilight vampire. Like an old vampire.

So what does it do? It colors an entire section of casino in purple. It puts a giant dance floor in the middle of the dance floor. It throws in a bar, a DJ table, and it makes its dealers dance.

Yes, it appears as through they make casino dealers, generally some of the most unfriendly people in the world, shake their respective groove things.

For the record, dancing is usually funny, but forced dancing is always hilarious.

That and $10 table minimums, and we were sold on The Ridge. We started playing blackjack, and I had on of those runs I'd always read about. I hit a couple blackjacks, got some dealer busts, split two eights and got another eight, split that, and won all three hands. It was that kind of run, which I don't think I've ever had. I didn't win a ton of money, but managed to triple my buy-in and celebrated by buying a round of what probably were ill-advised shots. Didn't really matter though, I was the big winner, with our planned poker tournament excursion on tap for Saturday.

Fast forward through the breakfast buffet explosion to the 1pm poker tournament at Bally's. It's a run of the mill hold 'em tournament, with a $75 buy-in (a portion of which goes to the house and portion of which goes to a player prize pool)

They had 111 players for our tournament, scattered across several tables throughout the poker room.

I've played a few of these in the past, maybe 5-10 during my visits to casinos over the year. They almost always go like this:

- I take my stack of chips and sit down
- I get nothing but terrible cards
- I get up from the table with no chips

This time however, things were a little different.

I saw some jacks, I saw a queen or two, even saw a few aces.

And I stuck around.

We played through the first hour, and I was still sitting there. Of course that wasn't a big deal, it seemed like everyone was still there. But I had a decent pile of chips, enough that I wasn't crippled when a really really old guy with an oxygen tank sucked out a runner-runner flush on me (which made me think evil thoughts about the old man which included but were not limited to, messing with his oxygen tank, physically assaulting him, and refusing to get off his lawn)

But I hung around, and hung around, and hung around.

My friend kept coming over from his table to ask how I was doing. The answer was always the same...

"I'm still sitting here"

And I sat there for a while (probably over 5 hours, which was certainly way to much sitting for my tastes)

I stole a lot of pots with pre-flop raises followed by flop bets, and kept enough chips that I wasn't even that annoyed with the losers wearing sunglasses (A brief aside on wearing sunglasses at the poker table: If you're playing in the World Series of Poker, or some super high stakes cash game, then maybe, maybe you can get away with sunglasses. But really, we're playing at Bally's in Atlantic City at a $75 tournament! You, guy or girl with sunglasses, are NOT a professional, I am NOT a professional, we are all amateurs, and you aren't hiding anything with your glasses, you're just revealing the fact that you're an idiot.)

Steps off soapbox)

Finally, as the blind levels (forced betting) got higher and higher, people started to get knocked off. After a while, we finally got whittled down from the original 111 to the final ten.

The final ten is important for two reasons. One, it's called the final table for a reason, it's just cool to have made it there. Two, it means you actually win money.

That was the hardest part of the tournament, when there were maybe 15 people left, and everyone just wanted to make it to 10th place to walk away with some money. In reality, coming in 11th place and getting nothing might be worse than coming in 111th, at least you would've saved some time.

But I had a good stack around then, and generally could avoid the fray and make it to the final 10. And once I got there, I figured I might as well stay a while.

There were a bunch of us with relatively small stacks of chips. And it was clear a bunch of us were trying to wait everyone out and back into more money. Every now and then, I would steal blinds (raising early to drive out other people and take their forced bets) and make sure I could stick around.

The other guys didn't, or they tried to steal from the one guy with a ton of chips and ran into trouble.

And as they got knocked off one by one, I looked up at the tournament payout screen and saw my potential winnings go up and up.

Pretty soon, there were only three of us. One guy had a large share of the chips, and me and the other guy were at about the same level.

Then we kept going, and for about a half-hour, I picked at the other guys. Stealing the increasingly high blinds, picking spots, and gaining ground on the chip leader.

I kept at it of a while, enough so that when the third place guy suggested we split all the prize money, the chip leader was happy to divide all the money equally amongst the three of us.

Just so we're clear on the situation, first place was set to pay out ~$2,500, second place was ~$1,500, and third place was ~$750.

If we all split equally, the tournament director told us, we'd all take home a little over $1,600 each.

Knowing the relatively uncertain nature of heads-up poker, I happily accepted the offer. I think the chip leader was scared of playing me, either that or he was just sick and tired of sitting for that long.

We all shook hands, congratulated each other, and counted out our large piles of hundred dollar bills (which unless the IRS reads my blog, won't get taxed...did I say piles of hundreds? I meant piles of fives). I had to resist the urge to make it rain in the casino.

My friends and I celebrated with dinner, and called it a trip.

I basically had the best gambling trip of my life, particularly given that I've done nothing but lose consistently for the last couple years. And now, as I enter my refractory period, I'm struggling with the strong possibility that it will never get better than this (gambling wise of course...certainly they'll be tons of better moments in my actual life, at least I hope so), turning $75 into $1,600.

But something tells me I haven't seen my last poker room.