Trip Report — Trump Taj Mahal Atlantic City (Part 4)
XII: SATURDAY EVENING: AT-LARGE BANQUET
Speaking to any audience in the poker community is a challenge. Think about it. Most poker groups are full of novice recreational players — unsophisticated star-struck newcomers who pretty much salt lick any speaker’s ass and chomp any poker tidbit like its a carrot dangling in front of a mule. But this group I’m with tonight has a considerably higher threshold of expectation, which is precisely why some of our past BARGE speakers were misfires (including yours truly). Bottom Line: It’s not easy to entertain as well as inform a group with some of the brightest and most experienced minds in the game.
In short — it’s hard to hit a triple crown with any speaker at a poker gathering, which in my view consists of: 1. A speaker who “gets us,” 2: A speaker who is informative, and 3. A speaker who is entertaining. If we hit on two of those cylinders, that’s a double. Three is a home run.
I was pleased when I initially heard that John Pappas would be this year’s speaker. For those who do not know him, John serves as the Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). It’s an organization to which I give a mixed grade, which would probably be a “C” mixed with an “I” for INCOMPLETE. But I certainly respect the fine work John has done and I am eager to hear his latest from the political front.
I thought John hit a solid single on at the banquet with his speech. There was nothing earth-shattering nor newsworthy about it. But, he essentially covered all the bases with the latest with what’s happening in poker at the moment, especially with regards to online poker legalization. I do think John could have been a little more revealing about the work he does, and would very much have liked to hear some behind-the-scene stories about what he’s seen an experienced. I can only imagine the roadblocks of ignorance he’s up against with the clueless whores we elect as lawmakers. Some candid revelations about what happens in the trenches of lobbying could have been entertaining. But, you can’t fetch the winning hand from the muck and so this too shall pass.
Now, let’s move on to what you are waiting for — the ballbusting.
XIII: LATE SATURDAY NIGHT: PINK CHIP GAME
I have not played in any AT-LARGE poker table since 2001. It’s been 11 years.
After the banquet, I sit down in the famed “Pink Chip Game,” fittingly named for the distinct $2.50 chips used at the Taj Mahal specifically for this limit game.
There’s something about those chips. They must be laced with speed. They tend to make people do crazy things. I soon find out that — despite being away more than a decade — NOTHING has changed. Okay, maybe the names. Perhaps some of the faces. But cards and pain are infinitely intertwined and multi-generational.
I’m doing this report purely from memory and I am sure I will miss a few names and details. The table consists of David Kluchman (who would go on to make a deep run in the 2012 WSOP Main Event, collecting a cool $128,000), Wendeen Eolis (legendary new York poker player and writer), Jeanne David (the PokerStars consultant on responsible gaming), Brandon, Tracy (FARGO organizer), Sassy, Alex, Pete Segal, Barry K. and now I am drawing blanks on the others.
One ridiculous hand takes place that bears telling.
Late in the evening/early in the morning, I’m dealt pocket kings. Good hand for a maniac because he WILL get action. That’s me. It’s five handed. Surely, you see this chamber of horrors coming now. But not so fast. The hand does not turn out the way one might expect. I’ll tip off the ending in advance, which is I WILL LOSE the hand. Otherwise, there is no story and no rant. So, what’s the point.
Here it goes.
I have K-K in middle position. It’s capped pre-flop, which means there’s already $150 in the middle and we have not seen a flop yet. Flop is something like 8-7-4 with two suited cards.
Alex (I remember him because he has the same name as my cat) bets out into four players. He was the one capping the betting, so I figure he’s on a high pair, as well. I’m praying the poor fucker has something like pocket queens which means he’s going to fucking get microwaved over the next three minutes.
I raise, hoping to thin the field. But my jacking it up only keeps everyone in the pot. Not sure of the turn, but there’s an ace that somehow comes out at some point which is the very worst card I want to see. Now, my fucking kings have to be toast.
Here’s where the hand gets REALLY interesting.
Alex sees the ace and fires $15 into the pot. I’m thinking — he capped it pre-flop and has been in the entire way, and now he’s betting out into multiple players who have shown interest. THE MOTHERFUCKER HAS AN ACE. NOLAN, DUMP YOUR HAND! NOW!
I sheepishly ditch my two kings, mumbling some profanity to myself. David Kluchman to my left shows no hesitation and immediately calls. Now, I REALLY like my fold. Confirming my superior play and strategic abilities, Brandon then OVERCALLS. There’s a three-way showdown.
Of course, I made the right decision. Right?
What does one expect to see here? Board is something like (trying to recall) 8-7-4-3-A with no flush possible. I’m thinking — a strong ace, a weak ace, and perhaps two pair. Hell, my kings might have been in FOURTH place.
With $400 orphaned in the pot, and my kings buried in the muck, the following dialogue takes place as the cards get tabled:
ALEX: Good call. I missed.
DAVID: I’ve got a pair of fours.
(Note: At this point, my blood pressure is rising fast)
BRANDON: I’ve got a pair of eights.
DEALER: Winner — pair of eights!
WHAT THE FUCK!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
I’m sitting there trying to figure out which one of these card clowns played their hand WORSE? Of course, I have to let everyone know how I feel and give my speech. Brandon quietly rakes in the pile of chips, which takes like four shoves to reposition. Every push is more irritating.
One of those fucking SHOVES was *MY* investment in this pot.
Alex sap bluffs into THREE FUCKING PEOPLE, all of whom have shown significant interest in the pot in what has been a wild game. David makes some superhero call with a shit pair. Then, Brandon decides his second pair is somehow worth a shot after two people in front have fired chips and committed to the showdown.
Unable to contain myself, I rudely blabber that I have *no* respect for anyone’s game who was involved in the hand. None! I think my comments might have made a few people uneasy. I’m only half joking. I would not be telling this story except for the extraordinary follow up conversation which took place the following day. Let’s fast forward.
With memories of the hand still fresh the following day on Sunday, I ask David Kluchman what in the fuck he was thinking. He proceeds to royally educate me. David explained that Alex is a maniac, capable of just about anything. David saw me fold my hand, and then decided his hand might actually be good since Brandon could have missed the flush or the straight. David says he would NOT have called had I called. He also stated that he would not have called if he knew Brandon was going to call. So now, I am seeing this much more clearly.
Next, I ask David to explain how Brandon could have made the overcall and he makes another sterling assessment. He says that Alex is so wild, he could be bluffing. Next, he saw Nolan folding. Then, he sees David making what could be a crying call. That leaves Brandon sitting there with a three-legged dog of a poker hand, but which requires a CALL simply based on pot odds and his assessment of the players and their circumstances. Brandon’s reasoning is (we’re guessing) — Alex could be bluffing, David does not like his hand much, which now leaves *second pair* as the very real potential winning hand.
Bingo. Ding. Ding. Ding.
So, several hours after this hand plays out, my mind is completely reversed about *who* played well versus *who* did not. All three of these players were WAY AHEAD of me as to what was going on at the table. Fuck me. I know the game has passed me by and this is the perfect illustration of a hand that shows how one-dimensional thinking is a losing prospect. It sucks to be me.
My summation is — I was completely outclassed on the hand and didn’t know it, at least until someone pulled me aside and explained the actual dynamics of the table to me.
There’s probably a punch line in here somewhere. But the PINK CHIP hand really stuck with me for many reasons — perhaps the most important of which to take form this is, the player who thinks everyone else is a donkey is the game’s real money mule. Heee Haaw!
My first AT-LARGE poker session in 11 years ends about 2 am, after which I must return to Caesars Palace to data enter 320 tournament players who have survived Day One of the Main Event Championship. That keeps me typing until about 6 am. Head on pillow at 6:20 am. Lights out.
XIV: SUNDAY: TRIPLE DRAW LOWBALL TOURNAMENT
The tournament begins at 11 am, which gives me about three hours to sleep. That’s a full night’s rest for BARGE. Shuffle up and steal!
I draw a really good table so far as talk goes, but a horrible table so far as my chances of lasting more than a few hours. Tom Hummel sits to my left. Matthew Ivestor sits to my right. David Kluchman is playing second. Paul McMullin is at third. Sorry, I forgot the other names.
Paul proves to be my worst fucking nightmare.
I forgot most of the hands. But I do recall that Tom Hummel saves my ass at one point when I confused the two games (one has 2-7 nut low and the other has A-5 nut low). I’m sitting there drawing three straight times while holding the dreaded (high) ace, which is kinda’ like pissing at a urinal and then seeing that your fly is still zipped.
McMullin jackboots the shit out of my stack for two fucking hours. It got so bad, I stopped feeling the pain after a while. Getting in the last blow was another conspirator, Mark, who actually cuts me a break on what turns out to be my final hand. I get dealt a solid four card low — 8-6-4-2-x. Naturally, I break the x card. Draw. Miss. Draw again. Miss again. By this time, I am all in. I decide to flip up my hand and villain Mark reveals a pat 8-5-4-3-2. Which now means, I was pretty much drawing fucking dead the entire way. I say FUCK IT and draw not ONE but THREE (he mercifully showed his hand to the entire table and now as hangman, wants to see me twist like in the wind). He’ll get no pleasure hearing my neck crack. First fucking card off the top pairs me. I don’t even get to sweat.
Then and there. It all came back to me. Why I haven’t played AT-LARGE in 11 years.
A final word about the Taj Mahal, which played host to ATLARGE for something like the tenth straight year.
I spent a shitload of hours in the Taj Mahal during the 1990s. Pretty much wasted away my 30s in there.
During the middle of the tournament, which was taking place at around noon on a Sunday, Dave Fruchter comes over and starts yapping. He makes what I think is a poignant observation about how things have changed. We look across the poker room, looking as perhaps 30 empty tables. Only a sprinkle of low limit tables (and us) are in use. Fruchter reminds me of what this room used to look like 10-15 years ago. If it was the mid-1990s, EVERY fucking table would have been full by this time, and there would have been a wait for EVERY game.
Now, the place is nearly deserted. I love Tom Gitto (Taj Mahal Manager — now gone). None of the shifting dynamics of Atlantic City are his fault, really.
But the bottom line is the Taj Mahal is like a 1994 Cadillac. It was once a sparkling new state-of the-art head turning money machine. Now, it’s a 17-year-old relic with expired tags, an oil leak, with bad tires and a cracked windshield. Worse, there’s a family of illegals living inside.
That’s what the Taj Mahal poker room has become.
This is a report that was written (unpublished) in March 2012. There will be one more segment, followed by a return to present-day controversies all of next week.