Thursday, May 08, 2003

Atlantic City Tropicana

Originally published on 2+2)

My husband and I travel to Las Vegas quite a bit. In fact, since August 2002 we have spent a total of 7.5 months in Las Vegas! We know the casinos well, and always just find ourselves going out there instead of playing on the East coast.

All of that changed earlier this week when we took the 3.5 hour drive to Atlantic City. I decided to test my skills in a Stud tournament and some ring play at the Tropicana. I am a low limit player, who has seen some small success over the last year, but I am still in the teething stages of my poker career.

Stud has always been my best game. In Vegas, the Orleans is really the only casino that regularly has Stud tourneys. Online, they are more common, but I have never done that well. Most of them are freerolls, and the competition seems to play any and everything to the river. In Hold'em, that can work to the advantage of a tight, solid player. But in Stud, it seems to be the reverse. We just don't have the advantage over bad play that we seem to have in HE. When the whole table calls my aces with a king kicker, I know I may be in the lead at this time, but by 5th, am almost assured that I'm trailing.

So I started itching at playing a real Stud tourney. I looked up the tournament schedule at the Trop, and off we went. We were not allowed to reserve a room in advance, we had to fill out applications when we got there, get our time tracked, and then we could take advantage of the $60 poker room rate. I knew it was kind of risky not to at least call reservations and see if they had an opening for the night, but since we are only 3.5 hours away, I went ahead and took the chance, being that it was a weekday.

One of the things that is great about the drive from the DC area to AC, is that there are "free" exits in the median of the highway where one can exit and get gas, food or go to the restroom. We definitely took advantage of those exits, and got our Starbucks buzz before heading back onto the road.

Once in AC, there are plenty of signs to guide the tourist to their destination. This made it really easy to find the Tropicana without having to ask for directions or look at the "big buildings" and try to locate the name.

The parking garage is tight and they have a time charge, unlike casinos in Vegas. I believe you can have the ticket validated if you are a guest of the hotel.

The poker room was easy to find from the parking garage. There were clear signs pointing the way (something so unheard of in Vegas. They seem to hide the poker room as best as possible, and rarely have signs posted for it).

The sign-up board was displayed clearly on an overhead monitor. The staff seemed competent and friendly. The low limit games had no waiting list, so we were able to be seated in a variety of games immediately. We were told to take a seat first, then ask for an application for the poker room card.

The poker room was very large and dark. There is no smoking. They have tableside service with frequent visits from cocktail waitresses. The food service is only available from a small deli adjacent to the poker room. One is not allowed to go up and order for themselves, they must order via the cocktail waitress. The food seemed reasonably priced and tasted fine. They have seated massage service, but I didn't get the prices.

We started on the 1-5 stud tables. I wanted to jump right into 5/10, but my husband is not that comfortable in his stud game. There is no ante at the 1-5. Low card brings it in for $1.00. Rake is 10% up to $4.00 and there is no bad beat jackpot (not that I saw, anyway. Someone please feel free to correct me if I missed something). I ended up not playing Hold'em at all, so I don't know if they use a forward moving button or not. Sorry.

We played Stud for the next couple of hours. The field was super-soft. Not like the tight-aggressive rocks in Vegas at all! I didn't feel like I "had" to depend on some tourists to win a few dollars. Most of the players were older locals, male dominated. But they weren't like the Vegas guys, they were just "playing for fun." At least at my table

I walked away with a $30 profit in about an hour and a half of play, after tips and the rake. Not bad!

We signed up for the 7:15pm Stud tourney. There is a $500 guarantee. Although in Poker Pages it lists NO rebuys, that is incorrect. There are unlimited $20 rebuys for the first hour provided one is below 400 chips. The tournament was $20+10. Poker Pages has it listed as $15+10, which has obviously changed recently since the overhead monitors still said $15+10.

There were 93 entries, so the $500 guarantee was not a problem. I must have picked the best table in the house. I sat down and immediately 3 people told me that they had never played in a poker tournament before. One said he had never played Stud. Another said she played Pai Gow in the casino, so knew the ranking of poker. Another said she loved stud, but had never played in any kind of tournament, poker or otherwise. Another, older man was obviously a regular, but had that look about him I see often that smacks of someone who is very hasty in betting, raising and calling with a losing hand. Then there was the young guy right across from me. He knew how to play. He knew what he was doing. We didn't even have to start the first hand for me to know immediately that he was my real competition. The only thing I could hope for was that he would start to go on tilt and play like a maniac if he got too many bad beats.

We started the tournament a little late, but nothing to really complain about. It seemed well organized, although I did find a few little problems along the way, that I will explain as they become relevant.

I was off to a pretty good start with split queens. Sure, my kicker was only a five, but I was head's up due to a raise by the older, impatient looking man. He had a jack doorcard. This hand turned out to be my only real mistake during the entire tournament. I am a diabetic, so I often have to drink these protein shakes when I start feeling a bit weak. So I mixed one up right before the tournament started and drank it at the table. I guess I was still a little muddy-headed when I made this mistake.

I called the raise and got head's up with the older, impatient man (OIM). We both flopped blanks on fourth. He bet, I called. Blanks on fifth, he bet, I called. We both made running pairs on sixth, his 7's to my 6's. He bet, I thought to myself, "He has me beat both ways, he has queens and 7's, I have jacks and 6's. No more chasing." I folded. DUH! I am the one who had the queens, not him! Okay, so I'm glad I made the really big mistake during the first round when the stakes were tiny.

The OIM started trying to run over the table. It worked on some of the newbies, but the young, experienced guy (YEG) wasn't having any part of it, and he just plain outplayed the OIM. I threw away a lot of hands, and won a couple of small pots. Stealing the antes wasn't really possible at this point. Mostly because all of the newbies stayed in every hand until at least fourth. Plus, the antes were so small at this point it was barely worth it, since I knew I was going to get called anyway. The YEG went after the antes quite a bit, but was usually able to either get away from the hand when the bets doubled on fifth, or just plain show down a better hand. He started amassing chips very early and never let up. He did a rebuy after one bad beat, but never had to do another. Even when he completely missed and lost a big pot, he was always well ahead of the rest of us.

The first to go out was a young guy who had never played in a tournament, came to the table late, and was pretty drunk. He was a true gambler. But he had a bit of stud sense and lasted over an hour. After that, they started falling pretty fast. Our table stayed together a long time, due to a lot of passive playing by everyone but the YEG and the OIM. The YEG said that this was the longest he had ever played on a table without someone dropping out. I knew the table was good, so when I got barely below 400 I made a rebuy. I figured if our table could last for a while without breaking up, and I could start getting some cards, the rebuy would pay itself off many times.

After the break, my cards got very cold. I couldn't even win the little pots. I went about 25 hands without even a pair of deuces. Fortunately, I wasn't losing very quickly, since I wasn't playing! Our table started losing the newbies rapidly, but they were breaking up other tables to keep ours together. My chips dwindled slowly. I had such a perfect table to collect chips, and I never got to take advantage of it. Eventually they broke our table and I was going to a new one.

My stay at the second table was so short and unmemorable, I don't even have anything to say about it. I almost immediately got moved again, to my new and permanent home, the #1 table.

Things started picking up. For some reason, at this table, I could practically see through the cards on the table. The hole cards included, lol. The men at my new table were older, and they were transparent. They all played a decent stud game, but they seemed to TELL me every card they caught. Since I was so short stacked by this point, I found myself going all-in on every, single live pair with a decent kicker. The bigger stacks either had the worst possible hands, or they just didn't know that they should probably call my all-in's, since they didn't have much to lose by calling, yet lots to gain by knocking me out. I slowly started amassing chips, but still, I was the shortest stack at my table. Other people kept getting knocked out by playing too many hands and going too far with them. There seemed to be some kind of masculine, pride thing going on with raises and re-raises for no reason other than the contestants were too embarrassed to fold. Stealing the antes wasn't just going on every hand in a good steal position with a scary doorcard, it was almost a contest to see who could get in the first raise. In the meantime, I was only going in with premium starting hands, or when I absolutely had to, and I survived.

Pretty soon, we got down to three tables. I was keeping an eye out, but I only knew for sure when my husband got moved to our table. He was short stacked himself (he was never in the position to rebuy the first hour, but had been card cold since then). I think we each had about 600 chips, which at this point was pretty darned low! I would say the average was at least 2k. The antes were about 50 chips by this point and 100 was the bring-in, if I remember correctly. So we were both always on the verge of being all-in. I kept up my strategy of going all-in with any live pair, decent kicker and kept pulling it off by everyone either folding or by plain outdrawing the caller. Finally my husband had to go all-in with a pair of live 5's, no kicker. He was the bring-in, it was raised, he had nothing much left, so he just shoved in and went up against not one, but two better hands. What bad timing. He was trailing the whole way and out at around 20th, I believe.

Immediately, a young, confused looking guy sat down at our table in my husband's vacated seat. This was obviously his first tournament, and maybe even his first time playing casino poker (as will become apparent in a moment). He was the chip lead at our table with many thousands of chips. He was in shock at his good luck, I think. He slowly started bleeding away his chips, as the competition was much better at this table and he really didn't know how to play tournament Stud.

My memorable hand with this sweet guy was when I had buried tens. I was the last to act. The bring-in came in with the minimum bet. The young guy threw in one of his many 1k chips. I asked him if he was raising or calling (knowing that he just made a big mistake by not announcing his intention). He said he meant to raise, but the dealer made his bet stand as a call. He apologized and said this was his first time playing in a tournament. I immedately took advantage of the situation and raised all-in with my buried tens (I would have done so in either case). The bring-in folded. Then, to my shock and amazment, the young, confused guy folded as well! I sat there in disbelief. He had literally thousands and thousands of chips to my measly little raise, whch was only about 500 more chips. That was one of my luckiest moments in the whole tournament.

Not long after that, his mountains became bumps and then he was out. He could have folded every hand and still made the final table. He was obviously very inexperienced at not only tourneys, but casino poker in general.

My strategy kept working, and although I was always short stacked, I was hanging on by only playing at the right times. Soon it was down to two tables (16). There were two women left, out of about 7 who had entered. My husband said the other woman was a very solid player who had done well when he was at her table.

I was the shortest stack at both tables, for the most part. As soon as I'd build up some chips, I'd get nothing again for about ten hands and be anted down. I was never in a position to steal, because the macho-guys always did it way before it ever got around to me, lol.

The YEG (from my first table) sat down on my right. He had a medium stack and had obviously been to this point many times before. He turned very aggressive and raised my bring-in every hand when it wasn't raised before it got to him. Sometimes I had absolute rags and gave it to him, other times I re-raised him all-in. He knew that he should always call me (he had mountains of chips compared to me). But every time, I had the better hand from start to finish, and survived.

Finally someone knocked out the YEG. He played a good tournament. The only thing I could possibly say that hurt him is that he sometimes played drawing hands. Not necessarily even when the time was right, either. Drawing hands are such killers in Stud tourneys. If he had known this little fact, I think he would have blown us away.

My husband kept checking on the other table to keep me informed of the chip counts and how the other players were playing. They were very lax about things like this at the Tropicana. At Orleans, a spouse is not even able to get into the same vicinity as a player, much less talk to them in any fashion. But the Tropicana let him sit by me, feed me (jeez, I was dying by that time!), get me drinks from the cocktail waitress, etc.

The other table was playing many more multi-way pots than ours. At our table, almost 100% of the hands, someone went after the bring-in, everyone else folded, and either the bring-in and the possible steal went head's up, or the bring-in folded. They went hand-for-hand because we were playing many times the hands they were. The other table saw a lot of raises and re-raises in very multi-way pots. Sometimes five players would see fourth, even through several raises.

They kept the tables balanced at the end, even though they were kind of lax about doing that in the first rounds of the tournament. In no time at all, we were down to the final table. We had a break. That is when I noticed another problem. There were several racks of tournament chips just sitting around, unsecured. They were on shelves and tables. No one acted like they even noticed this. One of the finalists asked the dealer if we could pass them around, that if he would look the other way, he would be assured of a huge tip. The dealer knew he was joking, but at the same time, they were just sitting there for anyone to take, to be used in future tournaments or even in this one, if someone was daring enough. No one ever counted our chips.

Also, the tournament screen was malfunctioning almost the entire tournament. The staff didn't seem to care whether it worked or not. So then the time had to be clocked manually, and sometimes wasn't done correctly at all. We would have 30 minute rounds when we should have had 15 minute rounds. No one seemed to be concerned about it until a player would point it out and then the dealer would say, "Yeah, I think you're right" and call the floor.

During the break the players were congratulating me and patting me on the back for surviving so many all-ins and making the final table. Players were joking that I must be a cat because I had at least nine-lives, lol. I was the only woman left, and they were making me feel very welcome. I did not feel unwanted or that I was part of an all-boys club where I didn't belong. The players were exceptionally friendly and nice, compared to Vegas tournament players I've encountered.

We drew seats for the final table. I got the one seat. The new players from the other table joined us. On the first hand, a gentleman went all-in. He had very little, and was the shortest stack besides me. The antes were now 300 and I think I only had about 1200 left. He had maybe 2k. Another man had raised his bring-in and he called all-in. This was a multi-way pot, as another gentleman called both bets cold. I had a feeling that this third gentleman had the best hand. The raiser was in the steal position (last to act) with an ace showing. The bring-in felt no choice but to go all-in with any hand, since he couldn't survive the antes much longer. On fourth, the stealer checked. The other gentleman checked as well. On fifth, the stealer bet. The other gentleman thought long and hard, but eventually folded. Both made huge mistakes, IMHO. The stealer for betting into a dry pot with nothing, and the other gentleman for not calling with the winning hand. Sure enough, when it was all over, the third gentleman had the best hand all along (even if he hadn't announced it, it was written all over his face), the stealer had nothing and the all-in outdrew him. So the bring-in more than tripled his chips. I am not saying that both men made a mistake because I would have moved up in the money, I am saying it because neither had a huge stack, neither could just afford to give their chips away when they, too, could have moved up in the money. Had one been the huge chip lead, I could sort of justify him betting into a dry pot with nothing, but neither of these men had big stacks. All three men involved in that pot were on the lower side. Surely not as low as the all-in, but lower than average. I am certainly no pro, but I truly believe that this was a bad move.

Everyone at the table groaned. They all knew what happened.

Another thing that happened during this hand that made all of the new players (from the other table) upset was that no one would turn over their cards when it was head's-up and one player was all-in. This table had been that way all along. They wanted to slow roll, they wanted to squeeze out their draws. They took forever, even when one was all-in. Someone commented about it and I said that it was the first time I'd seen this. I'd heard about it, surely, but in the live tourneys I've played in Vegas, the dealer always says to show the cards before dealing the next one. The players involved turn over their cards, and that is that. There is no slow rolling or squeezing. The other players started complaining about this. One player said he'd played all over the world, from Amsterdam to Costa Rica, and that this was the "rule" everywhere. Show your cards, period. Stop messing around and dragging it out. Finally the floor was called due to all of the complaining. He told the guys to stop playing games and show their cards. So that was that. But for four hours before that time, I'd witnessed a hundred agonizing slow rolls, and no one complained.

A few hands later I was the bring-in, with only enough chips to bring it in (my next hand would be all-in). I saw three hearts, including the king, jack, low. It was raised by the same gentleman who'd gone all-in just a few hands earlier. He was trying to steal with nothing more than a lone ace. I moved all-in for the dozenth or so time. I immediately got another king. He got a pair of sixes. I got another pair (low). He got nothing. Everyone at the table was rooting me on. On the river, he paired his ace, and I was gone.

Eight place out of 93, my first stud tourney.

The table clapped for me and congratulated me. I don't think they did it because I was the first out, hence they moved up in the money. I think they did it because they were genuinely nice guys, and enjoyed playing with me. I think they also respected my play. I never got loud, I didn't argue, I didn't get out of line, try to angle shoot, try to be the blonde airhead who makes a mistake then tries to get it reversed to get an advantage. I just played straight-up, decent stud. No, I didn't steal enough. No, I'm not a great player. I just played the very best that I can play at this point in my life, and I got lucky enough to make it to the final table.

All of the railbirds came and shook my hand and patted me on the back. One Asian gentleman tried to tell me what a good player I am in broken English. He tried the best he could, and I appreciated his compliments immensely.

After I collected my hard earned $97.20, we went back to the podium to check on rooms. Even though it had taken us forever to get our cards, they still counted our play before getting them, taking our word that we really were playing for those hours. Then the supervisor called reservations, only to be told that they were sold out. Oh, well, that is the chance I took.

We were tired and decided to go ahead and just drive home. We had planned to play some ring, since we would have stayed overnight, but in the end we just packed it in for the night and headed home.

We will definitely be going back. We might even make this a weekly thing! If any of the players from the Tropicana are reading this post and were there at the end of the tournament, I just want to say thank you. You really made my day. The applause, back patting and compliments were completely overwhelming and unexpected. I felt genuinely thrilled by your response and your treatment of me, the newbie

Oh, someone asked earlier in this forum about spreading mid-limit Stud high/low. The Tropicana had a 10/20 HL game going the whole time we were there. I'm not sure if it was full, but they kept announcing it. I also saw a higher limit Stud HL game on the board, but no names. Omaha seems to be dead there. Maybe it was because it was during the week, or maybe the East coast just isn't that hot on Omaha. Stud was very strong, as was Hold'em. I didn't see any mixed games, pot-limit or no-limit. Of course, our timing was strange with the WSOP going on, so things at the Tropicana might be a little different the rest of the year.

Felicia :)