For my birthday I got a kitchen pass from the wife to go play some poker at my local card room at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. I headed out about 10:00 PM last night. It was clear when I got there that they had drawn a huge crowd for the simulcast of the Kentucky derby and their own race card. The parking lot was emptying out so I got a spot pretty near the front door, but there were cars parked in the far reaches of the lot where there is usually nobody parked.
The night didn't start great. I checked at the desk and they informed me that I would be fourth on the list for 1-2 no limit holdem. I asked if there any seats at 3-6 just to kill some time until my seat was available at the no limit game. The floor asked me to wait a second and then went to check the waiting area in the hallway outside the room. He came back in and said, "Go ahead and take seat 3 at table 6." I went and bought $100 in white chips and was just setting the rack down on the table when the floor called my name from across the room. He informed me that the other guy who should have been in front of me had returned, so I now I didn't have a seat. He apologized and said he would leave me clocked in while I waited. (Thank goodness! I would hate to miss out on their massive $1.00/hour comps.)
I had to wait about 20 minutes, but finally got called and sent to seat 9 on table 4. First a couple of comments about this table. This was the type of table where if you wanted the whole table to call you raised to $6-$8. If you wanted four callers you raised to $10-$15. If you wanted one caller you better make it $17 or more. I was barely in my seat and the dealer was pitching cards at me without ever asking if I wanted to post to enter the game. Since I was still about 5 seats from the big blind I didn't argue and posted my $2 blind. It checked around to the big blind in seat 4 who took his option to raise and made it $17 to go while shaking like a leaf. Everyone folded except the cutoff. After the flop the big blind kid bet $50 with an even shakier hand and took down the approximately $40 pot.
I turned to the guy in seat 8 and asked, "Does he always shake like that or did he just have a huge hand?" He replied that the kid had been shaking like that since he sat down, but he hadn't been there very long. Two hands later I raised from middle position to $10 with J-10 of spades and got three callers. The flop was a jack and two low spades. I led out for $15 (low I know, but I felt like I was way ahead at this point and wanted action). Only the shaky kid called. The turn was the 10 of diamonds to give me 2 pair. I led out $25 this time and shaky kid fumbled some chips and shakily called. The river was the 7 of clubs. My gut said the kid had a missed flush draw. I didn't think he would call much, so I just bet $25 again. Surprisingly he raises to $200 straight. I tanked for a minute or two, but finally decided it was either a really courageous bluff or he had actually been calling with a set the whole way so I folded my top two pair.
Shaky kid soon stopped shaking so much as the night wore on and it became evident that he was just nervous at the start of the night because he wasn't very experienced at live poker. One of the regulars made a call saying that they were on tilt and the kid honestly asked "What's tilt?" I also learned that he wasn't one that bluffed, but way over valued top pair top kicker. In hindsight I'm guessing I folded the winner on that J-10 hand and he likely had something like A-J. He lost all of that money and then left and returned about an hour later with another $150 that he quickly lost.
There was one crazy hand that I wasn't involved in. There was a standard raise preflop and three people saw a flop of Ah-Kc-Js, The action went bet-raise-shove-shove-shove with almost no hesitation. First guy showed Qd-10d for flopped broadway. Second guy showed Ac-Ks for top two pair. Last guy showed Kh-Jh for bottom two pair. The turn was the 6h and the river was the 9h to give the guy in third place when the money went in the whole $700'ish pot. The Q-10 guy left without saying a word and A-K guy took it like a champ and just rebought.
The only other hand of note happened right before I left. It was getting late and our table was now 6 handed. I had about $110 left of my $200 buy in and looked down at two red queens in the small blind. I raised to $12 and got two callers. The flop was a beautiful A-Q 4 rainbow. I checked my set and the next guy to act bet $10. The button called the $10. I made it $30. The original better called, but the button folded. I don't recall the river, but it didn't complete any straight or flush draws. I sense is that the other guy in the hand had a big ace (AK, AQ, AJ) or possibly some other Ace rag two pair. I now have $80 left. I really think he feels like he is the winner and the only hand that I'm beat by is AA. I ship the $80 and after tanking for a minute or two he folded. I was sure he was calling. I won a few more small pots to struggle back to even and then decided I didn't want to play short handed anymore and called it a night.
On a whim I sat down at the $5 blackjack table. I don't count cards. I simply play the standard optimal strategy and bet with my gut. I had a buddy that used to swear by a betting system. If he won consecutive hands he would bet 1 unit, 3 units, 2 units, and then 5 units. If he kept winning hands he would alternate between 2 units and 5 units. So if your standard bet was $10 you'd bet 10-30-20-50. If you lose a hand at any point you drop back to one unit.
The blackjack table was 2 young "gangsta" wannabes and three very drunk 30-something chicks who had obviously enjoyed their Cinco de Mayo. None of them were following standard strategy. The drunk girls in particular were not just standing on 16 in situations where they should hit it, but they would hit hands like 14 when the dealer was showing a 5 or 6. I don't get upset when somebody is playing bad strategy like a lot of people do, but I was wincing at the bad decisions these girls were making because of the effect it had on their results. They seemed to be having fun though, so I didn't offer any advice. I know that Prairie Meadows has a little card with the basic strategy on it and the pit boss will provide them on request. They'll even let you sit there with it on the table. I almost asked them for one to give the girls, but decided that as drunk as they were it would just slow the game down too much.
I started out just betting the minimum $5 and won the first four hands I played. I bumped my bet up to $10 and kind of stayed even after 4-5 hands. I decided to try out the betting strategy to see what would happen. Basically it was my birthday and I didn't really care of I lost the $100 I bought in with. I won a hand and then bumped my bet to $30. Of course the dealer gave me 11 and his up card was a 5. I doubled down and he dropped a 9 on it to give me 20. He busted and I won a pretty big hand by my standards. I lost a couple of hands in a row after that at $10 per hand and decided to go home and get some sleep since it was now almost 3:00 in the morning.
So I broke even at poker and left about $70 up on blackjack. Subtract the $10 or so I spent on 3 beers (alcoholic drinks aren't free at casinos in Iowa) and I profited about $60 for 5 hours of work. Better than minimum wage suckas!