Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All in with the Poker Mob

Monday night, The Lovely Becky, our friend MSF, and I headed out to Tama to play in the biggest live poker tournament any of us had ever played. We had qualified for this event by making the final table at an earlier $65 satellite tournament, and now we hoped to parlay our modest buy-ins into some big money. But as the night unfolded, we ran into a perfect storm of poor planning and peer pressure that produced quite a unique spectacle in the poker room.

The tournament was billed as a World Series of Poker satellite. Previously at this casino, that meant the winner received a seat for free at the WSOP main event. However, this year, the casino changed the format, and the top seven players out of the field of 140 would each get $5000, which they could use toward the WSOP or keep as cash. Considering that the main event at the WSOP has a $10,000 buy-in, the advertising was a bit bogus. It was also very odd to have all of the players in the money get the same amount. No one was very happy about the payout or the lack of a true WSOP seat, but for a chance at $5000, they didn’t argue too hard.

The structure, however, caused problems for everyone. We all got 2500 in chips to start.* That’s not a lot but not uncommon for poker tournaments. However, the blinds—the automatic bets two players have to make every hand—went up with lightning speed. Just over two hours into the tournament, the blinds reached 1000/2000, meaning that $2000 was the minimum bet to get into a hand, and 4000 to make the minimum raise. But because we started with 2500 in chips, everyone had fairly small chip stacks, with no players above 30,000. This transformed the game from poker to an all-in fest, where players simply pushed their chips in a prayed. We may as well have played a poker scratch off game. All the talk at the break centered on this screwed up structure.

There were 37 people left when someone first called out, “Let’s chop it!” Chops in poker games are fairly common, but they usually happen at the final table between that handful of players at most. In fact, this tournament was essentially pre-chopping the pot among the last seven players. But chopping among nearly forty people seemed preposterous. Everyone chuckled, with a few “yeahs!” thrown out for good measure.

The same guy said, “No, I’m serious, if we split, we all get $950.”

That caught everyone’s attention. Because no one really felt comfortable with how many chips they had, the guaranteed money sounded pretty appealing. About 75% of the players raised their hands in support of the motion. The poker room manager entertained the notion, but a few players said they wanted to play and not chop. We had to have 100% agreement to split it.

After several others busted out—including our revolutionary hero who had started the idea—the prospect got even more interesting. With 32 players left, we would all get $1093.75. The cutoff for having to report your gambling winnings to the IRS is $1100. If we waited for one more person to bust out, we would go over that. Not only would we have to pay taxes, the casino would have to fill out tax paperwork for all of us. They definitely did not want to do that 30+ times. The poker room manager paused the tourney to let us know it was now or never.

At this point, only two players said no. One guy, wearing a Marshall Tucker Band t-shirt and holding just over 20,000 in chips, said he wanted $1300. His friend who had considerably less chips pulled out $200 and said, “If I give you the extra $200, will you chop?” Marshall Tucker man considered and agreed.

That left one woman who said she didn’t want to. The timing was crucial for us, because TLB had a mere 3000 chips left. MSF had only about double that, and my 13,000 chip stack probably wasn’t going to last long unless I caught some cards soon. So we grabbed our pitchforks and joined the other villagers in pushing for the chop.

Our holdout held her ground for a couple of minutes. But as 62 eyes bore into her, you could see her wilting. The room became filled with calls for her to give in. We may as well have been chanting Gobble, gobble, one of us, one of us! After some discussion with the poker room manager, she caved. The Tama Chop Party of 2007 entered the poker history books.

No one in the room, including the dealers, had ever seen anything like it. Everyone seemed pretty jazzed to walk home with a grand each, even the people who had initially opposed our poker pool collectivization. TLB, MSF, and I were more than happy to collect our money instead of driving home with nothing.

Still, as we waited for the casino to divvy up the pool 32 ways, I couldn’t help but be a little perturbed at what happened. Beyond the absurdity of playing a tournament where 32 people “won”—imagine stopping the NCAA basketball tourney after the first round—I wondered what would have happened if someone had refused to cooperate. How would the crowd have reacted?

“You know,” I remarked to TLB and MSF as we walked to the car, “Now I think I understand how Sacco and Vanzetti got executed. Somebody says, ‘Hey, I don’t think we can sentence them to death.’ The rest of the crowd says, ‘Oh yeah, well maybe we’ll kill you too,’ and the first person decides, ‘You’re right, death it is!’”

I don’t think anyone would have done anything except complain, as the Tama crowd is pretty tame, but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

*Note: The chip amount here is arbitrary and not actually tied to the money we paid or how much was in the pool. It's just what we got to play with.


Anonymous said...

How did people behave at the buffet?


Grendel said...

Why don't you just invite Chavez next time? Communists.

Anonymous said...

Well it's good you didn't lose any money, correct?!

Chuckles said...

Here's what I don't understand: you had 13,000 dollars in chips and you gave away 12,000 of that to end the game?

This question may have a lot to do with me not gambling. Except with my life, cuz that's how I roll.

Churlita said...

Who knew gambling could be so dangerous?

At least you knew when to walk away...

Brando said...

Chuckles, I didn't explain it very well, and realized the dollar signs in front of the chips were misleading. The chips were just arbitrary -- I had 13,000 chips. That's pretty common in tournaments like this. I only paid $65 from the earlier satellite to play in this one. So I made a huge profit. Even after tipping the dealers I walked out with more than $1000. It was my first time winning money in a live poker tourney.

mt, funny you ask. The chop happened five minutes before the buffet closed (this, after all, not Vegas, and things close), and we couldn't get there in time. But a number of folks immediately started a live poker game, and I'll bet more than a few lost all or most of what they won that night. We put ours in the bank.

Grendel, LOL, I said I was going to take my money and buy a Karl Marx t-shirt. Power to the people!

Brando said...

Churlita, the crowd was fine. The casino there is pretty laid back. But there was this very palpable peer pressure that pretty much made the chop inevitable. We were all sort of pulled along.

The casino also encouraged it with the way the tourney was set up. We really like their poker room -- very friendly, well run, great dealers -- but they just did not set this tournament up very well.

Anonymous said...

Sure, chip and dollar amounts were arbitrary! That's just in case the IRS is reading, right?? ;)

traca de broon said...

You guys need to come see us (and bring MSF). We have loads of casinos. Of course I'm no better at poker than I was that night at the Dublin Underground, but I'm always happy to wait for you guys at the bar.

Brando said...

Jennifer, I wish I had that much to gamble with -- that would mean I'm a pro!

Traca, we would love to make it out there. We will get you up to speed. TLB started out not knowing if a flush beat a straight, and now she's really good (and took me down a couple weeks ago during an online game).

Anonymous said...

HAH! after the chop you should have said:

We are all socialists now! (which you are, anyway)

Grendel said...

I've been thinking how much leverage that last holdout had. If she had had Bush's "steely-eyed resolve," she could have milked each of you out of $100 I'll bet.

Anonymous said...

What are you and TLB going to do with your winnings?!

And come visit us and we'll take you to Mohegan or Foxwoods. It won't be like Atlantis with UC -- even on beginner's luck, we didn't win. Mohegan is all aces with AG though.

BOSSY said...

Your tournament post reminds Bossy of summer camping trips with her family, playing poker in the screen house, using small lake pebbles as chips, trying to negotiate an end to the game that makes both the most competitive player and the youngest player happy. (sometimes that person is one and the same.)

Brando said...

aif, that would have been funny, but it probably would have triggered an anti-communist backlash that would have stopped the chop!

Grendel, if she had been steely eyed like Bush, she would have paid us $100 each to chop.

AG, we did the boring thing and put the money in the bank. We are responsible gamblers! And we would love to go to the Foxwoods sometime.

Bossy, that competitive streak runs very deep in my family, too.

fish said...

I actually went to high school with Howie Lederer and his sister Annie Duke. Their father taught at the school (English lit) and was a total butt. And he had massive hair growing out of his ears. Howie and Annie were okay, perhaps a bit odd (pot yelling at kettle).

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