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man playing poker

The summer of 2007 was coming to a close, and I would soon be starting my senior year of high school. I was all set to attend St. John’s University in Queens, on a scholarship to major in computer science, and I had just recently experienced my first police raid. You could definitely say I ran good that night, being that I walked away from the situation as clean as a whistle. Timing was definitely on my side.

Despite the reality check that was dished out to me, I decided to continue dealing at Spades, although, moving forward, I made sure to keep a part-time job at my local Trader Joe’s — a higher end, niche grocery store. In hindsight, I’m glad I did, because I was certainly losing my perspective on what it meant to work for an honest wage.

The summer of ’07 ended, I started school again, and I would occasionally pick up shifts dealing cash on the weekends. It wasn’t often, but it was enough to slowly build up my experience dealing live action games. By the time I graduated high school in 2008, I felt confident enough to start seeking out other games where I could deal. I knew that I wanted to continue dealing and playing throughout college, it was just a matter of “where”.

Over the course of the beginning and middle of 2008, I drove into Queens to meet up with Andy to play some cards, more than a few times. He knew that I would soon be going to college no more than 20 minutes away from him, and I inevitably asked him to seriously help me get another dealing job.

I didn’t have to persuade him much at all — Andy knew that I had kept my job at Spades and that I had been dealing cash there for a while now, although irregularly, yet consistently. I explained to him that I wanted to deal and play in Queens for income, as opposed to getting a standard job that the typical college kid would have. I reasoned that I could make substantially more in a few nights of dealing than I could at any other job, in addition to the fact that it would require much less of my time.

Just before the end of the summer of 2008, my time at Spades would be coming to an end. Vinny and Gary knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it there to work any longer, and it was understood that I was going to college. I left on a good note, and I made sure to do so, because I knew that I would eventually be back in Long Island at some point.

In August of 2008, Andy brought me down to the game on Bell Blvd. For me, this was a new experience because this wasn’t a club — it was a private game that ran three times per week in the basement of a deli, and it wasn’t at all like anything I had encountered.

The host of the game was an Italian guy named Sal. He was in his late 40’s, wore a food-stained, white-colored undershirt to every game, and always sported a freshly shaved bald head, with a thick beard that could have only been maintained by a professional barber on a weekly basis. He was a well groomed guy, I could tell he waxed his eyebrows and regularly got manicures, but I never understood how he wouldn’t change his white, tie-die colored, food-stained undershirt. He was in decent shape for his age, seemed able-bodied, but was by no means a meat-head or physically intimidating, other than the fact that he was at least 6’2. I remember that he also wore copious amounts of Dolce & Gabana Pour Homme cologne, something I recall because I later on started wearing it myself. He had quite a few tattoos, and I have no idea what any of them meant. All I can recall, is that one was a tribal tattoo on his shoulder, and that was all I cared to know about.

Sal owned and ran the deli everyday, which was modestly successful, but the golden goose he had was the 3x per week game that ran in the basement of the deli. He had a high quality, single table, that ran Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In the room was a 2nd table, but it wasn’t being utilized when I had first been introduced to the game. It was the usual $1/$3, although it was a $5 bring-in and the buy-in structure was much deeper — $100 min to $1500 max, or you could match the biggest stack at the table.

The first time Andy brought me down to Sal’s game, it was for an introduction and, of course, to play in the game. There weren’t any open seats when we arrived, in fact, there was a waiting list of about 6 or 7 players deep. This was where I could help. Andy suggested that I join him and Sal for a cigarette in the smoking area — a small room, the size of a walk-in closet more or less, that was fashioned with a fan inside that sucked up the smoke and fed it out into the street, which was upstairs.

Andy introduces me to Sal, informing him that we’ve been friends for a few years now, and that I have been dealing in Long Island for about the same amount of time.

“Julius, I’m going to start running a second table and I need a reliable dealer. Andy tells me that you could be of service to me?”

“Absolutely. I’m going to school at St. John’s, and I live in the dorms right now, but I plan on getting an apartment nearby next year. I can 100% be here on time, and can give you a commitment, if you can do the same.”

“Well, I can, but are you willing to ride it out for a little while?”

“What do you mean?”

“The second table is going to be a must-move table into the main game, at least it will be until I can fill it. There might be some nights where you don’t see much action.”

“I understand that. That won’t be a problem.”

“And you can be here, on time, each night?”

“Without a doubt. Andy will vouch for me, I won’t waste your time.” — Andy nods in agreement.

“I gotta say, Julius, you look very young. Do you know what you’re doing in the box?” — I look to Andy, which he again nods his head, “yes”.

“I do. Let me get in the box right now for 30 minutes as an audition, and I’ll split my tips 50/50 with your other two dealers.”

“Well, alright then, you got it. Be ready to push in on the half. The rake is 10% up to $25.”

We converse for a bit longer, I tell Sal about my background and experience, and he seems content with what I have to say. I make it a point to remind him that I’m still on the list for a seat — something that was quite important, I might add, because hosts don’t particularly like dealers who won’t play in their game.

We head back to the table and I see Sal whisper something into the dealer’s ear, clearly telling him I’m going to be dealing on the next push. He looked surprised, yet amused — I assume because he was going to be getting 50% of my tips.

I begin to get nervous, and Andy can see it. He gives me some advice — stay calm, don’t try to deal too fast at the expense of dealing accurately, and most importantly, make sure to say “good evening” when I push into the box.

It’s one minute to the half hour, and I walk up behind the dealer and tap him, gently, on his left shoulder. I see him nod his head, and he finishes up the current hand. He thanks the players, then turns around to me and says “Drop the rake into the slot at the end of the hand, and keep your tips on the left side of the well.” I tell him thanks, and I take my seat in the box.

“Good evening, everyone. Small and big blinds, please.”

I give the deck a scramble, then shuffle up and deal. The next 30 minutes go by without a wrinkle, and I manage to make $58 in tips. I get pushed out, I thank the players, take my tips out of the well, and head over to Sal.

“Nice job, Julius. Table two is yours.”

“Awesome, thanks. I made $58.” — As I hand Sal my tips.

“I respect a man of his word. I’ll chop up half for my dealers and I’ll put the other half onto your stack when you get into the game, sound good?”

“Yep, thanks man.”

And that was it — I was in. I still wasn’t as fast as the other two dealers, but where I lacked in speed, I made up for in professionalism. As the night progressed, I noticed that the other two guys would text inside the box, talk sports bets, and generally lose focus of the game here and there, needing to be reminded where the action was after someone had went into the tank. I was still new and eager to please, so I made sure to give the game my undivided attention whenever I was dealing.

Andy further validated the audition, giving me a pat on the back and a compliment that I had come a long way from the last time he saw me deal. We were both on the waiting list for a seat, and it would be quite a while until we both got into the game.

Sal’s game was certainly accommodating, but I was a bit outside of my comfort zone during that first night that I was given my introduction. He provided an outstanding spread of food — given that he owned a deli, you can imagine what was offered. All types of sandwiches, side salads, chips, drinks, beer, desserts, you name it. Anything he couldn’t sell was put out for the spread. There wasn’t much to meet the eye, but the tables were of professional quality and the chairs weren’t cheap.

However, Sal let his pet pitbull, appropriately named Beast, roam freely throughout the basement. Beast was a big mother****er. He had to be at least 120 lbs of lean muscle. He was docile and friendly, but make no mistake — he was well trained, and you would not want to have to deal with him if he thought you were a threat. Looking back on it now, having the dog unleashed inside the game may have made you uncomfortable at first, but it sure was a great deterrent for anyone who thought about getting out of line.

While Andy and I waited for our seats, another player had arrived. In total, there were now 7 players waiting for a spot in the game. Sal approaches me.

“Julius, I want to open the second table right now. Are you good to go? I’m going to sit in the game so we can open it at 7 handed. I don’t know how long it will last, but I think it’s worth a shot.”

“I’m ready, let’s do it.”

Sal walks me over to his make-shift podium and hands me a few racks of chips, totaling $300, to act as my bank. I take the chips and head over to the vacant table to set up.

Less than 10 minutes later and we’re 7 handed, including Andy and Sal. Sal made a smart to decision to buy in for the max of $1,500, which encouraged other players to start deep as well. About an hour and a half later, another player arrives, but a seat opens up in the main game.

Sal announces to the room that he’s going to keep the games balanced, but guarantee at least 8 players for the main game, which would take priority. I’m only speculating, but I’m pretty sure he wanted the first night of running a second table to be well received by the other players. He didn’t want anyone to feel shorted.

A few hours later, we’re down to 8 players in the main game, and 4 on the must move table, including Sal, who is in the black for around $500. A player at my table suggests that we break and Sal obliges. He tells me to go take a break, get something to eat, and relax for a bit. I do just that — I take a much needed bathroom break, stuff my face with a delicious rare, roast beef and cheddar sandwich, and watch as the main game receives two new players. Interestingly enough, Andy voluntarily gave up his seat, which left Sal and himself conveniently out of the game.

While I was dealing, Sal would clear out my tips every hour. He would take them over to the make-shift podium, and write them down on a notepad. He cleared out my rack a total of five times, and I had kept track of the total amount. I took a peek at the notepad and it was exactly on point — I managed to make a little under $415. I was thrilled. I had only dealt for about 5 hours on a must-move table which eventually became short handed. However, Andy and Sal were tipping me heavy on every pot they won. That’s not to say that the other players weren’t tipping well, I simply mean that the two of them were tossing me redbirds, at minimum.

Even though Andy was my friend, I understood that he played for a living, and thought it was unusual for him to be tipping me $5 on pots that he would take down on the flop.

Combined with the fact that he gave up his seat into the game while being stuck for a couple of hundred, I knew that something was up, for this wasn’t at all standard for Andy. Eventually, he made his way into the smoking area, and I casually followed him.

“So, Andy, are you also my boss or should I keep that between the two of us?” — feeling a tad confused about why he didn’t tell me upfront.

“As I’ve always said, you’re a smart kid. How’d you know?”

“Well, you were tipping me heavy all night, and then you gave up your seat into the main game while you were stuck. That’s not like you at all.”

“Good read, buddy. Keep it on the DL, please. Nobody else needs to know.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me before we got here? You know you can trust me…”

“In case Sal didn’t like you and agree to put you in the box on table two. He’s my partner in this game, I have to respect that. In business, when you have a partner, the answer is always “no”, unless both parties are in agreement. I wanted you to earn the spot on your own merit, and as usual, you didn’t disappoint me.” — My feeling of confusion quickly shifted to one of sensibility.

“Okay, I get it now. That makes sense.”

“Besides, nerves keep you sharp and I was glad to see that you weren’t too comfortable. You know I trust and respect you, so don’t take this the wrong way — it’s always someone close who screws you over.”

“You know that I would never do that, man, but, I get it. You gain nothing by telling me you have a piece of the game. In fact, you only benefit by not letting me in on the fact. I understand, no offense taken.”

“Precisely. It’s just business. I’m always reluctant to mix friends with business, but I needed someone in the box who I could trust. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure if you had gained enough experience to handle dealing cash here — however, I no longer have any reservations whatsoever. Great job tonight, buddy. Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks, man. Does that mean I don’t need to stick around and play in the game?”

“As a friend, I’m going to say that you should steer shy of this game. These guys have deep pockets and the money doesn’t mean anything near as much to them as it does to you. I think you’ll get bullied, but as a business, I’m going to say that you’re welcome to hang around for a seat.”

“I hear you, loud and clear. Thanks, man. I’m going to hang out for bit longer and help clean up. Can you tell Sal to take me off the list?”

“Smart move, buddy. You got it.”

I leave the smoking area and walk into the main area. I take out the trash, restock the fridge with beer and drinks, and empty out the ashtrays in the smoking area. I stick around for just a little while longer, run some chips to the main game, and then walk over to Sal.

“Hey, Sal, I’m gonna cash out and head back to my dorm. Is that cool?”

“No problem. Your bank was balanced, by the way. Good job. I forgot to mention that you’re responsible for any variance — if it’s short, then you have to make it up, and if it’s over, it’ll go towards the rake.” — Sal pays me out, $450.

“Understood. But, uh… I think you paid me out too much, I only had $411 in tips.”

“I know. I gave you a couple extra bucks for coming through on the spot, and I also noticed you taking an initiative and cleaning up and helping out. I want you to know that it’s appreciated and noted. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. That’s how I operate.”

“Me too. Thanks, man. I’ll see you Monday then, yeah?”

“Yep, be here at 6PM sharp. We start the game at 7.”

We exchange numbers and I leave the game, intentionally not saying goodbye to Andy. Instead, I send him a text, explaining that I left without saying anything because I didn’t want to blow up his spot. He was more than understanding, in fact, he was appreciative.

Andy ended our text conversation by making it clear to me that I can expect to make some serious money once table two is running at full spread, but that I should also expect to split my box time with a second dealer at that point. He also reminded me to ask the older students around campus if they were interested in playing.

I made the drive back to campus, found a parking spot after what felt like an eternity, then walked back towards my dorm. It was late August of 2008, and my first semester of college had just started.

I walk into my suite, which was essentially two rooms, occupied by three students each, as well as a single-student room, all sharing 2 bathrooms and a common area.

It was rather late, around 3AM, and I open the door to my room. One of my roommates, Danny — who would later become one of my best friends — is up watching TV while on his laptop. He asks me if I was coming back from a girl’s room.

“Not tonight, bro. I was working.”

“Where the **** you working that you’re getting back this late?”

“How familiar are you with poker?”

I take out a small wad of cash, the $450 I just made, plus another $500 that I originally brought to play with in the game.

“What the ****, dude! You made all that playing poker? How?!”

“Not exactly. I deal the game, but I play too. Have you ever played before?”

“Uh, yeah bro… I play on Pokerstars all the time. Usually not for serious money, but I had no idea you could make that kind of cash from poker.”

I begin to feel inspired, and my mind instantly becomes filled with ideas.

Maybe I could start a poker club on campus — not a literal card room, but an interest group. That might be a good way to connect with other students who play cards. I start to wonder how many other people on campus play poker. Could I recruit new players? Maybe I could start a friendly, micro stakes game in my dorm. Or perhaps I could run $20 tournaments, maybe that would go over better? I had forgotten all about Joey! The two of us hadn’t talked in a while, but surely he was still going to school here. I remember that several of his fraternity brothers play the game.

****! I was so focused on school up until this point, being overwhelmed with orientation, moving, leaving home, breaking up with my girlfriend, and getting caught up with life, that it never occurred to me — there was massive potential right in front of my face.

Danny and I stayed up for several hours longer, talking about poker, girls, and money.

I had much more experience in poker than he did, and while I had only known him for a short while at this point in time, my read was that he was smart and capable. He was also a smooth talker, very charismatic, and incredibly likable — a natural-born salesman, persuasive and convincing.

I wanted to see if he was any good at the game, so I challenged him to a few $5 matches of heads up on Stars. He accepted my offer, and we played over a dozen matches.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some prodigy of a player, but I knew how to make money playing the game. It was simple — play with people who are worse than you are, don’t get into ego wars with seasoned players.

I was certainly surprised by the outcome of our heads-up matches, I was only up 4 games on him, after playing him 15 times. Danny didn’t have nearly as much of a basic understanding of the game as I did, as he couldn’t explain a majority of the plays he made — he lacked fundamental theory. However, he would constantly look up from his laptop screen and goad me into table talk, eventually claiming that I had several obvious tells.

To be honest, it was uncanny how good he was at reading me. Eventually, I stopped responding to his table talk, and I simply resorted to just staring at my laptop screen.
Nevertheless, he claimed I was still giving off physical tells.

It was that night that I learned that his father was a psychologist, and that he was majoring in the same field. He would eventually teach me how to read body language, spot deceptive behavior, understand the psychology of lying, listen for particular speech patterns, look for soothing behaviors, the list goes on. He was quite good at both bluffing and picking off a bluff. Consequently, he was damn good at talking to women — something I’d see for myself in the upcoming months.

By some miracle, the two of us had managed to not wake up our 3rd roommate that night. We would later discover that a nuclear war could be taking place — it didn’t make a difference, he wouldn’t wake up for anything short of being physically shaken.

I can’t really say I went to sleep that night, rather, I took a short nap. No matter, I was able to rest for several hours. I spent the following afternoon looking into the school’s procedures for starting a club on campus. To my disappointment, there weren’t any existing clubs that pertained to poker or card games.

I also reached out to Joey and sent him a text, while befriending every student that I could find on Facebook.

It wasn’t long before Joey texted me back. Sure enough, he was still attending school, but lived in a frat house that was off-campus. We quickly caught up with each other — I was delighted to hear that he had made several deep tournament runs on Full Tilt that year, winning enough cash to provide him the luxury of not having to work.
Subsequently, I let him know that I was dealing the game as my main source of income, and that I also still played regularly. Our text conversation ended with him extending me an invitation to play cards at his frat house — he gave me directions to the place, and told me to bring a couple hundred bucks for a $50 rebuy sit-and-go.

The game was going to start at 9:30pm, however, he said to come by an hour earlier if I wanted to play some beer pong and meet a few girls. It was a no-brainer, really.

   

Chapter 1 – Fox’s Club Chapter 9 – Spades — 1.8
Chapter 2 – Spades — 1.1 Chapter 10 – Spades — 1.9
Chapter 3 – Spades — 1.2 Chapter 11 – Spades — 1.10
Chapter 4 – Spades — 1.3 Chapter 12 – Spades — 1.11
Chapter 5 – Spades — 1.4 Chapter 13 – Bell Boulevard — 1.1
Chapter 6 – Spades — 1.5 Chapter 14 – Bell Boulevard — 1.2
Chapter 7 – Spades — 1.6 Chapter 15 – Bell Boulevard — 1.3
Chapter 8 – Spades — 1.7 Chapter 16 – Bell Boulevard — 1.4