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man playing poker

About a year or so ago when I first met Andy, one of the first things I learned from him was that running an underground poker club was illegal. At the time, I simply wasn’t aware of that fact. He had told me what to do if I was to ever find myself in a police raid. This was one of those times.

With SWAT infested in the entire club, all of the action had come to a halt. Everyone was confused, not knowing what they should do or how they should behave. Following the orders of one the SWAT officers, we put our hands in the area, and we all sat there looking around in shock – what the hell had just happened?

For what seemed like an eternity, the players remained in their seats, with their hands up, while having a dozen or so rifles drawn on them. Finally, when SWAT made the radio call to the rest of the raid team, informing them that it was clear to enter, detectives and uniformed officers began to enter the room.

I had never seen so many cops in one space in my entire life. There must have been about 50 people in law enforcement crowding the room. As the minutes passed, tension began coming to an ease, and the stress of the situation seemed to be dropping. Eventually, a detective stepped in and addressed everyone inside the club.

“Can I have everyone’s attention please? Please remain calm. You are all witnesses to a crime. You have done nothing wrong and are not in any trouble. We’re all gonna be here for a while. If you comply with our instructions, we’ll all be able to leave as soon as possible. Everyone present is going to be searched for drugs and weapons, in order to maintain our safety. Please remain patient and stay seated.”

As soon as SWAT had begun breaching the steel door with the battering ram, I had an impulse to pocket all of my chips that were on the table in the cash game that I was playing. I had learned to do this from Andy. When I first met him, he said the first thing that I should do is make sure that I hide all of my chips in my pockets, so that I could get my money back at a later time. It wasn’t a guarantee, but having possession of the chips made the odds of getting paid back that much higher.

As the intensity of the situation diminished, detectives began making their way over to each table. It was a relatively straight forward procedure. Each player was to be frisked, empty out their pockets, and provide a driver’s license or some form of acceptable ID. As mentioned in the previous chapter, players assume no legal risk for just simply playing poker. However, each dealer at every table was removed, placed into handcuffs, and moved to an isolated part of the room.

I realized that I had gotten dumb lucky – sometimes timing in life is everything. Because Vinny had made a deal with me to not deal the tournament that night, for all intents and purposes, I was simply just a player that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was incredibly anxious, but I had a good feeling that I wasn’t going to get into any trouble.

After players from several tables had finished being searched, law enforcement eventually made its way over to my table. Some of the more impish officers were needling us, saying things like, “I guess you’re not going to be able to finish the hand, huh! Hah!”

When they got to me, the first thing they did was frisk me. They do this to ensure their safety, by making sure you’re not carrying and weapons. All I had on me was my cell phone, wallet, keys, and of course, my entire stack that I had pocketed off the table.

When the officer felt the strange items in my pockets, he told me to empty them and put everything on the table.

“What the hell are these, kid?”

“They’re poker chips, sir.”

“You know you’re not going to be able to leave with those, right? They’re police evidence to a crime. Leave them on the table. If I come back and they’re gone, we’re gonna have a big problem.”

“Okay, no problem. Sorry.”

The cop then takes my ID into his possession, along with everyone else’s ID.
The lead detective then made another announcement to the entire room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. It’ll be a little while until we can confirm everyone’s identity, in which you will be free to go as soon as we finish. If you were in possession of anything illegal, such as weapons or drugs, you will be staying behind. After we finish running everyone’s name in the system, if it turns out that you have any warrants out for your arrest, you will be coming with us when it’s time leave.”

Many of the officers began leaving the room, I suspect, only to head to their police cruisers in order to run the names of each of the players. It was at this point that I put the chips back into my pocket – the ones that the officer told me to keep out onto table. There was no way I was leaving without these.

While our identities were being confirmed and our criminal records being looked into, there was so much commotion going on that not a single person noticed that I had put the chips back into my pockets.

Verifying everyone’s identification took quite a while, as there were at least over 80 players present that night. During the process, many of the cops began conversing amongst themselves, cracking jokes about the players and making fun of us for the fact that we would not be getting our money back. One even made a joke saying that “that flatscreen will sure look nice in my house”. Who knows, maybe he wasn’t joking.

Finally, a small team of officers entered the room and made an announcement to all of the players.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to be calling out the names of each and everyone of you. When your name is called, please stand up and slowly walk over to us, so that we can get you out of here.”

The detectives started calling off names, and each subsequent player made their way over to them. They would ask you to confirm your name, address, and then ask how often you played at the club and if you had ever seen any other illegal activity taken place. Finally, they would make a document of your presence at the scene of the crime, and this would result in your photo being taken to be used as evidence in court. It also meant that your name and photograph was going to be put into a record of “known gamblers”. You would also be required to make a written statement, acknowledging that you were present and participating in a poker game. All of this evidence goes into a database that gets used by the police in the Vice Squad.

When this process was over, you were given back your identification and told to return to your table, where you would be able to leave as soon as they had concluded their business at the crime scene.

When my name was inevitably called, I walked over to the officers. They had more questions for me than the other players. They wanted to know how someone of my age had ended up in a place like this. I told them I had been playing poker for a long time, and knew many other people who did so as well. My answer seemed to be satisfactory so they took my photo, had me sign a statement, and then sent me back to my table.

There was much conversation amongst the players after each had returned to their seat. I found out that Spades had been running for well over 10 years, and that every 6-8 months, the club would change locations in order to avoid getting raided. It was only a matter of timing and luck when they would inevitably get raided at some point. It had happened many times before in the past, and it would continue to do so for the future history of the club.

Frequently changing locations was a fine and effective strategy in order to combat getting raided, however, because of Matt’s untimely run-in with the law, the length of the investigation process was exponentially decreased and therefore led to a surprise crackdown on the club.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the players who were getting searched, however, two of them happened to catch my eye. One guy unfortunately found himself getting placed in handcuffs. It had turned out, that he had an outstanding warrant to appear in court based on a several year-old traffic ticket – he was in shock and completely unaware of his warrant. Nevertheless, he was arrested.

Another player, who many of the others thought of as unusual and weird in nature, emptied his pockets to show a collection of random, strange items. In his possession, he had a ham sandwich, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two yo-yo’s, a compact, military grade flash light, and two cell phones. Nobody knew what to make of this, and since these items weren’t inherently dangerous, the guy was let go and told to return back to his seat.

The whole process was lengthy, and took a total of about 4.5 hours to complete. While the players were being questioned, Vinny and all of the dealers were being detained in handcuffs and then eventually arrested and escorted outside into the police cruisers. One of these dealers was Chris, and I felt horrible for him, knowing that this might lead to some potentially serious legal trouble for him.

Another thing that I also noticed, was that a different team of officers had began seizing and confiscating almost everything inside of the club. They took the all of the chips, cards, dealer buttons, credit book, all of the cash inside of the club, the flat screen TV’s, the toolbox, the security system, and just about anything else that was able to be easily transported. This meant that every player would be losing their buy-ins for that night.

When a table was allowed to go free and told to leave, SWAT would afterwards take the battering ram they used to breach the door and use it to crack the poker table in half, right down the middle. They didn’t want anyone coming back to try and reuse them.

After what seemed to be like 5 hours, I was eventually cleared and told to exit the building. I was told that I may be subpoenaed by the District Attorney, to appear in court as a witness against a crime. I was sweating, nervous, and almost ****ting my pants. I still had the chips that I had removed in my pockets. Because each process of the raid was handled by a different team of law enforcement, nobody caught the fact that I had put the chips back into my pockets and that I was still in possession of them.

I walked out of there scott-free, with my entire stack, which was now considered a crime – tampering with evidence. I swiftly made my way over to the newly destroyed steel door, exited into the parking lot, and got the hell out of there.

My mind was blown. Andy was right. He always had a knack for knowing when to pull the plug in life, almost always before it was too late.

On my drive home, it started to occur to me just how lucky I had gotten. If it wasn’t for Vinny asking me to take the night off, I would have been dealing the tournament when the raid took place, and would have been arrested with all of the other dealers. I had proverbially dodged a bullet.

I was anxious to know about where my future stood in terms of Spades. Was it over? Did the dealers get booked? What was going to happen with Vinny? Where could I get another dealing job? Would I ever be able to get my money back that was confiscated by the cops?

I arrived at home a while later, then went to bed.

I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing – it was Gary.

“Hey, kiddo. New location for Spades, we’ll be open for action today at the usual 10AM. If you want to keep your job here, I need you to stop by today, preferably right around 11AM. Staff meeting.”

“Okay, no problem. I’ll be there. What’s the address?”

Gary gave me directions to the new location and instructions on how to get inside.
It was only a couple of hours until 11AM, so I decided to get up for the day. I took a shower and threw on some clean clothes. Not before long, it was time to head out.

I made the drive over to the new location, parked my car, and found myself inside the new room.

The new location was in the basement of a personal training fitness studio. When I walked inside, I was quite surprised – Gary was there. I had never, once seen him make an appearance at Spades before. Clearly, this was a time of vital decision making, and it was paramount that he was there to oversee that the transition would go smoothly.

The room was completely set up. Instead of six, there were now 8 brand new tables that occupied the room, accompanying executive chairs, and shockingly, a cash game was already running. Let that sink into your mind – not even 24 hours after being raided by law enforcement, the club was already up and running at 100% capacity in a brand new location. That should give you an idea as to how much money Spades was generating. The business was so lucrative, that it would be foolish not to have a contingency plan in place.

Everything else about the new location was pretty much the same – a smoking room, back area with a fridge that had some drinks and snacks, although there was a newly designated lounge area.

As I was taking my surroundings in, I felt a tap on my shoulder – it was Gary. He told me to follow him into the back room to talk.

Our conversation was brief, but equally important. He told me exactly what had happened the previous night.

On that busy tournament night, an undercover cop walked right into the club by hitching his way onto a group of known players. Essentially, he followed them in by walking a bit too closely behind, making it look like they were together as a group. When the undercover cop arrived inside, he registered for the tournament and took his seat.

While the cop was playing the tournament, at random, unnoticed times, he would take out his phone and use its camera to take a picture of the dealer at the table. Because our dealers rotate tables every 30 minutes, it meant that the cop could just sit there and be presented with his next perp. Nobody ever noticed what was happening. Think about it. Who pays attention to someone using a cell phone while at a poker table?

The undercover cop also got pictures of Vinny and the other dealers who were working the cash game. That was all of the proof they needed in order to determine who was and who wasn’t a player. A simple, yet effective strategy.

When the tournament went on break, the undercover cop saw the perfect opportunity to make an unnoticed exit from the room. He took it and quickly made his way downstairs. He then opened the door from the inside, and held it open, signaling for SWAT to execute their orders to raid the place.

Not a single person at Spades, player or otherwise, could figure out who this guy was, how he found out about the game, whether or not the club had a phone number on him – nothing.

If I had to make an educated guess, I would put my money on the idea that Matt had been the one to tell law enforcement exactly when, and how they would be able to get inside the club with the least resistance. For all I know, Matt may have even brought the guy into the game at some point, in order to make an introduction. I’m just speculating here, but I don’t think it’s too far out of the realm of possibility.

Gary ended our conversation by asking me if I wanted to continue working at Spades, with the same schedule as before. I told him that I did, however, I think my loyalty has shown that I’ve earned a spot in the cash games. He thought silently to himself for a brief minute, then finally offered a compromise.

He proposed that I would be the on-call cash dealer. This meant that when any of the staff wanted to take off, for any length of the time, I would get first access to claiming the open shift. He reasoned that he couldn’t just overlook the dealers who had been with him over the years, and also made it a point to remind me that I wasn’t yet as good of a dealer as the others.

He sugarcoated the tough-to-hear truth by saying that even though I wasn’t an experienced dealer, I did display ambition and integrity where the others lacked. He also noted that I had consistently improved my dealing skills from the first time I had dealt there, as according to Vinny’s assessment of me. He had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to get up to par by the time the moment arrived for me to fill-in for someone.

Seconds before we were about to head back into the main room, I asked Gary what had happened to everyone who was arrested.

He said that the cops arrested all of the staff, all of the dealers and Vinny as well. Because of SWAT’s brutal, literal run-in with Vinny, he had been taken to the hospital for a broken nose, arm and several bruised ribs. Remember, he literally got trampled by a dozen or so SWAT officers, after running full-speed into a bullet-proof shield.

After questioning took place at the precinct, the cops let all of the dealers go free, however Vinny was booked with charges of the promotion of gambling, and the possession of gambling records.

Gary assured me that there was nothing to worry about. This was something that had happened before, more than a few times, and the result was always the same – a meaningless fine and in rare cases, a short term of probation. An experienced and expensive lawyer was appointed to Vinny, paid for by Gary. I got the hint that Gary had some valuable legal connections.

Vinny’s lawyer was intricately involved within the court system. When I had walked into the new location just moments ago, Vinnny was actually flooring the cash game that was going on inside the new location. It was more than reasonable to conclude that Vinny would experience little, if any legal consequences at all.

Gary and I headed back towards the main room. I see there’s an open seat in the cash game.

I walk up to Vinny and ask him if I can take the open seat. He says I certainly can, but just before he can ask me how many chips I’d like to buy, I pull out a ziplock bag from the front-pocket of my hoodie. Inside, it contained every single chip that I had stolen from the scene of the raid, the night before. Vinny started to laugh and looked amused.

“Julius, did you actually manage to smuggle these out of the raid?”

“**** yeah, I did. The first thing I did was pocket my entire stack. This is exactly how much I had in front of me. Can I sit down into the game with this amount?”

Vinny looks over at Gary and signals him to come on over and take a look at this. Garry says it’s no problem at all, and instructs me to go take a seat. The chips were going to be honored.

I take my seat and Vinny brings me a rack with brand new chips, totaling the same amount that I had brought inside the ziplock bag.

One thing that I immediately noticed was that these chips were ceramic. They were custom in design, but felt incredibly cheap. They were too slippery, too light, and did not handle well. I didn’t care for them at all. If I had to guess, I’d say that these chips were from a backup set that were to be used temporarily, until a quality set could be purchased.

It became clear to me that Gary had already planned for what had happened the previous night. There was no way that this room could have been set up between the remarkably short amount of time that Gary had scheduled the staff meeting, and the time that the raid had occurred.

Occam’s Razor states that, “The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

The room contained 8 brand new tables, brand new chairs, chips, cards, a new toolbox, chip racks, flatscreen TV’s, a fully installed security system, stocked fridge, and just about everything else that would normally take weeks to properly plan and setup. It was just simply an impossibility that this new room hadn’t already been in existence prior to the raid.

I later on learned that Gary was quite wealthy and owned dozens of commercial properties all over Long Island. Several of them were pre-equipped with all of the necessary accouterments essential to running a poker room. He was a smart and forward-thinking guy, qualities that successful people usually share.

Moments later, Gary walks up to the table and sits down in the only unoccupied seat. Well, this was going to be interesting. I was going to get a chance to play against the boss man himself.

I can’t emphasize how much Gary talked at the table. He was, in fact, one of the best table-talkers I’ve ever met in my life. It was indistinguishable whether or not he was talking to try and get you to fold, or trying to make you call. He was also masterful in the way he needled other players. He could put anyone on tilt and make them lose their entire stack to him.

I mostly tried to stay out of his way, but it came down to one pot that played out between him and me.

Gary puts in a raise to $13 in EP, MP calls, and I call on the button with A9dd.
The flop comes A95 rainbow. Gary leads out for $21, fold, and I call.
The turn comes an 8, and Gary jams all-in for a little over 100bb. He begins talking to me nonstop. Not wanting to appear intimidated, I engage him back.

Our verbal exchange lasts for about 3 minutes, but at this point, I’m really starting to consider folding as my best option. Gary just looks so genuinely strong, I don’t believe that he thinks he’s bluffing. Could he really have pocket 9’s or pocket 5’s? Additionally, he was certainly seemed capable of showing up with 76s here.

I run the hand through my head a couple of more times, and, finally, I decide there’s no way I’m folding – I’m almost certain he does this with AQ or AK.

I make the call, and the board runs out. I don’t remember what the river card was, I was more focused on Gary and wanted to know what he was holding. I do remember that the river was indeed inconsequential, though – some kind of blank.

Gary tables AK, and I table A9 for top 2. He lets out a big laugh, and asks me what took me so long to call, and I respond by saying that he just looked truly confident, not appearing to just “show confidence”, but that he was demonstrating what looked like actual, genuine confidence. I felt like he wasn’t bluffing.

He tells me that I’m not wrong, explaining that there wasn’t even a fiber in his body that thought he was behind. He truly believed that he had the best hand. An odd poker hand, but a valuable lesson learned.

I played for a few more hours, then finally decided to quit for the day, resulting in a profit of a meaningless $30.

I leave the club’s new location and head back home to get some more sleep. It wasn’t any further from my place than the old location was – it was right around the same distance.

During my drive, I give Andy a call.

“Hey man, you wouldn’t believe what happened last night. Spades got raided.”

   

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