man playing poker

In the underground poker world, it’s only a matter of time before you will eventually deal with the police. In one way or another, if you are running either a home game or a commercial club, they will eventually come knocking on — or breaching through — your door.

The cops almost always don’t care about the presence of home games that run once or twice a week, and instead are more interested in appeasing your neighbor who dialed “911” to complain about either the noise or smell of weed coming from your residence. Sometimes the complaint will be about the parking problem caused by your players taking up too much space.

However, if you own a club that is running daily, located in a commercial area, and is most definitely being run as a business, then it’s only a matter of time until you get raided.

You’ll need to preemptively switch locations every 6 months or so, in order to prolong the investigation that is being conducted on your operation. Inevitably, law enforcement will at some point acquire a warrant to search the premises and seize everything you have — all of the cash, TV’s, cards, chips, your credit book, and anything else they can use as evidence against you. The poker tables are usually too much of an inconvenience for them to take, and I’ve witnessed the cops breaking them in half so that they can’t be used again.

As you’ll find out later in my story, I’ve been in my fair share of police raids.

Getting back to the present timeline, I had just left Spades and was being pulled over by a cop on my way home. My Uncle Tommy was a cop in the city, and had told me that if I ever got pulled over, to make sure I turn the lights on inside the car, turn the engine off, put the keys on the dashboard, roll my window all the way down, and place both hands on the steering wheel.

“Good evening. Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No sir, I don’t. Was I going too fast?”

“Indeed you were. License, registration, and proof of insurance please.”

“Okay. Hold on a second while I find the insurance papers, I’m not sure where they are. I’ve never been pulled over before.” — thinking maybe this guy will take pity on me.

I look through my glovebox compartment, and within about 30 seconds, gather up all of the requested paperwork and hand it over to the police officer. Underneath my license, I slipped in the PBA card that my Uncle Tommy had given me, as he had instructed me to do.

“Who gave you this PBA card? You have a member of the family in law enforcement?”

“Yes, my Uncle. He’s an officer in Manhattan. He said I should give it to the police if I ever got pulled over.”

My Uncle had written, in Sharpie, on the card — stating to “Please call 555-827-3850” with his name and, I think, what was probably his badge number.

“Alright son, where you coming from this time of night? Aren’t you a little young to be out this late?”

“I was at a friend’s house playing poker with the boys. We lost track of time having fun, and now I’m on my way home to get some sleep. I’m really tired.”

“I see. I’ll be right back. Hang tight.”

Damn it. Was I really going to get a ticket? Had my gambit worked? It wasn’t really a big deal, I just didn’t want to pay an expensive, unexpected fine — making my night, essentially, a complete wash. The cop starts walking back to my window.

“Okay son, I’m gonna let you off with a warning. Please be more careful next time you’re driving on the Expressway. Don’t break the speed limit.”

The officer hands me back my paperwork, and I thank him for understanding. I start putting all of the documents back where they belong and the cop drives off.

I pull back onto the Expressway and dial up Andy. I knew he wasn’t sleeping because the weekend evenings were a great time to make money in the underground games. Friday and Saturday nights were when the most fish and recreational players would come down to play.

“Hey Andy, you still playing?”

“Eh, more or less. The game is going to break soon. I’m glad you called, it gave me the perfect reason to get up from the table.”

“I guess that means you’re in the black?”

“Since when does that surprise you? I’ve been playing since 5PM. I’m tired and ready to go, but it would be unwise to rack up when there’s a tilted maniac in a short-handed game. How’d you do? How was the game?”

“It was alright. I broke even. The game was clean and the rake was, in fact, capped at $10. The dealers were skilled and professional, but most of the players were really good. There were a few loose-cannons at the table, but I did what you told me to do and played super tight.”

“Good. I’ll have to come down and check the game out. What are you doing tomorrow… rather, later today?”
“I’m actually going to play in a $75 tournament they’re having at 3PM. I was told anywhere from 50-60 players. You wanna come?”

“Absolutely. I’d like to see this place for myself. $10 rake is unheard of in underground games. I’ll play in games that have really high rake, only because they manage to bring in tons of fish who really drive the action.”

“Yeah, it was nothing like Fox’s place, though. It was kind of like trying to eat meatloaf, after having gotten used to Filet Mignon.”

“Well, you get what you pay for. As long as there’s money to be made, I’m there. Besides, you said there was a new player bonus, right?”

“Yeah, $100 new player bonus. I’ll try and get you the hookup.”

“Awesome buddy, thanks. Can you pick me up from the LIRR train station at 1:15? I think the train comes in at around 1:05 or so. Lunch is on me, we’ll eat and talk some strategy before the tournament, yeah?”

“Sounds good. I’ll be there at 1:15. Call me when your train gets in.”

“Perfect. Get some rest, you’ll need it. I’ll see you later on.”

When I got home, I was starving and needed to eat. My Mother was the absolute nuts — I had told her that I was going to a bar to deal a poker tournament for the night, and she had left me a saran-wrapped plate of dinner on the counter. I nuked it and quickly scarfed it up. I then went right to bed, only to catch no more than 6 hours of sleep.

Later that afternoon, I got up around 12:30 and hopped in the shower, got dressed, and headed towards the train station to pick up Andy. I brought $450 with me, enough for two tournament entries and a buy-in for playing cash. I didn’t even know the details about the tournament, I had forgotten to ask. I had no idea about the structure, starting stack, or if it was even a re-entry tournament or not.

I didn’t really care, one way or the other. I wanted to go back to Spades because I wanted a job there. It was located no more than 20 minutes from where I lived, and I reasoned that it would be a great place to become more educated about the rules of poker. If you want to get a dealing job in an underground game, you usually have to play there regularly at first. That is, unless you have verifiable experience and references from other well-known games.

On my drive over to pick up Andy, I sent Gary a text, letting him know that I was going to be playing in the tournament and that I would be bringing a friend. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I should have been *asking* if bringing a friend would be okay.

“Hey Gary, I’m gonna play the tournament today at 3PM. I’m gonna bring my friend Andy, he’s gonna play in the tournament too and wants to play cash afterwards. Can you give him the new player bonus?”

“Kiddo, who’s your friend? How do you know him?”

“He’s a poker buddy of mine. I met him at a club in Queens last summer. He helped me get better at the game and we became friends.”

“Give me his number, I want to talk to him.” — I wasn’t really sure why he wanted to talk to Andy, I’d never had to go through anything like this at Fox’s, so I was a little puzzled, but obliged anyway.

“Okay, no problem.”

I texted Andy’s phone number back to Gary and sent Andy a text, letting him know that the guy I had met last night was going to give him a call. I didn’t get a response, but about 10 minutes later, my phone rang. It was Andy.

“Hey buddy, my train is about to arrive. You almost here?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a few. Did you get a call from Gary?”

“I did. Turns out we know a few of the same people.”

“Okay, well, I asked him about the bonus, but then he said he was going to call you, and I didn’t get a chance to follow up. Did he mention anything?”

“Yeah, everything is good to go. My train just got here, I’ll be waiting by the taxis. See you in a few.”

I pull into the train station parking lot, and Andy gets into the passenger seat of my car.

“Good to see you, buddy. Where can we eat around here?”

“What do you feel like? I know a good sushi place about 5 minutes away with some cheap lunch specials.”

“You know I’m Chinese, not Japanese, right?”

“No sh*t, dude. You feel like Chinese?”

“Never mind, sushi is fine. Let’s go.” — Andy seemed quite annoyed, for some reason. He wasn’t usually like this. I wondered what was bugging him.

We arrive at the sushi joint and head on in for a quick bite. We both ordered the same lunch special, but I asked for a Diet Coke to drink, while Andy ordered a hot green tea with honey.

“Andy, you alright, man? You seem pissed off.”

“F*ck, I am. This is the last thing I need before going to sit down in a game.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, when I spoke to Gary on the phone, we got to talking about other places that I’ve played. It turns out that we know a bunch of the same people. One person, in particular, who will be dealing the tournament today.”

“Okay, and this person is pissing you off, why?”

“The little weasel owes me money. I haven’t seen him in any of the games around Queens for 6 months. I’ve tried to call him more times than I should have to, but the as*hole just keeps dodging me.”

“How much does he owe you?”

“$2,000 if I don’t factor in any interest, which I should, but at this point I’d be happy to just get back what I’m owed.”

“Did you tell Gary?”

“Fu*k, no. Don’t say anything to him, buddy. Keep this between you and me.”

“Okay, but I don’t get it, how do you know this guy will be at the tournament?”

“When I was talking to Gary on the phone, he asked me if I’d be interested in being a prop player. I said maybe, that I wanted to check out the game first. He asked me if I had been a prop anywhere else, and I said yeah, mentioning a few games.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt you, but, what’s a prop player?”

“A prop — a house player. A prop player is someone that the game pays to play in the game.” — I was shocked by what he was telling me. I hadn’t a clue that this type of arrangement existed.

“Really… what do they get paid?”

“It depends, every game is different. Usually it’s an hourly rate or a percentage of the player’s losses. But, anyway, I told Gary about a game that used to be on Bell Blvd. in Queens, one of the games where I was a prop.”

“And then…?”

“Well, the guy that ran the game is the same guy that’s dealing the tournament. When I brought up Bell Blvd, Gary asked me if I knew Matt.”

“And Matt is the one who owes you $2k.”

“Right. I told Gary that I did know Matt, and then he mentioned that Matt was one of his dealers. Like I said, I didn’t bring up the fact that he owes me money.”

“I gotcha. So what are you gonna do?”

“Let me worry about that, buddy. This isn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last time that someone has owed me money and then mysteriously vanished.”

Andy and I finish up our meal. He pays the check, and we hop into my car to head on over to the tournament.

We didn’t talk much during the drive over to Spades. I could tell that he was contemplating the current situation that had arisen, and I didn’t want to disturb his thinking. Besides, I was in my own headspace, a bit intrigued about this whole new side of poker that I had just learned about — the business side of poker. Why was there a need for prop players? What benefit did they bring? Were they necessary? How would someone become a prop?

I had a ton of questions and almost got lost in my own thoughts. Driving became secondary — I was on auto-pilot. Suddenly, we had arrived. The drive to Spades seemed to take only a couple of minutes. I pulled into the back lot and parked my car.

Andy took off his seatbelt and got out of the car to light up a cigarette. I sent Gary a text, letting him know that we were there, and he replied, directing me to come on up.

While waiting for Andy to finish his smoke, I saw several other cars pull into the lot to park. It was packed, although not at all at full vacancy, and some people were still inside their vehicles, waiting to go inside. It was about 2:30 PM, and the tournament was scheduled to start in a half hour. I had planned on arriving a bit early — I wanted to get all of the information about the tournament, and get to know some of the players before it started.

Andy puts out his cigarette on the black, cracked, concrete ground, and flicks the butt towards the street. I lock my car and we head to the glass door with the active security camera mounted at the top.

I was in a state of excitement. I had a pretty good track record when it came to playing small tournaments online, as I usually cashed, and had a good sense of how to navigate a tournament.

I wanted to make a good run today.


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