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man playing poker

Walking into a casino, for the first time, can be quite an overwhelming experience. There’s so much going on — all of the flashing lights, various sounds, the diverse amount of people flowing throughout, the list goes on. No matter where you look, there’s always something going on that can potentially pique your curiosity. Of course, at this time in the midsummer of 2007, I hadn’t a clue of what to expect. I had yet to step foot inside a real casino.

When Chris called and invited me to go with him on a road trip up to Turning Stone, my mood was not only of excitement, it was also flowing with curiosity. I figured that making the drive up to Turning Stone would not only be a great deal of fun, but would also be an excellent opportunity to learn more about professional casino poker.

During my phone conversation with Chris, we agreed that we would make the road trip up there after we finished our Sunday shifts at Spades. This gave us about 24 hours to gather up our buddies and put together a crew. Our main goal was to crush some live action cash games there, but we also wanted to let loose and party. I didn’t yet know it, but my version of partying was vastly different from Chris’ version.

I made some calls and sent some texts, and not too long after, had a few of my closest friends confirm that they were going to come on the trip. I was the youngest of my social circle in high school, still being only 17 at the time. All of the other guys were already 18, so legally, they wouldn’t have a problem at Turning Stone.

If you don’t know, Turning Stone Resort & Casino is located on an Indian Reservation, and as such, the gambling laws of New York state do not apply there — the legal gambling age there is 18, as set by the law of the land.

Now, since I was still only 17, this presented a potential problem. However, I looked a bit older than I actually was, and I also had a fake ID that I had been using for a while. Chris was also incredibly confident that it wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever — he even offered to lay me a bet with 3 to 1 odds for $100, that at no point would I be unable play because of my age. I declined the bet of course, not wanting to jinx myself.

In 2007, Turning Stone was a “dry” casino, which meant that they didn’t serve any alcohol. However, you were allowed to bring your own, and could indulge yourself to your own desire. As of today, this is no longer the case, but that’s the way it was back then.

We calculated that the drive would take us about 4.5 hours, not entirely too long by road trip standards, but could be enough of a mental strain that could potentially effect our ability to play poker, upon arrival. Given that both Chris and I would be dealing right up until our departure, we had made arrangements to take two cars in order to accommodate our entire crew. In exchange for each of us paying for the gas and tolls on the drive up to Turning Stone, neither of us would have to drive — this would allow us to rest up a bit.

My group of buddies consisted of four of my closest friends — Brian, Theo, Max, and Scott. I had brought Theo around to Spades more than a few times, and he regularly played poker, unlike the others. However, he wasn’t very good, but he was very lucky, and he had no interest in studying the game. He got better the more he played, but was by all means, a fish. He loved to gamble, and blackjack was his favorite game — most likely not a coincidence.

I had invited Andy to tag along as well, but he wasn’t interested and declined — he instead made me a standing offer, an open invitation if you will, to go crush poker in Atlantic City, where there was better action and nicer casinos. However, the offer was only good if we would be going to seriously grind poker. This was an offer that I would later redeem.

Chris had assembled his boys just as I had — three experienced poker players and gamblers, each in their early 20’s, just like Chris. The youngest of his crew was Rich, who was 21, and the two others were Derek and Joe, either 23 or 24 years old.

Finally, our plans were set and the rooms were booked. We’d all be staying for 3 nights and 2 days in two, separate, 2 queen bed suites. I was anxious, yet excited, and I seriously wanted to book a win in the poker room, considering it would be my first casino poker room session.

Sunday finally arrives, and I had decided to wake up a few hours early so that I could stock up on booze and weed. My buddies and I had agreed to split the cost of everything — 4 bottles of Smirnoff, an ounce of Sour Diesel, and four 24-packs of Coors Light. In retrospect, this was probably entirely too much for 3 nights at a casino, but what did we know? I wasn’t a big smoker at the time, although I would partake, but I did enjoy drinking when the time was appropriate to let loose.

While on my way driving to Spades, I hear my phone ring — it’s Chris.

“Hey dude, you on your way to the club?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there in about 15 minutes. I just finished running some last minute errands, stocked up on booze and weed for the trip.”

“Awesome. I’m good to go on my end, too. By the way, my plan is to splash around in the $1/$2 or $2/$5 games Turning Stone spreads. I’m bringing $10k.”

“What?! $10k??? Why?!”

“Well, dude, I’m gonna hit the pits too and play some blackjack and craps. We’ll crush some poker first, then afterwards maybe you’ll hit the pits with me.”

“I dunno, man. I’m only gonna bring $2k in total, and that’s for all my costs. Maybe I’ll assign half of that to my poker roll for the trip.”

“You should probably stick to $1/$2 then, and save some of your roll for blackjack, to try and run it up.”

“Alright, sounds good. I’ll see you at the club in a bit.”

I wasn’t convinced about hitting the pits to play table games, but then again, I surely wanted to make the most out of my first casino experience.

I arrive at Spades, set up for the Sunday afternoon tournament, and put in the hours for my shift. I wind up dealing the final table, and the tournament ends at around 11PM. Chris was dealing cash, but we had both made sure to get Vinny’s approval to leave early and take off for the next few days. It wasn’t really an issue for me, being that once the tournament was over, it meant my job was done, and I was free to have a good night. However, Chris made sure to get another dealer to cover for him, both the rest of the night and until we got back from our trip.

Chris and I walk outside to the parking lot — it’s time to go pick everyone up. We each get into our cars and drive off to scoop up each one of our buddies. An hour or so later, I shoot Chris a text letting him know that I’m about to start the drive up to Verona, NY, which was where Turning Stone is located. He responds, telling me that he had already started the journey about 10 minutes prior, and that he’ll call me when he gets there.

I have Theo take the wheel and get into the driver’s seat, as I jump into the back to close my eyes to try and clear my head for what’s about to come. Without making any stops, we finish the drive in just under 4.5 hours. We can see the illuminated, brightly colored sign — “Turning Stone Casino”, and my heart begins to pump just a little bit faster. I’m beginning to get excited. At this point, it was around 4:30AM. Sure, I was a bit tired, but the excitement and novelty of my first casino experience was keeping my adrenaline pumping.

I give Chris a call, letting him know that we’re about to park our car, and head into the casino towards the check-in area.

“Chris, we’re here man! This place is awesome!”

“I know dude, we got here about a half hour ago. I’m in my room changing, getting ready to go play some cards. Did you check-in yet?”

“Not yet, we’re about to head over to the check-in desk and get our room keys. I’m pretty tired man, are you sure it’s a good idea to go play right now?”

“Don’t worry about that, I already scoped out the room. There’s some good action going on in both $1/$2 and $2/$5. I already put our name’s on the lists. Text me when you’re done getting settled in, but drop by room after. Make sure you come alone.”

“Okay… I’m gonna tell my boys that we’re gonna play some poker for a little bit, while they hit the casino floor. My buddy Theo might want to join us. I’m not sure though, I have to ask him. My boys will probably want to get nice and toasty before they head out of the room.”

“Sounds good dude, don’t take too long. See you in a bit.”

My friend Scott handles the check-in, puts the incidentals coverage under his credit card, and I make sure to get a copy of the room key for myself. We head up to the room, we all change into presentable, formal, evening attire, and I crack open a beer, along with everyone else. I ask everyone what they plan on doing for the next few hours, while suggesting that I’ll be preoccupied playing cards in the poker room. This was nothing but expected, they all knew how often I played poker.

Everyone unanimously agrees that they want to hit the pits and gamble, of course, after they get hammered in the room. I casually ask Theo if he’s interested in playing poker with Chris and I, but he declines, saying that he’s not in the mood and would rather play tomorrow night, if at all.

I finish my beer, but not before forcing everyone to agree to a bet, in order to make things more interesting — whoever comes back to the room as the biggest loser gets $50 each from everyone else. We unanimously decide that it’s actually a decent idea, and everyone agrees. I leave our room and head towards Chris’ suite.

I arrive at Chris’ door, and I give it quick, but firm knock. A few seconds later, the door opens, and I find that there’s nobody in the room except Chris. All of his buddies had already gone downstairs, and were gambling on the casino floor. I tell him I’m pretty tired, and then I ask him why he wanted me to come alone.

“Chris, I’m pretty tired, man. You sure we should go play?”

“100%. I told you, I already scoped out the games that are running. The stacks are big and there’s some good money to be made.”

“Alright, fine. But, why did you want me to come here alone, by the way? Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, dude. Here, I wanted to give you this. Take two of these, you’ll be in the zone while you play for the next 8 hours.”

“What kind of pills are these? What are they going to do?” — I had never really taken drugs or pills before, other than drinking and smoking weed occasionally. I did, however, try Mushrooms earlier during the summer, and that was fun, but was completely inexperienced when it came to pharmaceuticals, or any other drugs for that matter.

“It’s Adderall, it’s a stimulant. They’re 20mg each, take two of them. It’ll make you much more focused and able to concentrate on the game for the next 8 hours or so. You might feel a bit more chatty, and it’ll kill your appetite, but I promise you, it’ll give you an edge. All those players down there right now are tired and worn out from playing. These will put you in the zone, if you know what I mean.”

“**** it, I’ll give it a shot. We came to have a good time anyway. I’m not gonna lose control of myself, am I?”

“Hah, no, dude. It’s nothing like that. They prescribe this stuff to people who have trouble focusing and paying attention. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You’ll feel them start to work in about 45 minutes to an hour.”

Chris hands me two, orange-colored, oval shaped pills, and I swallow them dry. I had stashed $1k into the safe in my room before I left, and I had the other $1k in my pocket. We leave his room and head downstairs to make our way through the casino and into the poker room.

I was in a state of awe. This was by far the biggest poker room I had ever been in, up until this point. There must have been at least 30 tables. There were only a handful of games going during our arrival, but still, seeing everything all neat, organized, and ready for action, made me think about what this place would be like during peak hours.

I check out the $1/$2 game that’s going, and I see that the buy-in structure is not at all what I was expecting. It’s a $50 min and $200 max. Sure, there’s a few deep stacks on the table, but I felt like this game was much smaller than what I was used to playing. I decide that it’s going to be far too difficult to make any significant amount of money, unless I end up on the good side of a cooler. Overall, it would be a bad move to sit in this game.

On the other hand, the $2/$5 game that was running had a $200 min and $500 max buy-in. This was definitely more up my alley. Several players had stacks with at least $1k, and the average was probably right around the max, conveniently right around $500. With several players sitting deep and a couple of short stacks on the table, I come to the conclusion that this is the game I want to play, as I’m fairly certain that I have a decent shot at making some money at this table.

Chris had already put our name’s on the lists for both games when he had arrived earlier, so it wasn’t too long until our names were called. We were going to be sitting at the same table, and of course, made an agreement that if we were to get heads-up in a hand, either of us would make only one bet, and then check it down the rest of the way if the other called the bet. We weren’t there to take each other’s rolls, but if there were other players in the hand, then we weren’t going to soft play each other, nor try and sandwich anyone out of a pot.

Finally, my name is called, about 20 minutes after Chris had taken his seat, and I head over to the cage to buy $500 worth of chips — $280 in red, $200 in green, and $20 in white. Something I’ve always liked doing, still to this day, is buying at least a full stack of $1 chips.

The poker room had relatively nice chips, and I found them to be most excellent. They had a comfortable weight, handled nicely, and displayed a decent aesthetic design on them. They were definitely of a higher quality than any of the chips that the underground clubs used. That’s not to say that the clubs used cheap chips — of course, a few did, however only the casinos would purchase Paulson chips, which are the industry standard, despite them costing over $1 each chip.

I take my seat at the table, and all of a sudden, I feel this intense rush of energy. It felt like someone had turned my brain up to 11. Woah — I felt my eyes widen.

I introduce myself to the table, and I notice that I’m much more talkative than my normal self. However, I was able to maintain and participate in a fully-engaged conversation, while not missing a single detail of the action that was unfolding during each hand. I could multi-task like never before. I was faster at thinking through hands, I noticed more tells being telegraphed than ever before, and I was aware of the fact that my observations were razor-sharp. It felt like I had been wearing blinders up until this point, and now they were gone.

I was more astute than I had ever been before, accurately being able to predict who was going to play a hand, and who was going to fold, before they even made their action. I was paying attention to the game in the same way I would as if I was dealing it. I’d observe each player in turn, then move on to the next when their action was made.

I would also catch things out of the corner of my eye — a player’s posture suddenly becoming erect, while they would then immediately try to look disinterested, as they used their hands to protect their cards in such a manner that was subtle, yet distinct from their normal method of handling their cards. It was blatantly obvious to me now, when a player would deviate from their normal patterns of playing, behaving, speaking, bet sizing, time usage, and so forth.

I was playing really well. All of my value bets were getting called, my bluffs were getting through, and alarm bells would ring in my head, either to alert me of a perfect spot to make a squeeze play, or if something about the hand didn’t “seem right”. Something I definitely noticed about the Adderall, was that it made me feel much more confident in the plays that I made. It was much easier to pull the trigger, and when I did, I felt certain that my timing was right.

My range was also wider than it normally was. I was playing more hands, going for thin value on the river when I would normally check back, and had no problem laying down strong hands preflop, when I was sure I was behind, but would normally be too stubborn to let it go.

My session was going very well. Incredibly well, in fact. I made several huge hero calls, and I applied intense pressure on opponents who I deemed capable of folding, only to pick up pots I could never win at showdown.

About 3.5 hours had gone by at this point, and within the last hour a new player had taken a seat. His name was Duke, at least, that’s what other players were calling him. This guy was super aggro. He was opening every other hand, raising every C-Bet a player would make, and would just bully people out of the pot by shoving the river or bombing the turn with a $300 bet.

The majority of the table was getting annoyed with Duke. Whenever they would fold, they felt like he was bluffing with air, however, when they would inevitably get frustrated and make the call, he would actually have it, and get massive value. During the course of about an hour, he amassed a stack totaling around $900. He had absolutely no fear, and the money at stake, to him, was evidently insignificant. From his perspective, it seemed as if he was playing for, what you and I, would consider pennies.

I folded quite a few strong hands to his preflop 3-bets — AQ, TT, 88, and QJs. I would open to $15 or $20, and he would re-pop me to 4x or 5x. I even open folded AKo on an Ace-high, 3-flush board on the turn when he check-raised me all-in, only to show me complete air.

That was enough for me, this wasn’t going to continue — not tonight. I had now decided that I was going to be as patient as necessary, and only get involved in a pot with him if the situation was favorable to trap him. You can’t bully a player when the money at stake means far less to him than it does to you. Subsequently, you can’t get value from that same player who is good enough to recognize that you’re only showing him aggression when you have it — they’ll just fold instead of blasting off, knowing that you’re praying that they’ll come over the top.

About an hour and a half later, it was around 10AM now, and I had built my stack up to around $1200. Duke was sitting on just about the same, though slightly less, about $1100. He was still bullying people out of pots, and the majority, if not everyone else at the table was clearly annoyed with him. Low limit players often become angry when they encounter an opponent whose style of play isn’t within the same paradigm as their own. The key is to be capable of adjusting your own style of play.

Finally, preparation meets opportunity, and I pick up pocket Aces in UTG+1. I raise to $15, and of course get 3-bet by Duke in the Lojack to $60. The button cold calls, and for a split-second, I almost 4-bet, but I resisted what almost felt like a reflex, and decided to just call.

The flop comes A5A — I flop Quad Aces! That was the first time I ever flopped quads, let alone quad aces. I stick to my game plan of trapping, and I check my quads over to Duke, who also checks. The button checks as well, and we see a turn of a black 4.

The board now being A5A4 rainbow — every fiber of my being is burning on the inside, trying to tell me to start getting some value and make a bet to build a pot. Again, I resist, and check it. Both Duke and the button check back.

The river comes in, a red 9. The complete board run-out is A5A49 rainbow.

I check, again, for the 3rd time. Duke fires out $200 into the pot of $187, the button snap folds, and I immediately snap-shove on him for a total of around $1140. He looks completely perplexed, and then goes deep into the tank. Not a single player had yet displayed this level of aggression against him.

He’s now been thinking for about 6 or 7 minutes, and he announces to the table that he’s sorry he’s taking so long, but he needs some more time and has a decision here. Some random player chimes in, telling him to take all the time he wants, it’s the biggest pot of the night.

Another 3 minutes go by, and I’m starting to get agitated now. It’s been at least 10 minutes, the dealer is clearly annoyed, enough is enough. I call for the clock. The floor comes over and gives Duke the “countdown” speech, informing him that he has 30 seconds to make a decision.

Before the floor even begins the countdown, Duke announces, “CALL”.

Under the influence of the Adderall, I assume, I inexplicably get the impulse to table my hand similar to the way a blackjack dealer would table their cards.

I pull both cards adjacent to each other, now sitting side by side. Using one finger, I flip one of the Aces face up, and then use that same Ace to slide it underneath the other, and flip up the remaining facedown Ace. I somehow managed to pull this off with such finesse, that it all happened in one, smooth, fluid motion. It was most certainly a rare form of poker showboating, and it was an incredibly cocky, and unnecessary thing to do, however I just couldn’t help myself. I had just decimated the guy who was running over every single player.

The entire table is shocked to see that I reveal flopped quad Aces. Even more surprised, is Duke. He is absolutely stunned to his core. He tables Jack high. I immediately stand up from my chair, and lean in closer towards the table, while rubbing my eyes to confirm — yes, indeed. Jack high.

“You triple checked flopped quad aces.” — the tone of his speech indicating a statement, not even close to what asking a question would sound like, as if he was in disbelief of what had just happened.

“Yes, sir.”

“I just called you with Jack high.” — again, it seemed as if he was confirming, for himself, the reality of the situation that had just occurred.

“Yeah, you did, but why?”

“I couldn’t put you on a hand, and I thought that you had finally had enough of me pushing you out of pots. It didn’t make sense, how could you have anything there when you checked the whole way?”

“I took a risk, and I just figured that you would eventually try and steal it.”

“I’m not even mad, kid. Well played, very clever. I salute you.”

The dealer ships me Duke’s entire stack, plus the pot, and I toss him two green birds. I quickly start to stack all of the chips while I fold the next hand, and then I get up from the table, as does Chris.

“Dude! What a sick ****ing play! What in the ****! Triple checking quad aces?!!?!?”

“I know, right? I was waiting all night for that moment. I got stupid lucky that he called. I have no idea why he called me with Jack high. I mean, I heard what he said, but still, why? How?”

“You figured him out, dude. Plain and simple. Really nice play, I’m impressed. I don’t think I could ever have triple checked that.”

“Thanks, Chris. I think it was just the Adderall. I just felt like I absolutely knew that he was going to do exactly the same thing that he has been doing all night. Whenever he senses weakness, he bombs the river. I wasn’t expecting him at all to call my shove, but I knew that if I bet into two players while out of position, on an ace-paired board, after calling a 4x 3-bet from Duke with the button cold calling, they would both fold.”

“That actually makes a lot of sense. Great play, dude. Seriously, that was just sick. Let’s get out of here and see what the other guys are up to.”

Chris and I cash out, and we leave the poker room. I ran $500 up to about $2300. Chris booked a nice win himself, running $500 up to $1.1k. We both tipped the cashier behind the cage $10 each.

The two of us are still wired from the Adderall, but now only physically stimulated, and not at all under the influence whatsoever. Sleeping is not going to be an option, so we decide to head back to my room, and get to work on polishing off a few beers.

I insert the keycard into my room’s key slot, and slowly open the door, as I hear a circus of ruckus coming from inside the room.

All of the guys are inside — Theo, Brian, Max, Scott, Rich, Derek, and Joe — they’d gone through two bottles of Smirnoff, a bottle of Jameson that Rich had brought over, a 24-pack of Coors Light, a ton of the weed, and had now moved on to blow, which one of Chris’ buddies had scored from someone in the casino.

As far as I knew, none of my friends had ever done coke before. I certainly hadn’t. Everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves, though, and who was I to judge? I had just played an intensely long poker session on some drug I had never heard of before, I won a bunch of money, all was good, and so I just went with the flow and chalked it up to an isolated incident on a vacation-like casino trip.

I asked my boys who had lost the most money, both as a way to settle the bet, and to make a subtle brag about how much I had won playing poker. I wasn’t surprised at all — Brian was the biggest loser, totaling a net loss of a measly, yet exact, $100.

He was by far the cheapest person out of all of my friends. He would always argue down to the penny when it came to splitting checks, or getting reimbursed for fronting money for a purchase. Indeed, he sure was cheap, but he wasn’t at all stupid. He made sure that the other 3 guys — Theo, Max, and Scott — lost less than he did so that he could come out ahead on the bet. Of course, he took a gamble by not knowing the status of my winnings, but the worst that could happen was that he would either lose $100 or book a win taking a gamble with it. The 4 of us each paid up, $50 each, and he offset his $100 loss with a $200 gain, for a net profit of $100.

We all continued to drink, I tried a few lines myself, and everyone stayed up until the upcoming evening — it was now time to go gamble again. So, what did we do? We drank even more, smoked a blunt, and finished off the 8-ball of blow.

The 9 of us were thoroughly bombed. Any and all traces of our decision making skills were completely distorted.

Joe was playing $100 flips with Derek — they would cut a deck of cards and whoever cut to the higher card would win. Rich was playing beer pong with Scott for $50 a match, Theo, Max, and Brian were playing $20 rolls of C-Lo with dice that they had bought from the gift shop, and Chris and I were having a pipe dream discussion about how much we were going to win playing blackjack in the next hour.

About 30 minutes later, all of us, while undoubtedly lacking full consciousness, head down to the casino floor and make our way into the pits.

This time, I brought my entire roll, and so did Chris.

The first thing we did was stagger over to a roulette table, only to sloppily introduce ourselves to the dealer.

“Hey sweetheart, listen, we need your help. Black or red?”

“Are you trying to ask me whether I think you should bet on black or red?”

“Ya, of course. You know how you’ve been spinning that ball. Black or red? Which are you feeling?”

Chris and I both take out our rolls and count out $1,000 each.

“Whatever you pick, sweetheart. If we win, you get 10%. If we lose, you think you could get us a comp for 9 to the Wildflowers restaurant?”

“Put it on black, boys. How about we just concentrate on winning for the time being?”

“Let’s do it! $2,000 on black!”

With a quick flick of her forefinger, the dealer launches the tiny ball into motion, and it begins to spin around and around the track of the roulette wheel. The dealer waves her hand over the table to close the action.

“No more bets!”

   

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