Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Live Poker: Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, FL

Palm Beach Kennel ClubLast week I accompanied Vera Valmore to West Palm Beach, Florida in order to watch some top-level dressage at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby. And since Florida is one of those states that offers live poker, I thought I’d take the opportunity to play some while there.

As far as the Derby went, it was cold and windy the first day, but the weather turned quite pleasant afterwards, with highs in the low 70s. Thus did Vera and I enjoy relatively nice conditions for watching the rides, some by Olympians and others with high achievements in dressage on both the national and international level.

One very sad note -- a top rider, Courtney King-Dye, suffered a serious head injury while schooling one of her horses the day before the show began. The young horse she was riding apparently slipped, causing King-Dye -- who wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time -- to fall. She remains in a coma, though her condition is stable. The wearing of helmets either in practice rides or during competitions is a big issue in dressage, and the accident has brought new attention to the importance of taking safety precautions.

After that first day at Horse Park at White Fences Equestrian Estates in Loxahatchee, Florida, Vera and I decided to take a quick trip over to see the Palm Beach Kennel Club, located near the airport and not too far from the hotel where we were staying. I’d heard the guys on the Florida-based poker podcast Ante Up! refer to the PBKC frequently, and was curious to see just what they had to offer. It was early evening. If any limit hold’em tables were going, I would sit down for a short while, then we would try to find some place to eat.

The Palm Beach Kennel Club, Poker RoomThe PBKC has a long history, with folks having come there to bet on the greyhounds since way back in the 1930s. The poker room -- actually two rooms, one larger one on the lower level, and a smaller room for tourneys upstairs -- came much, much later, probably in the late 1990s when parimutuel facilities were first allowed to offer poker. The club boasts that with the addition of the upstairs room a couple of years ago it now has the most tables (60 total) of any place in the entire state.

I knew through Ante Up! that live poker had experienced something of a resurgence in Florida over the last few years, thanks largely to a bill that went into effect in 2007 allowing for the addition of no-limit games (though with a $100-max. buy-in). The new terms also meant the maximum bet in limit games was raised -- but just to $5. Another bill was proposed last year that would remove the caps on buy-ins for NL games, take away maximum bet limits in limit games, and also allow for extended hours, although various machinations between the Florida legislature and the Seminole tribe have prevented that from being implemented just yet.

Ante Up! Magazine, March 2010I spoke with Scott Long of Ante Up! (who co-hosts the show with Chris Cosenza) just to make sure I was clear on what the current laws were. Indeed, the $100 max-buy in remains in place for NL games, as does the $5 limit on bets in limit games. The maximum buy-in for tourneys is $800 or thereabouts (Long says some places have managed to find a way to finagle up to $1,000 buy-ins somehow). Long shared with me the comparison he and Cosenza often make when highlighting the present absurdity of the poker-gambling situation in Florida.

“I can go down to the Kennel Club and bet $50,000 on a dog running around the track, but can’t buy in for more than $100 to play poker,” explained Long. He added how the motorcycle-riding thrill-seeker Evel Knievel, who lived his latter years in Florida prior to his death a couple of years ago, apparently used to go place $10,000 bets on the greyhounds from time to time, screwing up the odds considerably when he did.

It does sound as though the law to remove caps and betting limits has a good chance of going through this summer, though, and so perhaps the situation will be different in Florida soon.

Vera and I found the PBKC without too much difficulty, although figuring out how to enter the place was less obvious. After a half-minute of wandering around the front, someone directed us to the turnstiles, through which we went and then entered the building from the back.

There appeared to be a lot of activity, with perhaps 20-25 tables going (of the 40 in the downstairs room). Most tables were spreading $1-$2 and $2-$5 NLHE, with three $2-$4 LHE games going. (Long told me that was what you mostly find as far as limit hold’em goes, with a few $1-$5 or $2-$5 spread limit games here and there.) I grabbed a seat at a LHE table, though I knew I wouldn’t be playing for long as there didn’t seem very much for Vera to do while she waited.

I took a seat at a full table, noticing a lot of trash underneath the table and unclaimed bottles and napkins everywhere. In the end, I’d probably play no more than 40 minutes or so -- like 20-25 hands at most -- and thanks to some ridiculously good cards walked away up a surprising $90. What happened? I caught cards, made hands, and got paid. Not too complicated.

A $1 chip from the Palm Beach Kennel ClubAfter losing the first hand with pocket jacks, I began collecting chips in rapid fashion starting with a hand in which I got Ac2c in the small blind, flopped two pair, then turned a boat. Followed that with another hand in which I limped in with the rest of the table with A-6-suited to see a flop come 8-6-6. Two of us made it to the river on that one, with my opponent angrily showing the case six (with a lesser kicker, presumably). He left soon afterwards, grumbling to a friend about his misfortune and/or the quality of play.

A few hands later I picked up pocket treys in late position and limped along with about six others. Flop 6-3-3. Whoa. Some nice cards they be dealing here, I thought. Afterwards I thought of Mike Fasso, who used to appear on Ante Up! now and then as a guest host, and one time when he memorably exclaimed “I never flopped quads in my life.... IN MY LIFE!”

Well, I’d done it. And even better, there was a bet and call before it got to me. I called, as did two more. The turn brought another six. It checked to me, I bet, and two just called. Couldn’t quite figure why neither would raise there (assuming at least one had to have had a six). River was a face card, I bet again, and just the older fellow called. Indeed, he had a six, and was just calling down his sixes full.

The ridiculous run good continued, as the very next hand I picked up two black aces. There was a raise before me, I three-bet, and ultimately there were two callers. Flop AhQd7h. It checked to me, I bet, and both called. Turn was the Kd. This time the preflop raiser bet, I raised, and the early position player called the two bets, which signaled he probably couldn’t have the straight. The preflop raiser -- whom I thought might have K-K or Q-Q -- called as well. The river brought the 6d, and when the preflop raiser again bet I just called, a little wary the EP player might have chased down his flush. But he just called, too, and we showed our cards.

The early position player had pocket sevens -- he’d flopped a lesser set. And the preflop raiser had AdQs -- he’d flopped two pair. Definitely a cooler for both, although it could’ve been even worse for them had the turn and river not coordinated the board like that.

Thus the big win. Much more luck than skill, for sure. I cashed out, grabbed Vera, and we were out of there. As I said, there wasn’t really much for Vera to do there. I mentioned the trash laying about. The felt on the table was worn down, too, adding a little to the sordid atmosphere. The dealers were competent and friendly, though, and aside from the one grumbler the players were cordial, too. After my quads hand, the dealer had passed me a slip to fill out to enter the high-hand jackpot, to be awarded on Saturday.

Palm Beach Kennel Club, race trackI ended up returning on Saturday for another session and to see if I might have won the jackpot. There were multiple drawings throughout the day, starting at 1 p.m. (when the place opened). Got there early and explored the place a little more, checking out the theater-style seating upstairs from which to view the races as well as wandering outside at the track a bit. Many folks -- including a lot of old-timers -- were there early studying the day’s races and settling on their picks. A line formed outside the poker room, too, which opened at 12:30 p.m. Probably 30 tables were filled with players by the time the first hands of the day were dealt.

The early drawings were for $1,000, and one had to be present to win. While there I again played, this time for an hour-and-a-half or so. As I (mostly) folded hands, I listened hopefully for my name to be called. Alas, it was not, although I would pick up another $49 before I left. Wasn’t so much good cards this time as bad, loose, passive play by others. If I had stuck around until the evening, I’d have learned if I’d won the larger $5,000 jackpot, but I wasn’t going to be spending the entire day and night there.

Again, I’ll say the dealers were fine and all of the staff with whom I interacted were pleasant. Getting a cocktail waitress did appear to be a bit of a struggle for others at times. I cashed out, grabbed a copy of Ante Up! magazine, and made my way back around the building and out to the rental car. Vera and I ended up that night in City Place -- a nice, pedestrian-friendly downtown area in West Palm Beach with lots of stores, restaurants, and live music. All made extra fun by my being able to pay our way with poker profits.

Will be interesting to see what happens in Florida once the caps and limits are lifted and places like the Palm Beach Kennel Club possibly become more of a targeted destination for serious poker players. Imposing those limits doesn’t much affect a recreational type like me, but I know many are anxious to see “real” poker start to be offered.

I’d had no time at all to play while covering the NAPT Venetian the week before, so it was good to get to play, even for just a couple of short sessions. And especially good to flop quads, even at $2/$4.

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