Atlantic City, Part 1
For about a year or so my friend Kevin and I had bandied about the notion of embarking on a road trip to Atlantic City. We both love live poker and road trips with friends — even ones as long as a trek from Ottawa to A.C. — can be lots of fun. So, it only made sense that we would eventually find our way down to the east coast's poker Valhalla. We decided that this past long weekend would be the perfect time to go and we took Thursday afternoon and all of Friday off work so we could get the most out of our trip. We also picked up a third card nut in the form of our buddy Rich to join us in our little excursion.

In preparation for this trip, Kevin and I had made a few trips to the Akwesasne Casino near Mesena just south of the border. We had both done well at 1/2 and 2/5 NL respectively. I found the 2/5 game at Akwesasne pretty easy to beat and started building a nice little bankroll for our trip. Last weekend, I took it a step further and joined some friends at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York. I did well there too and my confidence was at an all time high. I was making great reads and playing quite well. The only thing that bugged me about my play in Turning Stone was that when I found myself in a situation where I was clearly the second best player at the table, I tended to go after the best player at the table far more than I should have. It was an ego thing and, in general, there is no room for ego when you are trying to make the most profitable decisions on the felt.

We left the city around 3pm and the drive to Atlantic City was relatively uneventful. We stopped for dinner at Pizza Hut along the way and by about 11pm the horizon slowly began to reveal an impressive array of hotels and casinos. The bright mesmerizing lights were like the shimmering and jingling of a set of keys overhead and we were like babies gazing up with shear joy at the wonderful sights and sounds. We were giddy. The excitement in the car was palpable and even Kevin, who had earlier been the voice of reason and made a very convincing argument for just checking into the hotel and hitting the casino's early and fresh the next morning, had succumb to the lure of the bright lights.

In that moment as we approached the city, the atmosphere was fraught with portent. Our big score could be waiting for us in one of those casinos. We were on the precipice of a great adventure and we all felt that an untold fortune may be within reach. Of course, this is all pretty silly. I mean we are three rational, intelligent human beings and we know that poker has its ups and downs and that to expect a huge windfall from one week-end is wholly unrealistic. Nevertheless the barrage of imagery and marketing surrounding places like Atlantic City that we've all been exposed to certainly did their job effectively as we "oohed" and "aahhed" at the fast approaching epicentre of gambling goodness.

By about 12:30am, we found ourselves in the poker room at one of Atlantic City's oldest and best known Casinos, the Trump Taj Mahal. The room was enclosed in glass and featured at least 35 tables and everything from the felt and the chairs to the staff and the patrons felt aged and worn. Kevin signed up for 1/2 NL, Rich for 2/4 limit and myself for 2/5 NL. I was called to a table at around 1am. I sat down with a crowd of mostly regulars, all of whom had pretty big stacks. It was clear that the fish had all been devoured by now and all that was left were local grinders and visiting degenerates, who know a thing or two about the game. I was exhausted after the long trip and it was silly of me to even be there. Whithin a few hours I had managed to lose a little more than a buy-in and it was clearly time to go. I don't remember any hands from that session, but I know I certainly wasn't at my best and I'm sure the losses were due to my fatigue more than anything else. In fact, all three of us were tired and we all lost money that night.

Kevin woke me the next day with a crusty muffin and a stale danish from the complimentary "continental breakfast" in the lobby of our hotel. The Super 8, just off the boardwalk where we were staying was pretty "ghetto", but hey we were there to gamble, so luxury accomodations were not necessary. To our surprise, Rich was nowhere to be found. We got a call from him shortly after breakfast letting us now that he had made his way to Ceasar's Palace and was doing well in a limit game there. We got ready and headed out to join him.

Ceasar's has one of the newer poker rooms in Atlantic City and it's a nice place, but considerably smaller than the Taj's room. I found the tables a little smaller than usual and the action line left very little space for stacking and staging your chips. I sat at a 2/5 NL game and having slept, I was playing quite well. It wasn't long before I had doubled my buy-in and then I lost a hand or two to get me to about 850$ when the following occurred.

The hijack open-raised for 35$ and was called by the cut off and the button. I looked down at AK in the small blind and re-popped it 135$, figuring I could pick up the dead money. To my surprise, the BB flat called me, leaving himself only 200$ behind. The rest of the field folded and the flop came K-3-4 rainbow. I put the BB all in right away, since there was already over 300$ in the pot. He insta-called me and after the turn and river brought rags, I was expecting him to show me pocket aces. Needless to say I was flabergasted when he revealed 3-4 suited for a flopped two pair. This was to be the first of many examples of the worst poker I have ever seen played anywhere in my life. I mean the guy called 130$ cold with 4 high! After that hand, I decided it was best to just take my profit — a whopping 55$ — and get the hell out of there before I steamed off my whole stack. Besides, the boys were hungry and it was time for lunch.

We decided to head to the Borgata and eat there. We hopped in a cab and made our way to Atlantic City's newest and by far nicest property. The Borgata is leaps and bounds ahead of any other place we saw in A.C. It's very upscale, filled with beautiful people and modern decor and the poker room is just out of this world. It is massive, with what seems like over 100 tables, all clean and new. There is an abundance of staff (managers and floorpeople) to help you out. The chairs are super comfy and have height adjustment and wheels for mobility, with a thick foam seat and no arm rests to accomodate even the most rotund of patrons.

The clientelle was considerably younger, filled with "online pros" and brand-name gangstars with their oversized jewellery and hip-hop attire. The 2/5 game I sat in was fast and loose, the players were terrible and I watched pots swell to over a thousand dollars where the winning hand was just top pair, good kicker. I played conservatively and tried to set mine, I got dealt small pairs often enough, but never hit my set. I was able to keep my stack relatively even, picking up small pots when I could. Then came a hand where I got dealt KK under the gun. I open-raised to 35$ and got two callers including the big blind. The flop came Q-J-4 with two diamonds. I lead for 100$ and the BB called. The turn brought an offsuit 9 and the BB checked. I bet another 100$ and he moved in for another 240$. I had about 300$ behind so I was basically put to a decision for my whole stack. It was a scary board and I only had one pair, but I had been playing with this guy for a while and the only reason he had a stack was because he'd been caught bluffing a few times and sucked out. Everything about his demeaner made me think he was bluffing and really didn't want a call. I finally shoved my chips in and the river brought an offsuit Ace. I showed him my pocket kings and he said, "You're good." I was relieved for a split second until he followed it up with "Oh no. Wait. That's right. I forgot. I have an Ace". He flipped over A-8 off suit for a busted gutshot with a rivered pair of aces. I said, "Oh my God... are you serious?!" and stormed off to take a walk around the Casino and cool off.

When I returned, the player who had beaten me with the Ace apologised profusely, explaining that he was so focused on his straight draw that he totaly forgot he had the Ace. I told him I wasn't mad at him, more at the suituation. I knew he didn't do it on purpose and when I have that good a read on someone, the last thing I want to do is make him leave by berrating or embarassing him.

I reloaded and eventually managed to get all my chips in on the turn with top two versus some kid holding top pair and a 6 high flush draw who called 300$ into a 240$ with one card to come only to nail his flush and proceeded to clap his hands and do a little dance before stacking my chips into his massive stack and calling it quits for the day. I went for another walk.

When I came back and reloaded, I really didn't play well at all. I got caught up in what I call "poker slots"; put in your nickel with any two cards from any position and hope to hit a miracle flop. I blead away most of my chips and after another bad beat, I took my last 37$ off the table and walked away feeling like total garbage. I passed the big spinning wheel on my trip around the casino and plopped my last few chips on the 1$ spot. The spinner looked at me and said "All-in?". I guess she's seen a million dejected poker players come by and do the same thing. I just shrugged as she gave the wheel a spin. Click, click, click, click .... it landed on the 1$ spot and then, in what seemed like an eternity the wheel crawled forward for one final click into the 2$ spot. My chips were promptly removed from the board and I just shook my head, baffled by my own stupidity for giving away what could have been a decent meal on the spin of a stupid wheel. I felt like just another sucker with broken dreams and empty pockets and it was only the second day of our trip.

In reality, my pockets were not empty at all. I still had money to play, but I had taken a pretty big hit both emotionally and psychologically. My confidence was down and my optimism about this trip was dwindling.

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