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New Jersey Online Poker

This is potentially HUGE news for any poker player in the NYC or New Jersey area.  It is looking like New Jersey is ready to become the second state to legalize intra-state online poker.  This means that you would be able to play poker in New Jersey through state regulated online poker sites.  You may even be able to get interstate liquidity, meaning that states like New Jersey, Delaware (which has already legalized online poker) and Nevada (which seems very close to legalizing online poker), could band together and let you play poker against people within New Jersey and with players from other states with legal online poker.

Now, let’s be clear, we have always taken the common position that online poker is legal to play (in New York / New Jersey at least), but the federal government and most states have taken the view that it may not be legal to operate an online poker site… until now.

So, what happened?  Well, on Monday December 17, 2012 the New Jersey Assembly passed Bill A2578 48-24, which would allow for legal online poker in New Jersey.  Now the State Senate has to review the bill, then it will be up to Governor Chris Christie to sign.

This is potentially huge news for poker enthusiasts and comes on the heals of news that PokerStars, the worlds largest poker room, is in advance talks to purchase an Atlantic City Casino, which would give the Isle of Man based company a huge toehold in the United States.

I for one might have to reconsider my choice of residence of this bill passes and I can just move across the river and legally play online poker in NJ!

Is Underground Poker Illegal in New York?

New York City has been buzzing the last month about underground poker games.  The reason?  Back in August Judge Weinstein of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York considered a case where federal agents raided an underground game in Staten Island.  A guy named Lawrence DiCristina ran the game and took a 5% rake (Sidenote: that is surprisingly reasonable compared to some of the ridiculous games I’ve played with a 10% uncapped rake…).  DiCristina was charged with operating an illegal gambling business and faced up to 10 years in prison.  Damn…

The interesting thing is that he was charged in FEDERAL court, NOT NEW YORK COURT.  Judge Weinstein ruled that for the purposes of the federal law poker is not illegal gambling because it is a game of skill.  No way?!  REALLY?  My making my living off this game the past ~4yrs is finally vindicated!  I’m not just some lucky chump!  Sheesh…

Anyway, the other interesting thing about this case is that it does NOT affect New York law.  That is to say that underground poker room operators in New York City can still be charged and convicted under New York laws in New York courts, no matter what the federal government has said.

Maybe one day we’ll get this all right…

PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker Pull Out of the US Market

It’s official, the two giants of the online poker world, PokerStars and FullTiltPoker have pulled out of the United States.  Their new official links are live, but do not not expect to be able to play if you’re based out of the US (unless you do some shady IP masking / VPN usage).

Right now there are still a few rooms accepting US players, but I would say they are all shady at best.

Best of luck to all you online grinders.  Something tells me the underground NYC games just got a little bit harder…

DOJ Seizes Poker Sites Pokerstars.com & Fulltiltpoker.com

Gah.  Many of you might have seen this already, but the DOJ has seized certain online poker sites including pokerstars and fulltilt.  If you click the banners ads on this site you will likely be taken to a page that looks like this:

I guess the one reminder is that as far as we all know / believe, PLAYING poker online is not illegal.  Whether it is illegal to operate a poker site is one question, but whether it is legal to play on a site like fulltiltpoker or pokerstars is totally separate.*  (*Should not be construed as legal advice, just conventional belief / wisdom in the poker world.)  I am not at home, but apparently the clients still work fine and people are able to play.  Hopefully this all gets sorted out soon.

It’s back to the underground I go…

From Rounders Underground Poker to James Bond Class

I woke up, made some eggs and transferred $15,000 out of my full tilt poker account.  Just your usual Tuesday morning.

Later that afternoon I made my way over to the game, a luxury building with more doormen than any building should ever have.  As I said, I’ve been to games all over the city and usually don’t feel nervous with doormen, but these guys knew why I was there and just nodded as I came in.

The apartment itself was entirely glass, floor to ceiling, with a view of NJ, the West Side Highway and the USS Intrepid.  Unbelievable.  No longer was I playing an underground poker game like in Rounders, now I was in a Bond movie getting ready to outplay the villain.

The game had been going for about an hour when I got there and the average stack was over $5,000 with my Dominican friend sitting on about $10,000.  WooooEEEE!  And as luck would have it there was a seat open just to his left.  Seven players and I get the Jesus seat!

The first hand I’m in late position and the Dominican raises 10x the big blind (obviously).  I call from the cutoff with a mid suited connector.  Long story short I double up with two pair against a maniac 3rd pair bluff and after just one hand I’m up to $10,000.  Wow, unbelievable!

For the next couple hours I nitted it up and barely played a hand, staying about even.  Then this little doozy came up.  I had 33 under the gun and raised 3x to $75.  After one caller the maniac in the bb re-raised to $750 (yeah, I told you it was that kind of game!)  I called (He had $12,000 in front of him and I had $10,000, a little more than the 10x the call that you usually want to have if you’re going to set-mine).  The other guy folds and it’s just two of us in a pot now worth about $1600.  The flop came out 9… 5…3!! rainbow!  Bingo!  Flop a set against a maniac.  I liiikkkeee.  Maniac bets the pot, $1600, and I think for a bit and smooth call.  The turn is the a T and the maniac fires another $3000.  I call again with just over $5000 left behind (and now about $11,000 in the pot).  The river is the a 9 – I filled up – and the maniac immediately pushes all in.  Of course I snap call, he proudly shows me his KK and I drag a $20k pot, my biggest ever.

I have never wanted to hit and run a game that badly in my life, but I stayed for another hour, folding everything I could and then left and ran home to see the new $15,000 in my full tilt account! (And I MIGHT have loaded up a 50NL game and shoved every hand for about and hour, managing to only lose about $300 while being Santa Clause to the rest of the table!)

The Intersection of Underground Poker Clubs and Online Poker Rooms

After a particularly good summer (I really do plan to write about it, but underground poker is much more fun than live and online tournaments) I decided to go to a game I’d been hearing a LOT about.  The game – 10/25 no limit, which is a little (or maybe a lot…) bigger than I normally play.  The cast though… the cast was something else.  It even included one of the Dominican guys I started playing with almost two years ago at 1-2NL in the back room of a backroom.  This guy is something else.  As the story goes, he had a t-shirt stand or two and somehow just started accumulating stands.  Then one year, after never having made more than $30,00-40,000 in a year he cleared $1 million.  Talk about a juicy game…

Now, besides the cast, this was a game unlike any I had ever been to before.  First of all, the apartment is unlike any I had ever played in.  An all-glass, luxury building over on the west side, with views looking out over the water, this game was actually IN the apartment, not the janitor’s closet like all the other luxury games I’d played in.

The biggest difference though was the money.  Not just that this game was big, bigger than I’d played before, but that the game does not take cash or even allow cash in the building (yes, they get VERY pissed if you show up with more than a few bucks for a cab).  The guys who run it (a) don’t want to worry about the game being robbed, and these fish/whales WILL be showing up with $25,000 or more and (b) do not want to worry about the game being busted by the vice squad like some of the games I’ve been in.  They solve the problem by making everyone coming to the game escrow the amount they want to have available in an online poker account (note to any cops reading this – just because a game does not have any money at it, it does not mean it is one of these games.  Some people like to just play for fun!  A lot of these guys actually do not play any online poker (oddly enough, since I think it is a great way to (a) hone your game and (b) play when you can’t find another worthwhile game), so the only reason they would have money in an account is for an underground game like this, which means there are often side deals going on before the game to get money online and after the game to get money out of the poker sites (most of these deals involve a transfer between online poker accounts, a coffee shop a 5-10% vig and a sack of money…).

I have to say, I was pretty nervous about this game.  I have now played in a LOT of games around the city and at casinos around the world, but I have never been in a situation like this.  The logistics alone scared the crap out of me.  I was torn between putting on my internet grinder/ Mike McDermott (Rounders… for those of you who don’t get the reference) best and putting on a full tux – hoping I was walking into some sort of Bond scenario (minus the super villain of course).  I knew I wasn’t going to be the fish at this game, but I was worried the amount of money at stake might effect my play…

I will get to the actual game in my next post…

Playing Satellites or “How I learned to stop worrying and light money on fire”

This is a continuation of my posts on the 2009 World Series of Poker (before I got sidetracked on the Pokerstars Big Game and diatribes on safe poker).

So I settled in for a weekend of online satellites to the WSOP. Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars were both running massive qualifiers with huge guarantees. This means that the poker sites guarantee to give out a certain number of seats, whether or not enough people actually played the satellite.

Some of you might wonder why I’d spend a whole weekend in the summer in NYC playing poker. Well, first of all, my apartment has air conditioning. The less time I have to spend outside in June / July in New York the better. Second (and maybe more importantly…) the games are always best on Saturdays and Sundays. Why? It’s simple, people who do not play poker for a living actually work during the week. This means they cannot play during the day and may not want to play late into the night. So, people with money and limited time will load up their favorite online poker site on a Saturday or Sunday and play all day.

Satellites can be a lot of fun to play, but can also be extremely frustrating. In theory you should “win” more often than a regular tournament, but if you do not know how to play you can get beaten down over and over again. I do not really want to get into satellite strategy, but suffice it to say, taking as few risks as possible in order to min-cash is the ideal! The problem is, you make one mistake or get just a little too aggressive and what was once a sure cash is now a “Thanks for Playing.”

On Saturday I got lots of those messages. FullTilt… busto. PokerStars… busto. UltimateBet… busto. Absolute Poker… busto. Most of the tournaments I was playing were long shots ($200-500 buy-in), but Sunday the game started to fall in place for me. All the Sunday tournaments had huge guarantees and enormous prize pools, each giving away a seat in the WSOP along with assorted extras (hotel rooms, cash, and extra prizes for television time).

Each of the two best online poker sites, Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker was running a 200 seat guarantee, and each blasted through its guarantee to give away well over 200 seats. I built up a huge stack early on in the Pokerstars WSOP satellite by luckboxing my way to a quadruple stack early by flopping a flush against a smaller flush and two sets. My luck just continued after that AA against KK, sets against overpairs, etc, etc. Once I built a huge stack I played standard satellite strategy and played nice and tight until we made our way into the money.

The Full Tilt satellite was a little more interesting. I got short-stacked early on, losing half my stack on a crying call against a player who rivered a bigger straight than the one I turned. Slowly I chipped back up with hyper-aggressive play, 3-betting, 4-betting, squeezing, doing everything I could to rebuild my stack – I was GOING to win 2 seats that day or I was going broke in the next 10 hands. Eventually I got even and then up to a double stack, where I could slow down again and play a little poker. This hand came up when I had about 30,000 in chips at blinds 300 – 600. I raised in late position to 1500 (love the 2.5x raise) with 8d9d and got a caller on the button and in the big blind (for a pot of 4800). Flop came down a beautiful 7dTcAd. Big blind checked, I bet 3600, the button raised to 12,400 and the big blind shoved for 40,000 (having both me and the button covered). At this point I have to assume the button is coming along for the ride so I need to call 24,900 to win 90,300, which means I’m getting ~2.5 to 1 on a call. I’m obviously putting these guys on a range, but smack in the middle of their ranges are sets and either a big ace or 2 pair (and I am not terribly worried about a bigger flush draw since the Ad is on the board, so effectively I have all 15 of my outs assuming the board doesn’t pair. Getting 2.5 to 1 with about 60% equity. YIPPEEEE KAAAAAYEEEEEEEE!!!! Thankfully I hit my 6s and the board did not pair. I held to win a monster pot and my second WSOP seat of the day!

Are Underground Poker Rooms Safe?

At least once a week I get an email asking whether underground poker rooms are safe to play in, and frankly that is a really good question to ask before you go play in one of these.

When the poker boom began after Moneymaker won the World Series poker rooms began sprouting up all over city.  Rooms like Playstation and others were some of the best poker rooms in the country, with 3-5 tables in a room, great cocktail service, and plenty of fish to keep the games profitable, even with the insane rake.

After the initial glow wore off and a couple shootings occurred, however, the games had to go further and further underground.  I new things had changed forever when I played golf with a young NYPD officer who told me he no longer plays the underground games because he is too afraid of being busted.  Back in 2005 and 2006 the thought would not have even crossed a police officer’s mind.  Even if the cops showed up, they would not have cared about another officer being in the game.

Even though this comes up every time I play and every week by email, it is actually not something I think about much.  Years ago I decided that I was going to play in the games whether they get busted or robbed, and I moved on.  But this has come up again in the media recently due to a couple robberies in Texas, and has become the subject of a couple recent episodes of Poker Road Radio.

The closest I have ever been to a shooting in a poker room was back around the time this blog began.  I was playing a game downtown in the backroom of a chinese restaurant (I know, cliche right?).  Every night this gaunt older Dominican man showed up and lost a few hundred dollars and never seemed particularly happy about it.  One night we were playing 1-2 no limit and the smallest stack at the table was about $500.  One crazy player made his standard raise to $100 and got 2 callers, including the Dominican.  The flop was a rainbow J52 and it checked around.  On the K turn the Dominican bet $100 and the pre-flop raiser went all-in.  The Dominican sighed and muttered “You got it.”  Everyone kind of stared and he repeated more definitively “I said, you got it.”  The player who was all-in threw his cards in the muck face up showing a 67.  The Dominican stared and then said “I got a jack.”  We all stared again as we realized this guy thinks he won the pot!  WE ALL HEARD HIM FOLD.  As the dealer started to push the pot towards the raiser the Dominican guy stands up and says “I GOT A JACK.”  The dealer starts to explain to the guy and he puts his hand under his shirt into his waistband and says “I GOT A JACK!”  As we see the handle start to emerge the dealer stands up and another comes running in.

“Woah woah woah papi!  It’s okay it’s okay, we’ll take care of it!”

The Dominican guy stared and the dealer repeats “We will take care of you.  Johnny, got get some chips for him – $300.”

The Dominican stared at the dealer, then stared at the raiser and finally sat down slowly, $100 richer.

There is really no good way to say it, but shit happens.  Games will get robbed and people will get shot.  Sometimes it’s not even a robbery, but an irate player.  As long as there money in a room someone is going to try to take it.  When you start playing the game and getting money involved you know just have to know something could happen and you have to be prepared.  The best you can do, if you decide to play is not to worry about what might happen, but be prepared if it does.  If someone comes in and wants your money you give it to them.  You cannot control how others act, but you can do your best to protect yourself.

Most of the games are safe, there are security guards stopping the wrong people coming in, but you should always know what might happen and be ready for it.  If you are not, or if this concerns you too much all I can is find some friends to play with or stay home and jump into an online game (as I did for a few weeks after last year’s WSOP after I’d been in the busted game.

Hope this helps.  Be safe!

Pokerstars.net: The Big Game

Somewhat off-topic post here, but it seemed worth writing about.  THis wek launched the first week of The Pokerstars Big Game.  With the NYC poker games being a little slow these days (everyone being in Las Vegas for the WSOP), I’ve been spending my time playing more online poker and watch trashy poker tv.

This show actually isn’t that trashy though.  The format is interesting, something at least a little fresh, and they have a good group of professionals at the table.  For those of you who don’t know, the format of the Pokerstars Big Game  is a 6-handed game of pot limit hold’em pre-flop and no limit hold’em post flop.  The really interesting part though is that only five of the players are the standard TV professionals we usually see.  The 6th player is what they call the “Loose Cannon.”  This is a player who qualified through Pokerstars and then made it through a casting call.  The Loose Cannon gets $100,000 from Pokerstars, but the twist is he / she only gets to keep the profit above that $100,000.

This week the Big Game’s Loose Cannon is a starstruck DC-ite named Ernest Wiggins.  Ernest seems like a perfectly nice man, but his play is, for lack of a better word, garbage.  I generally don’t like to criticize people’s play on this blog, but Wiggins’ play really is astounding.  The problem is that he is clearly scared of his opponents (Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Tony G and Phil Helmuth), and is getting run over by them.  Anyway, I think the lesson from this show is never to be concerned about the people you are playing with.  Just know who is good and who is bad and play accordingly.  Don’t get scared of people and don’t let reputations proceed anyone.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Playing Online Poker

Beginning a few months before the WSOP every year all the major online poker sites begin running satellites to the Main Event. In 2009 Full Tilt Poker even offered satellites to some of the smaller events, which was a brilliant marketing move in my opinion. The great thing about these satellites is that online poker sites are no longer allowed to buy players in to any event at the World Series of Poker. This means they have to deposit the money to a player’s account and hope the player shows up. Because it’s great advertising for each site to have players in the World Series and on TV, most online poker sites, including the two biggest, Full Tilt and PokerStars, will provide incentives for satellite qualifiers to actually show up and play. These include extra spending money, free hotels, freeroll tournaments and other perks.

My decision to try to satellite could not have come at a better time. After having been detained by the NYPD Vice Squad I decided to keep a low profile until the WSOP and concentrate my play online.

I have never really written about playing online before, but any poker player who only plays live (particularly playing live poker in New York City) is missing out on an extraordinary amount of value and opportunity to improve.

Value

Sadly these days underground poker games do not run every day / night. Back in the early 2000s they might have, but these days there are usually only a couple games running on any given night (not including the various underground casinos around the city, which attract some crossover, but mostly a different clientele). This means that, just as you have to pick and choose what clubs to play at and whether to leave a must-move when you are about to be moved, you also have to decide every night whether to play online or live.

I happen to prefer playing live, so if a good game is running I will make every effort to be there, but sometimes I cannot escape the fact that I am going to make twice as much money online. Not only can I play more hands per hour, I can also play more tables. And if I am feeling particularly good or bad on a given day I can play higher or lower than I normally would.

Opportunity to Improve

I hate to say this as a mostly “live professional” poker player, but online players are, for the most part, better than live players. This is one reason that the live New York poker games can be so profitable, but they are *only* that profitable if I keep improving faster than my competition. By playing poker online in the comfort of my apartment (or at the Starbucks down the street from me as I often do…) I can see how others are playing and use software like PokerTracker to constantly evaluate my play. As a live poker player it is all too easy to forget about a hand once it is over.