Poker

What’s sadder than not being able to play live poker?

Well, the simple answer is, when you can play live poker but what’s on offer is so far from what you want, you should avoid it.

In this article I cover…

  • Why after a year+ without playing live, just how bad Grosvenor’s tournament options have to be that I don’t want to play them.
  • Why competition between casino chains/cardrooms, is so important.
  • A shout out to Rob Yong for making the right decision about DTD.

A brief background on me

I’ve not done a poker post for a while so for those that don’t know.

I’m 61 years old and sat down at a poker table for the first time in 1976.

My background

Since that day to this, apart from this COVID shutdown, in the intervening 45 years I doubt I’ve ever gone more than 5 or 6 weeks without playing poker. (live)

I initially played cash 100% of the time and then from about 1979/80 I started playing the occasional tournament, while waiting for the cash to start, but I was still 90%/10% cash/comp.

From 2003 I switched to 90% comp and for the last 10 years I rarely, if ever, play cash anymore.

Some Grosvenor cardrooms have re-opened

So, tournaments are what I’d prefer to play, but after a year of no poker I’d take a fun/sociable cash game if one was on offer somewhere. (Without a piss-take rake)

Well one nationwide company, Grosvenor, has re-opened some of its cardrooms. Many players, me included, were delighted with the news.

There is so much pent-up frustration that I was sure people would flood back in as soon as they opened.

I can’t speak for all the 8 venues that have re-opened but Coventry seems very busy indeed. In fact, they are so busy that they are turning people away! I feel very lucky that 3 of the 8 venues are within 35 miles of where I live.

At my age, even after having both jabs, I’m still being cautious so I don’t think I’d be too thrilled at being in a small cardroom packed in like sardines, with 10 seat tables plus a dealer.

When I saw they were doing 7 seat tables with plexi glass I thought yeah that sounds good, so I waited to see the schedule with interest.

What was I hoping for?

Even though as recently as 2016 I won a couple of nice comps, I know that in truth for the last 15 years the game has moved on rapidly and my ability has not.

I’m at least sensible enough to know that fact, so now I purely play for the sociable side of the game and pick my tournaments carefully based on that.

Within reason I can play any night I want to, but I have always preferred Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.

So I was hoping for a decent Friday night comp or a Sunday afternoon one that would suit me.

I want fully “dealer dealt” and a total buy-in up to £50.

My reasoning being is that if I go to the pub/restaurant/cinema etc then I’m probably going to spend that sort of money, but I really prefer playing poker.

Also occasionally, even now, I stand a chance of coming home with more money than I go out with!

Sadly, with the new schedule on offer nothing fits that bill at all.

The New Tournament Schedule

Basically, it’s an orgy of self-deal tournaments. From £16 + £4, up to £36 + £4.

£4 for a self-deal is a piss take for a start.

Live Poker Post Covid

The only fully dealer dealt tourney is on Friday night but it’s £62 + £8 (nearly 13% rake)

At £70 total buy-in the price starts to become prohibitive for a tournament with a 60-player cap. (I’ll explain the problem with the player cap later in this article)

For a social Friday night run of the mill game, £70 is more than I want to pay.

If it was a “Titan” or similar which used to collect £10k+ then yes, I’d see that as good comp to play once a month but not £70 every week when the total prize pool is capped.

By the time I’ve paid for fuel, it’s a 66-mile round trip for me, and something to eat/drink and spunking £20 on roulette, it starts to become an expensive night out.

Especially if you want to play every week, which prior to Covid I always did usually at G Cov or Resorts World.

So with the new post COVID schedule having nothing that meets my requirements I’d have to be mad to play it right?

Like all men I don’t always think with my brain.

I’ve made virtually all the worst decisions of my life when women were involved.

When the blood rushes south from a man’s brain, he’ll do things that in the cold light of day are too stupid to believe.

Sadly, after a year plus away from it, I had a hard on for poker.

So what did I do?

Well obviously, I went and played poker at G Coventry on Sunday night. (30th May)

I feel stupid now and can’t justify it. I played a £36 + £4 self-deal comp, didn’t really enjoy it and certainly regretted it in the morning.

Plus and minus points.

Plus.

It was genuinely nice to see some old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. To be honest it was just nice to see some people again!

Apart from to do with work or go to the supermarket it’s the first time I’ve been anywhere for such a long time.

I enjoyed handling the cards/chips and I rivered a flush to win a nice pot early on.

Minus.

Didn’t like the plexi glass and although I understand the reasons, I didn’t like the mask wearing either.

It made it exceedingly difficult to hear what people were saying. I love the banter round a table, but it was very difficult to interact with people.

There were times when I literally couldn’t understand what the guy sat next to me was saying. Though he was Scottish, so not easy even without masks and glass to muffle the sound!

The way the glass and masks affected the social element was far worse than I thought it would be. This turned out to be the second biggest negative.

Self-Deal Poker: the biggest negative

The self-deal aspect also caused some problems and was a real drain on the “fun” aspect as nobody on the table wanted to deal. (Me included)

I don’t know whether G Casinos can get away with running this many self-deal comps across the country every week without a big problem arising somewhere, sometime soon.

Self-deal almost inevitably ends badly. In truth I don’t believe casinos should really have these as the norm and I’m surprised the Gambling Commission allows it.

Next time you’re in a casino, ask them if they’ll let you deal Blackjack or spin the wheel and see what they say.

Don’t get me wrong occasionally if they have a really busy dealer dealt comp and a dealer is off sick or late for work and they have to open one table as self-deal rather than have people waiting to late reg, then yeah fine if there is a player who is a reasonably competent who would volunteer to deal.

G Coventry used to do a beginner comp on Mondays that was free to enter with £5 re-buys which was self-deal. I don’t really have a problem with that either, though I never played it.

It’s hardly worth cheating for that money, but when the money increases so does the temptation.

Comps that are £36 + £4 to enter that are collecting north of £2,000 shouldn’t be self-deal.

G Coventry themselves have history with these sorts of problems. Back in 2011 they gave someone a life ban from every G Casino in the country for cheating whilst dealing in a self-deal comp.

Apparently, he’d been doing it for weeks before he got caught. Read the 2011 post here.

My reasons for not normally playing them

Unless you are lucky and get a player willing to deal who either works at another casino or is an ex-dealer the game is so slow.

If I bust out, I don’t want it to be because we are dealing 8 hands per hour and we’re getting through 3 blind levels in one round of the table, and I get blinded to dust before I play a hand.

Incompetence and Corruption

When you have a dealer, who isn’t a dealer they will make mistakes. Real dealers make them occasionally and non-dealers make lots of them.

That’s no criticism of non-dealers, as I’m always grateful to anyone who volunteers. It’s just a fact they are not as good as professional dealers.

They are more likely to unintentionally expose cards, do miss-deals or mess up “side pots” etc.

In a self-deal some years ago, I saw the short stack move all in for about 20k pre-flop and get called by 3 players who then went on to make two more side pots.

The 20k short stack guy had the best hand and when the dealer sorted it out, he tried to give him about 16k back.

Now I’m always chatty at the table and had the confidence to sort the mess out but when I’m going out for a nights entertainment I don’t really want to have to.

It just isn’t fun, and I don’t want to be the table referee.

So, the possible cheating aspect isn’t the main reason why I don’t want to play “self-deal”. It’s just the hassle and the fact it sucks all the fun out of the game.

In truth 99.99% of the time no one dealing a self-deal comp is anything other than 100% genuine, but its normally difficult to totally relax if a non-dealer is dealing.

Remember I’m playing for the social side of things, so stress free play is what I’m looking for.

The morning after the night before.

On reflection and now thinking with my brain again I’d say my 3 options were.

  • Play a low buy-in self-deal comp
  • Play a more expensive, poor value, dealer dealt comp
  • Don’t play at all.

My brain knows it must be don’t play at all but allowing for the fact that I wasn’t thinking with my brain I should on reflection have opted for the £62 + £8 to get it out of my system.

I still wouldn’t have respected myself in the morning, but of the 2 bad choices it would have been the marginally better one.

G Cov probably think it’s all rosy right now as it is so busy, but I think give it a few months and they’ll struggle to get a decent amount of runners for the main Friday night comp at £70 a pop.

This is Coventry not the Vic.

Player Cap

Not entirely sure why but maybe staffing levels or a limit on people in the cardroom I don’t know but the tournaments currently have a 60-player cap.

So prior to the 7.30 start time they had a full complement of 35 players. (5 tables of 7) and so they were taking names for the alternate list.

But only taking 25 names because the total cap of 60 means that’s all they can take. They had the 25 by the time the comp had been running just a few minutes, so we were informed that there would be no re-entries allowed.

So now the game is a freezeout, which when you are playing for fun isn’t quite so much fun anymore.

In a freezeout one bad beat/bad mistake and your enjoyment is over for the evening.

Also, a player cap works the opposite to a guarantee because instead of setting a minimum amount it sets a maximum for the prize-pool.

My venue options

Poker wise I’ve always felt lucky regarding where I live. The Midlands has over tears been blessed with some great poker options.

Even now with Grosvenor only having 8 poker venues open, three of them are within about thirty miles of my house!

Grosvenor Hill Street is only 15 miles from me but with a £16 “clean air charge” to drive into the city and no “jockey” service to park my car that makes it a definite no.

(I feel I should alert Greta Thunberg because you know this climate change is serious if it stops me playing poker)

Grosvenor Walsall. 30 miles away.

I used to love playing there when Zak was in charge. It was a great cardroom, one of the best I’ve ever played in. Sadly over many years it has been on a downward trend.

Also having to drive through the M5/M6 junction to get there means I won’t go there unless it’s something special. Mad Marty’s memorial poker comp was the time I went there.

So that leaves G Coventry, which is 33 miles away. The Ricoh Arena is a great venue and has safe, free parking right outside the door. It can be a pain when there is a match on but normally it’s easy to get into.

God it has had its problems over the years but like an errant child I still love it.

Overall, nice customers and staff and it has always been a nice place to play.

It could/should easily be the best cardroom for 50 miles in any direction. (DTD is about 51 miles away from the Ricoh) but it steadfastly refuses to pick up the baton.

I’m not going into why, I’ve written enough about it over the years.

Why Competition is Crucial

I won’t embarrass the person by naming them, but when we were discussing the new post Covid schedule, someone said to me that Grosvenor should “put some guarantees on”.

I literally laughed out loud. Why the F would they do that?

When you’re the only restaurant in town you can serve people shit with egg on, and their two choices are eat it or don’t.

It’s the same with cardrooms.

They will never offer a guarantee on any standard comp there ever again, unless they are forced to because of competition from nearby casinos.

However, with Genting not offering poker anymore and DTD still closed it won’t happen anytime soon.

In all honesty DTD doesn’t really affect Coventry much as it’s just that bit far away.

DTD is a 130-mile round trip for me and that’s over an hour’s drive which is a long time home while fuming about a bad beat.

I’ll be honest if G Cov were my cardroom, I wouldn’t be putting guarantees on either.

The place was rammed, they were turning people away and all the cash tables (4 of them) were full with waiting lists.

Which is why they’ve squeezed the rake up a notch as well.

Dick Turpin was hung for highway robbery, yet they can charge 5% rake capped at £7 in a 1:1 game and get away with it.

Then there is a further deduction for the bad beat jackpot(s)

I did ask why it was £7 in the smaller 1:1 game but capped at £5 for the 1:2 game?

I didn’t get an answer that made any sense to me, or I’d have explained it here, but I really can’t.

I asked a friend of mine who was on a 1:1 table and he said they were raking every pot. Even small ones taking 25p from a £5 pot with no shame whatsoever.

He said he thought the average rake was about £4 a pot while he was playing.

So if everyone sat down with £80 – £100 then every 20 – 25 hands or so someone has effectively gone skint just to pay the rake.

This is one of the major reasons I don’t play cash in a casino anymore. I’d really need to be better than I am, or consistently find a soft table to beat that rake over the long term.

They get their fair share of fish playing at Coventry, but there are also some very good players there.

Laughably once a couple of years ago I wandered over to the cash table after busting a comp as I could see there was an empty seat.

I thought maybe I’d play if the table didn’t look too tough, but saw Ben Maregedze, Ryan Mandara, Richard James and Lee French etc sitting there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know them all as friends and really enjoy their company, but I know better than to sit down on a cash table with those guys.

I’d have more chance of beating roulette than that game.

Genting to the rescue?

Don’t expect Genting to come over the hill like the cavalry to rescue us anytime soon.

I’ve no idea if Genting will ever re-open any of its cardrooms but even if they do it’s unlikely to happen in 2021.

The rake at Genting Resorts World, was zero up to £20 pots and £20+ pots were 5% capped at £5.

That has to be fairer for small game players like myself.

When they first started doing poker at Resorts the rake was capped at £2 which was a big incentive to draw players in.

Competition amongst cardrooms is good for players, and Genting Resorts World really gave me some great tournament options.

As well as their Genting Series comps they had some terrific low buy-in high guarantee multi-day one comps there and it’s only 17 miles from my house!

Over the years competition between rival cardrooms has kept rakes lower and increased tournament guarantees and forced cardroom mangers to try harder and devise better offerings to attract players.

Sadly as Grosvenor is currently the only game (in any town) they can do what they like.

Post June Restrictions

Covid restrictions should ease still further later in June (assuming Boris doesn’t change his mind again) but what that means for Grosvenor poker I don’t yet know.

In a way I’m hoping for more fully dealer- dealt comps with a slightly lower buy-in, but if it is going to be £8 reg fee (and it almost certainly will be) then that in itself makes it a bad deal for players.

£40 + £8 makes it a 20% rake, and £20 + £8 is bonkers.

There are two ways to look at it.

If you take the % method, then it is a bad deal and should be avoided at all costs.

Though if you just look at the £8 as a service fee, and ask yourself is £8 a reasonable charge to be able to play in a comp for several hours and be dealt to by an impartial referee, whilst drinking their coffee etc then yes, it is.

Given the choice after playing the self-deal last Sunday then paying an extra £4 on top of the £4 I did to get a dealer would have represented good value imo.

So even though I know percentage wise £8 rake is terrible, in the grand scheme of things considering the alternative, I think it’s fair.

Poker Going forward

If I’m honest we’ve had it good over the years, because in years gone by virtually all poker players were degenerate gamblers.

When I used to play the comps at the Rainbow back in the 80’s they’d almost certainly be running the comps at a loss on dealers wages and the free food they’d put on during the break. Remember those days!

But they couldn’t care less because if it attracted 100+ players every night then on the first break you’d have to elbow your way in to get a bet on a roulette wheel or blackjack table as they’d be packed with poker players punting their bollocks off.

Also as every player bust out the comp the vast majority would go on the house games, slots, or put their name on the cash list. So yes they lost money on the comp but they made it back in spades.

That was pretty much the case right up to my days playing at the Broadway in the mid to late 2,000’s.

I once chopped a tourney 3 way on the Friday at Broadway for just over £2k each, with a stranger and one guy I knew.

After we divided the money up (you had to do it yourselves in those days) I finished drinking my tea at the table, which took me about 4 minutes.

I then wandered through the gaming floor on my way out and stopped to say good night to the guy I knew, he was playing blackjack.

As I got to the table, he was just putting the last of his £2k on, which lost, so he’d murdered the £2k he won in the comp in cold blood inside 5 minutes!

You can afford to pay some dealers and chicken & chips in a basket with punters like that!

Nowadays the average poker player has changed.

The average age of player is much younger these days and a fairly high percentage of them just go to play poker and do not play any table games or slots.

Running tournaments as “loss leaders” isn’t such a good idea anymore, though I still believe they add value to a casino in many ways.

Even in this post Moneymaker poker world, out of every 100 poker players there will be quite a high percentage who bring at least some additional revenue into the casino.

Be that gambling on house games, buying food, drinks etc. They also add some atmosphere to the casino making it appear busy when non-poker players come in.

I’ve eaten enough steak in casino restaurants over the years to feed the third world.

So maybe not the great money spinners poker players once were, but I still believe they are way undervalued by casino operators.

So going back to Genting at Resorts World, they may come to realise that by not having up to 100 poker players in the casino each evening may ultimately lose them more than its saves them in wages.

DTD

Rob Yong gets credit from me for not opening. He has put the safety of his staff/players as his first priority and although loads would love him to re-open, I think he is wise to wait.

I’m sure there are people who’d urge him to open ASAP, but the plexi-glass and masks really do spoil the experience.

Plus imagine if he opened and one of his members of staff got really ill. As much as I love playing poker there are more important things.

Summary

I’ll just say that with no Genting or DTD currently open, Grosvenor casinos have been given an open invitation to serve up a load of old pony and charge what they like for it.

They have gratefully accepted the invitation.

In truth I can’t blame them, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it, I’ll just have to lump it if I want to play live poker for the foreseeable.

I may play the Friday night £70 in a few weeks’ time, if I really can’t resist the urge, but I plan on waiting for the easing of restrictions and hopefully some sensibly priced dealer-dealt comps to be made available.

In the meantime I’ll just take a cold shower.

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