High on Poker is a poker blog by Jordan, a NYC poker player and day-time lawyer. HoP got its start when Jordan realized that if he talked about poker in his daily life as much as he was thinking about it, he would be branded a gambling addict and looked down upon by his peers. Hence, the blog, part journal, part news, and part strategy, with a liberal dose of whatever else is on Jordan’s mind.
Several months ago, I received a very random text message from my younger brother D:
“Let’s go to Milwaukee this summer.”
I responded with the very basic, “Why?”
His response, “Why not?”
And I didn’t have an answer. So we went to Milwaukee.
The guest list on this weekend of randomness were me, D and my older brother, K. We had never gone on a brothers-only trip before, but the idea of going to a random location where I had no responsibilities and could enjoy an adult meal and beverage was appealing. Being the organizer of this band of misfits, I had researched the area fairly thoroughly, looking for things to do, places to eat and drink, and hotels that would serve our needs. Of course, part of that analysis was checking for nearby casinos.
We were to fly into Chicago on Thursday, drive the 1.5 hours to Milwaukee, spend two nights in Milwaukee, drive back to Chicago for one night, and fly home Sunday morning. This is not a travelogue site, so don’t expect much in the way of details regarding what we did. But I provide our itinerary nonetheless so that you can appreciate why I figured there would be no poker on this trip, despite a casino in Milwaukee. My two brothers do not play poker. My older brother, particularly, is not what you would call a good loser. For this reason, I am not usually one to encourage them to gamble. Its not for everyone. Surprisingly, though, as we drove to Milwaukee from Chicago, I mentioned the casino and K thought it might be a good idea.
Thursday night in Milwaukee was great. We started in the afternoon by going to a restaurant within walking distance from the hotel, The Swingin Door Exchange. It was bar food, but really good bar food. The waiter was helpful too, and recommended three additional places to visit for adult beverages. We then made our way to an outdoor tiki bar in Milwaukee, which I highly recommend. It was attached to the Milwaukee Public Market, an indoor food market of sorts, with various food vendor booths, and may have been affiliated with the St. Paul Fish Company, which was directly attached to the tiki bar and provided the food for the bar. The bartender, Patrick, was super friendly, as were the patrons, and by the time we left, we had a ton of additional recommendations.
The next morning, my brothers and I all woke unreasonably early, based on our usual internal clocks. We took a drive out to a breakfast restaurant called Blue’s Egg that was overall very good. On the drive back, my brothers were discussing a bloody Mary place mentioned by Patrick (or perhaps a patron) at the tiki bar. The idea of day drinking – at least that early – did not appeal to me, so I suggested that perhaps I should drop them off and head solo to play some poker for a few hours. When they agreed, my plan was set. I dropped them off and headed over to the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, a scant 10 minutes from the hotel.
I arrived to find a tall building and a huge parking garage. It was around 10am, and I easily got a spot on the first floor of the garage. I noted the lack of a parking fee, which immediately impressed me. As I entered the casino, I saw a fairly modern, clean, and spacious casino floor. I glanced around at the table games and slots, but my mission was clear: poker.
To access the poker area, I had to take a long escalator to a second floor that also hosted off-track betting (OTB). The poker room itself probably had around 24 tables or so, with approximately 5 tables playing. Everything looked clean and new. The list had 3/6 limit, 1/3 NL, 2/5 NL, and 5/5 PLO. There may’ve been more, but those were the ones I noticed. The front desk took my name (full first name) and added me to the 1/3 list, which looked about 20 names long, most of which had an icon next to it that looked like a circle with a phone in it. I was one of maybe 3 names that did not. I asked about buying chips and was directed to a cage. I asked the cashier about the buy-in range. The min was 100. The max was 300. I decided to go for the max, not knowing what was common. With chips in hand, I grabbed a seat on the rail and slowly thumbed through a Cardplayer magazine, as though it was 2005 all over again. The magazine featured an article about WSOP bracelet holders who added bracelets to their collection last year. It made me realize that I had completely stopped paying attention to the WSOP. I was also moderately pleased that some of the featured names were people I had followed all those years ago. Maybe it isn’t all luck.
After waiting ten minutes, a new table was opened up. I grabbed the 9 seat, so that I could see most of the players with ease. The table was a mix of older white guys (50+), one Indian man, and two 30- or 40-something black guys in seats one and two. The 3 seat was an Eastern European man, and after the first few hands, it was clear that he was the action player. Later, the floor checked if he still wanted to remain on the 2/5 list, so clearly, he was playing to kill time.
After an couple of orbits, I had identified the Eastern European as an aggressive player. With this in mind, I decided to call his $6 straddle with KJc. There were a few other callers and when it got back to the Eastern European, he raised to $21 ($15 more). I was the only caller.
The flop was a beautiful KJ6, with two hearts. My opponent bet $20. I thought for a moment and raised to $60. I did not want to give him a chance to hit a flush for free. I was equally concerned that if he was not on a flush draw, a third flush card on the turn could kill my action. By raising, I was able to secure more money in the pot before the action died out. He called, and we saw the turn, an offsuit 9. He checked to me, and I bet $100. He took a while to decide, so I did my best to look scared, tucking my head down so that the brim of my hat would cover most of my face. Based on the action, I was no longer concerned about his holdings, and wanted to induce the call. Alas, he folded AK face up and said, “You must have hit your set.” Some others agreed with him. I just kept my mouth shut.
The game continued, and I remained fairly patient. Approximately an hour into the game, I found myself in an odd situation.
I was dealt K2o in the BB. There was a raise to $10 from the black guy in Seat 1 (UTG+1), and by the time it had folded to me, there were 6 players in the hand. I did the math. With $61 in the pot, I only had to call another $8. While my hand was garbage, if I were to hit, I could potentially get paid off big. Just as importantly, if I did not hit, I could easily fold. I made a crying call and saw the flop, Q22. Sweet! I checked, knowing full well that with this many players, someone was going to bet. Sure enough, Seat 1 continuation bet to $25. The Indian player in middle position called. It folded to me and I decided to raise to $100. Seat 1 called; the other gentleman folded. The turn was a Jack. I open pushed for $160. Seat 1 called and showed KQo. The river was a brick and I won the pot. The Indian gent said, “I had pocket Queen Jack. If you kept me in the pot, I would’ve been all-in on the turn.” The SB said, “I had Q2 (for the flopped flush).” I just shrugged. If my grandma had a schlong, she’d be my grandpa, but that’s a big if. Meanwhile, Seat 1 went from being one of the big stacks to a shortstack.
The very next hand, I was dealt T5s in the SB. Seat 1 bet from UTG and once again got a slew of callers. I decided to call as well, cognizant of the implied odds and flush with chips from the last hand. The flop was all spades, giving me the flush. I checked and Seat 1 bet out $11. One player called, and it folded to me. I raised to $35, concerned about someone drawing out on me with a higher spade. Seat 1 called all-in for slightly less than my $35. The caller folded. Seat 1 showed 67s, for a lesser flush. The turn and river were inconsequential, and I won the pot, felting the player.
After that hand, Seat 2 looked across from me and said, “Smile, man. You are winning.” I had kept a relatively calm demeanor, and responded, “I don’t want to be that guy,” implying that I was not going to gloat when someone else had just been felted. “Besides,” I added, “I don’t get upset when I lose either.” He seemed to accept that. I don’t recall the specifics, but I had lost a pot or two already, albeit, no large ones, and I had remained relatively calm. I finished with, “Besides, the cards are doing all the work. I’m just getting lucky.” I said this primarily because I prefer to develop an image as a bad player. I was concerned about players avoiding me if they thought I was actually talented. I’d much rather they think I was a luckbox who would eventually give back all my chips when my K2o or T5s doesn’t hit.
I only have notes for one more hand. I was dealt 25h in the BB. Seat 1 had limped UTG. The Eastern European guy had raised to $12, and five players had called, so I called as well. When the action got back to Seat 1, he pushed all-in for $31, or another $19 on top. Everyone called once again, so I begrudgingly paid the extra $19 for a chance to win over $180. The flop was 663, with two hearts. I had visions of hitting the high hand promo or bad beat jackpot. The Eastern European bet $40, and I was the only caller. The turn was an 8d, which creating a diamond flush draw to accompany my heart flush draw. The Eastern European bet $60 and I called. The river was a Td. We both checked and the Eastern European showed 55 for the win. That was a pricey hand, but they cannot all be winners.
After a short while, I racked up and thanked the table for a fun game. I was up $351 in a little under two hours. I went to the cage located in the poker room and received my cash. Interestingly, the cashier called the floor to check her count, which, at $651, did not seem like a particularly high cashout warranting the floor’s supervision. I tipped her the extra $1.
The walk to the parking lot was uneventful, and I made my way back to the hotel, where I quickly stashed my cash and met up with my brothers at the tiki bar down the block from the hotel. In the same two hours that I won $351, my brothers had hit three bars. The rest of the day followed the same trajectory, including a visit at the impressive Lakefront Brewery (great tour) and Miller Park for a Brewers Game.
There was no more poker on this trip, so that’s all you get, my dear, sweet readers. After playing, I’ve thought a lot about how I really wish I could play live more frequently. Underground clubs no longer appeal to me, though, and there are no casinos within a short drive of my home. Its just another reason why Milwaukee was a wonderful place (in the summer).
It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into old patterns. When online poker effectively died in the US, I found myself with a lot more free time. I started to play more video games, do more art, and my home was well attended. Then something happened.
Dave Roose of many a poker trip texted me about his friend’s online game. $40 buy-in paid via a third party system to correspond with “play money” tournaments on Pokerstars. The group ballooned to 30 or so members but games rarely got more than 10 and sometimes we could not reach the requisite 5. Like any home game, though, it had its own momentum. Early on, games started once or twice a week. Then people got the poker bug and there were stretches of nightly games for a week or two, sometimes with 15 players and enough rebuys for 23 total buy-ins. Inevitably though, players either realized they weren’t winning, got bored, or took it for granted that a game would always be available, and the game dried up. Lately, it’s been hard to get a game going more than once a week, if that.
Unfortunately, I had caught the bug for poker again, so when the home-online game began to dry up, I found myself with an itch but no scratch. I was concerned about choosing a random poker site because of what happened with the UIGEA and concerns that anyone in the market would be a two bit operation that would abscond with the funds. But then I learned from a group chat with some poker bloggers (former poker bloggers?) that they were playing on a new site without any issues. I was very uncertain of real money poker post-UIGEA, but the new site had a weird loophole system built into its funding scheme and used a legitimate third-party fund transfer service that, at the very least, I knew was legit. I attempted it cautiously, expecting there to be exorbitant fees or cash out issues, but after the first successful deposit and withdrawal, I was off to the races.
Since then, my play is practically daily again. I’ve also had solid results playing mostly SNGs and MTTs at the $20 to $50 buyin range. I’m still waiting for the other foot to drop. The sites payment processor changed, for example, so I did a new withdrawal to see if the change signaled a death spiral akin to the older sites post UIGEA. Fortunately, it all worked thus far and I’m playing with profits.
I find myself of two minds about my re-entrance to online poker. In moments like this or when I’m simultaneously playing two MTTs, doing dishes and listening to a podcast, I tend to wonder how healthy this is. I love the game with a passion, but is playing nightly healthy, mentally? When I used to think of going pro, the thing that stopped me was the reality that even when I’m ostensibly cool and collected, my mood can be affected by my results or play. I’ve had many a night lying in bed stewing over a bad call or beat. But most of the time, I’m happy to have my favorite pastime back. One in which I can exercise my brain, my need for competition, and perhaps most important for making it feel worthwhile, win money. That money aspect cannot be overlooked. I’m on a good run. I have returned to a place where I legitimately feel better than most players or fields with the results to confirm it. It’s easy to fool oneself when playing poker, blaming losses on bad luck and wins on skill, even if the reverse is true. But my consistent success against large and small fields has reminded me that I do have a mind for this game, even if the game is a fickle bitch.