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My First Time Playing in a Casino Card Room

27 September 2005

If you've been going to casinos as long as I have, you remember when poker didn't exactly have star quality. At more than one Las Vegas casino, I saw card rooms shrink to make way for more slot machines, move to a small room off the main casino floor, and eventually disappear entirely.

That's all changed, of course, and I wouldn't trade the new era of expanding poker rooms for any return to the old days. The era of televised poker has led to bigger, more comfortable card rooms, smoke-free rooms and operators who take care of poker players, just as they take care of their slot players and table games players.

Still, I can't help but look back with a large degree of fondness at the late 1980s and my first time playing in a casino poker room, small and cramped as it was.

I'd played poker before, of course. Quite a lot of it. In college, two-cent ante games in the dorm paid for a lot of nights out back when draft beer was 35 cents a glass. When I worked at a newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colo., we used to have nickel-quarter games --- a lot of goofy wild-card stuff. My regular Chicago game was quite the contrary --- dealer's choice, but nobody ever called for a wild card. Nearly every hand was seven-card stud, high and low hands split the pot.

Playing in a casino card room was different. There was no question of wild cards. Games offered were seven-card stud and Texas Hold'em. Period. I settled into a seven-card stud table along with six other players.

There was a "bad beat" jackpot, the first time I'd seen or heard of such a thing. A progressive meter was on the wall, just as on a bank of progressive slot machines, and the numbers mounted hand by hand. The bad beat was to be paid any time a player with a full house or better lost the hand.

As I sat down the meter was just over $20,000. This was a low-limit, $2-$4 game, so the idea of winning $20,000 was the stuff of dreams, if not realistic ones. After a few hands, I was running low on chips, and drew a warning from the dealer. "You don't want to be caught short in this game," he told me. "If you go all in and others are still betting, you can still win part of the pot, but you can't win the bad beat."

I didn't want that to happen. I reached into my pocket for another $80. Then came the big hand. A pair of Queens face down, and another Queen face up. I bet, and was raised by a fellow with a 6 and 8 of diamonds, and he was raised by another fellow with a Jack and 10 of mixed suits.

At the next card, I struggled mightily to keep my face straight. It was the fourth Queen. I looked across the table, and saw a 9 of diamonds to go with the 6 and the 8, and looked a couple of spots to my left and saw an 8 to go with the Jack and 10. I was still betting, and they were still raising.

By the time all the face up cards had been dealt, there was an obvious straight to my left. Him, I had beat.

Across the table, I saw 6-8-9-Ace --- all diamonds. He probably just had a flush. But what if that flush was straight? I'd have the bad beat --- a loser four of a kind worth 80 percent of that $20,000 jackpot, with 20 percent to Mr. Straight Flush.

The last card was dealt face down, I bet, was raised, re-raised and I took the final raise. Time to show the cards. I turned mine up and said, "Four Queens." In a shocked voice, the fellow with the straight said, "What???" He never saw it coming. The dealer just grinned.

Finally, it was the moment of truth. The diamond man paused, smiled and turned up one club and two more diamonds --- a 2 and a King. It was "just" an Ace-high flush. The dealer announced to the room, "Four Queens. No jackpot."

He was as disappointed as anyone. There went the big tip --- although he did get a little something from me.

What did I get? A little over $100, a "one that got away" memory ... and this column.

* * *

The votes are in, and I'd like to congratulate Jean Scott on her election to the vpFree Video Poker Hall of Fame. I was nominated, but strongly tempted to vote for Jean myself. Also known as "The Queen of Comps," she's author of the definitive guide to comps for low rollers, The Frugal Gambler, a sequel called More Frugal Gambling and co-author of Tax Help for the Frugal Gambler.

VpFree is a Web community with a membership of about 5,000 video poker players. You can look at the full roster of Hall of Famers at http://members.cox.net/vpfree/HOF.htm.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski