Wednesday, June 15, 2005

In Memory of Playstation

Having spent well over 200 intense hours of my life at Playstation, I’d like to say something about the short but memorable chapter of my life experienced at its tables. Apologies to my vast reader base if this post is very long, but I have been thinking a lot about the club, particularly after running into so many of its displaced regulars down in Atlantic City this weekend.

Love at First Cash

My first visit to Playstation, around a year ago, was for all intents and purposes my introduction to serious live play. I had been logging many limit hold’em hours online at stakes ranging from 2-4 to 10-20, but aside from a few less than memorable sessions at the 3-6 table in Harrah’s New Orleans, I had yet to experience serious live play when I received an eVite from an infamous law school character.

This guy, whom I’ll call Ty after my favorite former Patriot cornerback, merits a post all to himself. I’ll just give him a paragraph. Ty is a minor prodigy that graduated UC Berkeley when he was 20, purportedly without opening a book, and who introduced himself to Columbia law school one memorable afternoon in our orientation course in a 150-person classroom straight out of The Paper Chase. The eminent Professor Kent Greenwalt, a man over 70 fairly high in the pantheon of legal philosophy and not known for having a particularly casual manner, looked down at his seating chart and read off Ty’s name. Ty’s response: “Whazzup man!”

That’s Ty.

At any rate, Ty often spoke (i.e. bragged) of his regular jaunts to the underground New York poker scene. In 1999, this evoked thoughts of Rounders, and certainly when he and a friend he brought in to one of our weekly small stakes games crushed it (as well as their chances of being invited back), I was intrigued. Without any source of income other than student loans, however, I declined to pursue the lead at the time. Fast forward to late last spring when I received the eVite from Ty with the details of a Saturday NLHE tourney, 30+10 with unlimited first hour rebuys and as well the location of the venue, Playstation. I called up the Korean ATM and we decided we were ready for our first taste of the poker underground. We met up in the street, sidling glances and nerves like teenagers heading to the dark side of town for fake IDs. The door right on 14th Street (a major street for those unfamiliar) by the corner of 5th Avenue had the club’s name for anyone to see on the doorbell. Apparently not scaring off eye on the other end of the video camera pointed at us, we were buzzed in.

First impression was this place was more dumpy than sinister. There were 8 felt worn tables in the large front room, which faced the street but featured solid black drapes with no window showing. It looked like it should have been smoked filled but it wasn’t because they had created a separately vented 5x10 interior windowed smoking lounge (which was pretty foul but served its purpose). The back room, which I did not see immediately, had three more tables was substantially nicer (just before the bust they crammed in a fourth table and installed a cool system where dealers could flick a switch to summon a chip runner from the front room), with hardwood floors and some natural light from the back side of the building, but still no transparent glass.

It was only 12:30 in the afternoon, but the club rapidly filled, mostly with Ty’s friends. The majority of this particular crowd were not regular players but rather like me, Ty’s friend’s curious to give it ago. We filled out membership forms and even had our IDs copied.

When the tourney began, it became apparent that there were in fact some ringers in the field, although most of them seemed to forget that inexperienced players have a tendency to call big bets from time to time. Furthermore, although the bulk of the field were new to serious live poker, many like myself had logged significant time online—this alone of course is no substitute for the real thing, but it does provide pattern recognition and leaves for the possibility that we were not quite sitting ducks for the club rounders. At any rate, undoubtedly through luck more than skill, Korean ATM and I both managed to cash a few hundred dollars after two and half hours when the final table (from 70+ players) agreed to chop on a per chip basis rather than play down to the set four places.

I was hooked.

Pardon me sir, may I have some more?

I did not become a regular immediately. First was the follow up tournament a month later, where I busted out with fewer than 20 when my Hilton sisters lost a 3-way all in pot against AQo and KJo when the river completed a straight to the jack. A guy with Kojack preflop overcalled nearly all his chips an all-in bet and a call for 80% of the UTG stack and sucked out—it still pisses me off. One for two, my next visit was not there but to Playstation’s affiliate Skylight, which closed down of its own accord last fall. Skylight spread pretty much only 1-2NL, which was not really my game at the time (I preferred limit), but since it was much closer to my new place of work, I started giving it a shot. I never played particularly well or particularly poorly during my Skylight phase, but I survived until Skylight shut down and I switched back to Playstation.

At first I’d go two or three times a month, with a few very good nights and a few very bad nights. Actually, there was a string of very bad nights. In December, although I was still up a net $200 (with somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 hours, this was a kingly wage in Bangladesh and does not include -$400 in NL sessions I had at the Korean ATM’s bachelor party at the Borgata in July), I did not feel like I was on the right track and I demoted myself to the 4-8L table.

After spending the New Year in Tahoe with my wife and other family (and logging some hours at the 3-6 and 5-10 tables at Harvey’s amidst a blizzard), I decided to get much more scientific, logging the times of my sessions and my exact winnings and working on my game systematically. Back in New York, I made sure to sit down at least one each week for a long 4-8 session. This coincided with my reading pretty much every book I could get my hands on. 4-8 was steadily profitable (1.6BB/hour), but soon became mind numbing. I figured I was ready to move up to 10-20, the next level that Playstation spread (I really wish they had spread something in between). I had been somewhat successful without approaching a representative sample in micro-sessions while waiting for the slow moving 4-8 to open but the night I decided to sit 10-20 for a real session, I got stuck for 35BB in 3 agonizing hours. This sent me limping back to 4-8 with my tail between my legs.

Once I recovered psychologically, I had to decide what my next move was. My game was not going to get better at 4-8 and the hourly rate plus entertainment value simply was not high enough for that to be my final destination. I decided that I wanted to venture back into the NL game. Ironically, sitting around the 1-2 NL table with your whole stack theoretically at risk every hand is less nerve-wracking that mixing it up in a middle level game where the swings are less under your control.

Perhaps the time spent at the lowly 4-8 served to center me—when I returned to the NL table in mid February, my nerves only bothered me for the first session, which fortunately was an up one, and thereafter I continued my practice of at least weekly play.

I continued along this path and by this time was able to recognize and remember other regular players, sorting out the sharks from the fish and generating my own table image, no longer inviting bluff re-raises just for saying hello and occasionally getting my monsters paid off by good players. My swings moderated, with winning nights becoming bigger and my losing streaks becoming shorter. Moreover, the long series of live hands began to allow me to put lost pots in perspective, more easily separating losses due to mistakes (bet too small, bluffed too much, failed to lay down) versus bad luck (set over set, 3 out suck-outs).

Wandering Eye

In April, FTain took me along to review another club, my first visit to a club outside of the Playstation/Skylight constellation—ironically, it was NYPC (I hope I’m not the jinx). Although I logged a $100 loss, this was my first inkling that Playstation had been featuring some very tough games. I mean, the difference in play in the 1-2 NL at NYPC versus Playstation was astounding. One huge difference may have been that the max buy-in was 125x instead of 250x. There were undoubtedly dorsal fins skimming along the surface in that place, but compared to Playstation, NYPC was an all-you-can-eat sushi bar. The main shift in gears is the same one you always need when you find yourself suddenly no longer facing solid players: stop trying lie to people who are not listening. Against donkeys, straight up wins, tricky tricks itself.

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably already know there are only a few more weeks in the story. The day before the music died, I joined FTrain for his review of a new club, which I now almost guiltily recall seemed such a vast step up from Playstation. Clean, crisp new chips with a 3-shark design, dealers in tuxedo shirts (at least they were in the P.B. era), a 250x 1-2 NL and seemingly the player quality (or lack thereof) of NYPC. (I think this last item is rapidly changing however as the exiled Playstation crowd seems to have discovered this new hunting ground.) I started to think I’d found a new place to haunt.

The Day of Reckoning

Well, for me it was really the day after. The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, the early market close yielded an early release from work. Fickle tramp that I am, I headed immediately to the new club and found it closed. At the time, since it was only 4:00, I figured it was because with their still miniscule player base, they had not opened yet. That may have been the case anyway, but I now know they had shut down indefinitely in response the events of the previous evening at their uptown brethren. Still looking for a game, I headed up to Playstation.

When I got to the door with my MP3 player on full blast, I pushed on the door a few seconds after ringing the bell rather than listening for the buzz. It opened directly, I later realized not because I had been cleared for entry, but because it was no longer locked. Up the stairs I shuffled, hand on the inner door waiting for the second buzz, when all of a sudden a woman—a freelance reporter on a Newsday beat—who had been lurking on the landing came down and broke the news. And there on the door was the sign confirming the action of the police state.

The agony.

My time at Playstation featured some very high highs and some very low lows (I may memorialize some of these in a follow up post) and for better or for worse, whatever I become as a poker player will owe that place a large debt (queue clarinet).

Playstation, you had your chips in with the best of it.

1 Comments:

At Thu Jun 16, 09:31:00 PM 2005, Blogger Dr. Pauly said...

Nice post.

 

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