in Casinos

Dead Money – World Poker Tour

“In order to live you must be willing to die.” Amir Vahedi

i’m only two hours into my first World Poker Tour tournament and already on life support. Kept alive by cruel hope, and a cute, high-heeled nurse, who arrives at regular intervals to ease my pain. I take another dose, savor the burn, and fondle my remaining chips.

Two seats down from me a tall Aussie in wrap-around shades contemplates calling the preflop raise. He’s done some damage tonight a la Gus Hanson. That is to say, playing any two cards. His 8 6 suited’s about to break an old man with aces. Poor old guy doesn’t see it coming. How could he? Only a lunatic would call a big pre-flop raise with 8 6. Online, I see that move all the time. In Panama’s Majestic Casino you expect tighter play.

The cards fall. Old guy bets a third of the pot. Not enough. The Aussie calls. On fourth street the geezer finally gets serious. He makes a pot sized bet. Too late. The Aussie’s caught a straight. He re-raises. After a long think the old man pushes in and the Aussie takes down another unlikely pot.

Any two cards is a difficult style to play against. It’s hard to put an opponent on a hand. Simply put, if they’re catching cards you’re fucked. If they’re not you’ll grind them down, bit by bit. I’m more comfortable playing against the fat, Cohiba-smoking man seated opposite me. He’s a maniac, and our chip leader. All night he’s been stealing with the big re-raise. To beat him I just need to be patient. Catch a hand. Pull the rope-a-dope. Let the maniac destroy himself. I tell myself, let the cards come to me.

So far the cards haven’t come. This is my first live tournament. Until now I’ve only played online and in home games. I learned poker from my dad. Dad loved poker. He was a merchant seaman. He’d play poker with shipmates, sometimes while transiting the Panama Canal. He died when I was a boy.

No wonder I’m in Panama playing no limit holdem. Tonight my goal’s simple. Hang around long enough to get a feel for tournament play. Play tight, aggressive. See if I can make the final table. So far I’ve spent the first two hours folding, sipping my meds, and watching for tells. On my left a striking Latina catches my attention. I don’t need Mike Caro to tell me what she wants. She has that look.

“Maya,” She says with a big smile.

“Cool name. Cojito.”

“You first?”

“First? No, my fifth.” I say, rattling the cubes in my drink.

“No, I mean, tournament.”

“Ah, does it show?”

“I can tell virgin.”

She gives me a knowing smirk. I should know better than to underestimate opponents. Or get distracted by flirtations. But I’m only human. (OK – a little less than human). After two hours I believe all the players at this table are beatable. Maya hasn’t given me reason to think she’s any different. She’s mostly been limping with crap cards, hoping to get lucky, bucking pot odds, calling too deep into the hand when she’s already beaten. I’m guessing her money making talents lie elsewhere.

Just before the break I pick up AJ of spades. Not a super starting hand but my best so far. I’m one off the button. No one’s raised. More importantly, the blinds are eating me alive. I raise big; hoping to steal from all the limpers and blinds. Instead, I get four callers. “Shit, this can’t be good” I think.

The flop comes all rags: 8 of spades, 7 of diamonds, 2 of hearts.

I have only a vague idea how much is in the pot. Online the money adds up after each round. You just glance at the total to figure pot odds. But live, you have to do the numbers in your head. It’s not hard, but it takes some getting used to. There are a lot of things going on at the table. Reading the board, the players, figuring pot odds, flirting, and of course, trying to understand the dealer’s Spanish.

It’s checked to me. I have a backdoor flush draw, two over cards, and I’m the pre-flop raiser. I bet what I think is a little over half the pot. A standard continuation bet. I want them to believe I have top pair. It’s the same bet I make when I do have a made hand. The Gus Hanson wanna-be, maniac, and hottie, all call. Hmmm., que paso? It starts to feel like I’ve wandered down a dark tunnel.

Fourth street: 5 of spades.

There’s a possible straight showing on the board. That is, if anyone’s crazy enough to be playing 9 6. The Aussie is. He’s well into his cups. He seems to have an unnatural fondness for Balboa beer. My best guess is the maniac and Aussie are drawing to a straight, or have already caught a small pair. It’s quite possible one is holding Ax. I’m dead if either are slow-playing trips or two pair. I think briefly about shutting it down, and asking the hot nurse for more medication. But I’ve got too many chips committed. I can’t worry about my prognosis. “Make your best read and go.” I tell myself.

Surprisingly, it’s checked to me again. A trap? Weakness? I’ve got a nut flush draw, two over cards, and outs. I don’t sense any strength out there. I either take this pot now or its over. I move all in, as if I’m worried the flush will hit the river. Respect my authoritah!

One of the benefits of playing tight for hours is that when you finally make a move even maniacs think you’ve got the goods. Both men quickly fold. Only my flirtatious friend calls. “Has my sexy savant found something to like in this mess? Or is she onto my bluff?” The good news; I’ve got her covered.

The river: 9 of diamonds.

The final card is worthless to me. But anyone holding J 10 has a straight. The Aussie looks pained. I’m guessing my move at the pot stopped him from drawing to an inside straight. Maya flips over QJ suited or queen high. She’s been drawing at the same flush, hoping for a miracle. Tonight there are no miracles. My AJ (ace high) takes down a fat pot. I feel like one of those Andes crash survivors just after they’ve gone cannibal. Adrenalin surges in my veins. I want to scream. I’m alive!

Maya smiles sweetly, and with a shrug leaves the table. My eyes follow her tight ass out the door. I can see curious faces pressed against the window, watching the drama inside unfold. The maniac complains bitterly that he’s folded top pair. He tires to snag the discards to show us A 9. Prompting a rebuke from the dealer. And a menacing glare from the pit boss. I gather my chips trying to look bored.

Thirty minutes later we break.

(Part 2)

Care to Comment?



  1. Hmm, poker. Could be awhile before you can afford that northern junket you keep talking about. I, for one, am not holding my breath.

  2. ha – you're funny. you know i lost that night, but i'm up over 2k this year. and, it's winter in Panama. things slow down this time of year. no more wpt poker until next fall. figured i might as well come calling on my friends in the great white north.

    i'm reluctantly flying out next week. can you hold your breath that long?

  3. Cojito…..Well written post….but clearly you are not "dead money." I'll bet you've done better since.

    If you are in PC and see this, I'm flying in early on 3/1/07 and will be there 3/2 and 3/8. Any tourney's to $100 around? You didn't mention the El Panama Casino. They were supposed to open a card room with a running ring game in 10/05. Didn't it ever happen?

    Thanks again for the neat contribution..Paul.

  4. i'll try and check it out for you. i want to have another go at it anyway. i've only played online for the last year. i can make $500- $1000 a month online with little risk ($20 s+g's) – and no annoying cigarette smoke.

    still, live action's fun. last time i checked (Nov '06) the majestic was running several weekly tourneys from $20- $100. and the new veneto casino was running weekly s+g's too. most were no limit.

    i think you should be able to find some action. if you play you'll probably be matched up with semi-drunk tourists, internet players, gambling addicts, off duty hookers, and a few older sharks. it's an interesting mix.

    the panama hotel is very old. i haven't spent much time in their casino. they just re-modeled it last year though. and may have added some hold-em tourneys. when i was there early last year they only had Caribbean style poker games.

  5. just a quick update for anyone interested in Panama poker scene. the only regular live games are at the veneto casino poker room. usually 2-3 tables per night. $100 min buyin…some tables $200 or $500 depending on the players. Big money action…not for the novice or feint of heart. but profit potential galore.

    fiesta casino (hotel el panama) remodeled much of the casino on the bar end. spent 2-3 months remodelling upstairs for a poker room…held one tournament…then shut down poker. go figure. most of these casinos are run and marketed very poorly. i hear the new VIP bar up there is now for the casino execs and their buddies to hang out…or what few "whales" come through to play there.

    small rebuy tournaments every other night at the majestic casino…and the royal casino (marriott hotel). not necessarily a good test of poker skill than pure luck and more money than the next guy to invest with the multi rebuys. none of them seem to be able to get a live game going before or after tournaments on a regular basis.

    poker dealers in general suck in panama…no training…and no motivation since they dont keep their own tips. this is a continual frustration…but the action- especially at veneto – makes up for the frustration…sometimes.

    oh…live games usually starting at 6PM at veneto these days. 2nd game starting usually by 8:30PM. Ok…that about covers it for now if you are tired of playing online…

  6. i meant to add…no limit holdem and omaha are the only games in town. anyone interested in a limit holdem cash game on a regular basis?

  7. tman – i'd be up for a regular game. i normally play no limit online. tho' i've played limit at $1 $2 limits.

    i've played the majestic no limit tourney. and finished in the money. didn't think much of the payout ($200 for 3rd, $600 1st) considering how many were re-buying.

    i didn't re-buy. but most did. with all the loose, crazy, and aggressive betters at the beginning, if you catch some cards you can really accumulate some chips.

  8. cojito…if you can place in the majestic MULTI MULTI rebuy tournament without rebuying…you'll be dangerous in a good limit game:). We are trying to talk a local venue into offering 1-2 limit games to teach and develop new players so they wont go broke learning…and maybe…just maybe…find enough gringo players who remember the good ole days and the value of a good 10-20 Limit holdem game. Cant be any more expensive than playing the wild NL games at the Veneto.

    SEe you at a table soon. Hope I recognize you…