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Poker at the Ocala Jai-Alai in Florida

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  • Poker at the Ocala Jai-Alai in Florida

    Ocala Poker at the Jai-Alai
    The drive from Inverness up to this poker room was supposed to take me about an hour, but it took an extra fifteen minutes because I went in the afternoon and the roads were pretty busy. I take mostly good highway I 75 and FL 200 E, and if there is no traffic coming out of the stores and crossroads it is a faster journey. Coming home at nine PM it was an entirely different road. I rarely had to stop at a red light.
    I don't like driving after dark, but on some of these Florida roads they have installed reflectors for lane markers and it really looks like they have lit up the road, like a runway at an airport, marking all the lanes. It makes the driving very easy. I suppose such reflectors would not do well up North.

    Everything is very downscale in this poker spot. There is no glitz. In one section gamblers bet the horses and in a large room others play poker. There is a place that must sell food when there are more people. The whole place felt like the areas around sports stadiums, and that makes sense because this is a sports stadium for Jai-Alai.
    I watched a couple guys playing for practice.
    There is very little signage. I had to ask where the poker room was located. I suppose that they just assume all the players know where they are going. Even getting out of the parking lot was a bit difficult because there was no clearly marked exit sign and I kept getting into corners of the lot where it looked like there should be an exit, but there was only more parking.
    There also are no slot machines. What Florida did here is devise a way to offer gambling that is gambler friendly. Smart gamblers, whether they be good handicappers or good poker players, have a chance at making money and are not simply at the mercy of negative EV slot machine games.
    Here the gambling establishment does the gambler a service rather than exploiting them with a high house advantage that grinds down most bankrolls over time. They are paid for the service, but somehow it just seems less like the government is setting up a system to trick its citizens when the government takes a piece of the profit here.
    I suspect he profits are less, so it does mean less glitz, but in my mind it is a better route to take than having government take a large taste as casinos redistribute the wealth using the slot machine.
    In New York. by contrast, it is even against the law to have a machine pay over 100% as do many of the Vegas VP machines. There the government wants to make absolutely sure that their taste is protected. The advantage player has no chance.
    Today at Olcala there was only No Limit games. I usually play limit in casinos. But there was no free booze either, so I just decided to play. The only open seat was at a 2-5 NL game with $200 minimum buy-in.
    I have never played that high stakes. But here was a good place to try.
    I expected I'd lose my buy-in quickly and be heading home with my tail between my new stow and go Dodge seats, but it really was not a bad game.
    Most of the players waited for good hands. Some of the players were poor. Others were good. I did not see anyone doing anything tricky. or making bets I could not understand. One guy was a bit aggressive, and he did what my poker buddy Gregg does, make a bet on almost any hand he was playing just to see what the playing field was like.
    So, if he was in a hand, it was most likely a twelve dollar hand.
    This made it hard to judge what to bet. In a hand where I flopped a nice straight and was on the big blind, I checked, let him bet his after flop twelve dollars, and then raised to thirty. He folded. I don't know if he was betting to see if he could steal or if I had been so tight that even this reasonable raise was too much after all my bad cards and tight play. Clearly here I should have slow played my straight, but I was figuring that if his hand was worth twelve, it was worth thirty.

    I do remember getting pocket Aces when I was in early position and seeing them hold up. I did not bet them freeflop and under the gun. I had been so tight for so long that I knew if I bet under the gun, I would be left with no one. Had anyone bet, I'd have gone all-in, and I expected to get twelve dollars from the one guy, and do it then, but everyone just limped in this time.
    I did bet heavy after the flop when there was mild action from the guy who always bet into weakness. The flop was a rainbow of unconnectors, and I bet a hundred dollars, really representing trips now, and took down the small pot.

    At one point after a long stretch of playing nothing, I held some junk. I won with my 8-10 of clubs that caught an open ended straight, but then caught runner-runner for the flush. I had outs for the straight as well.
    A few at the table told him he made a bad call, but he explained that he put me on the river Ace and had held two pair. The table knew I had caught the flush. But a runner-runner flush on this table was hard to figure so I guess the guy figured on the Ace. I liked showing those low cards because it made me a bit harder to put on hands I might choose to play.

    I moved to a 1-2 NL game where my $200 was the maximum bet allowed. That felt much better to me. I had some luck, but not with pocket aces. A king came on the flop and again on the turn. My Aces were cracked. I had played so tight that the guy with trip kings just made value bets.
    I had some other wonderful hands, but few people to call me.
    In one hand I held A-7 suited in hearts. No hearts came but the Ace and 7 hit the flop. I bet, and ended with one caller, a guy who had flopped trip 8's.
    Another Ace came on the river, I was called on my all-in bet; my full house the winner over his.
    He did not have much money to call my all-in bet, but I made a little profit. Too bad he did not have $200 in front of him.
    I had a better sense of how the betting should go in the smaller NL game. The players here were just average. No one was terrible, but they played all sorts of stuff. There were no aggressive players. That is an easier game for me. I can't play comfortably when there are maniacs going all-in often.
    Around six the table was thinning because of folks going home for supper and others playing the tournament, so I played the tournament. $35.
    I did well in the beginning, but then my stack drained.
    My worst loss was holding A-K of hearts, with nothing of value on the flop, but still calling an all-in bet. It was strange because my opponent with his pocket tens all but told me he had them. He said, "Well, I am supposed to go all in here," but it was clear that he did not want to. He did make the bet and because it was a tournament, I really had to call him and hope to get lucky because my stack was dwindling.
    My best hand was holding pocket 4's and flopping trips but three spades. I bet, but watched to see if there was any real spade action. None happened but I had callers. I decided to hope to catch a bigger pot rather than to push out chasers. One guy kept betting decent amounts and I called. On the river I had a full house. I checked as I had done and then went all-in over his healthy bet. I never saw his cards. I was not afraid of the spades but I was afraid of trip jacks.
    The all-in added about a third to the pot, so if he had enough to really bet what he had, he should have called me, but if he lost, it would put him out of the tournament. He took a long time.
    He was very puzzled. He could not understand my betting. He folded, but he kept chewing on and on about what could I have had. He put me on a flush draw that busted, and so thought I had bluffed.
    I never showed and I never corrected him.
    Others told him they did not think I had a flush draw.
    I stayed quiet.

    I did bluff one good player when I held K-4 of hearts and the king but no hearts came on the flop. The turn came and I put the guy on a King with a bigger kicker, so I went all in. Well, this was one of the better players at the table and he took a long, long while trying to read me. So, I looked away mostly and then I let my right hand shake a bit, a tell that says I have good cards. Meanwhile, he stacked and restacked and looked ready to call, but I could tell that was all just to see how I looked when he did it. Finally he folded. I think at that point I might have had a tell that I had bluffed when I collected my chips. It was a good pot and kept me in the tournament for a good while longer.

    So I did very well on that hand, but it all drained when the blinds went up and when the time came for everyone to ante each hand.

    So, I had a good bit of fun, ended up $37 which must have covered my gas to get there and discovered a good place for me to play some no limit.

    The players were more friendly here, more like limit players. There were a few who never said anything and just listened to music in their ears, and never responded to any hand. They were the better players. But there were others who told a few stories or made a few comments. And there were plenty who just told everything about how they played, what they held, why they played the way they played. Information was just easy. I did not have to look for tells. The players told.
    I think what happens in a poker room where only no limit is offered is that there is a real mix of players and folks who would play Limit, were it offered, are playing No Limit, but not with poker faces.

    I ordered one drink, an orange juice. I thought it would be free, but it cost $2.25. Players cannot bring outside food or beverage in to the poker room. Well, next time I'm just taking that styrofoam cup with me and filling it at the water fountain.

    Overall, I liked this place, and I also missed Vegas.
    The culture of the people was such that it was easy to play with them.
    No grumps. No whining. No temper tantrums. No macho bravado. No gasconade.
    Friendly chuckles. Folks who laugh when randomness does not go their way.
    We were not testing our manhood here. We were just playing a little cards.

    And folks were not chewed out if they played junk as I was in Niagara Falls. They played junk often.
    I remember at the 2-5 table seeing a pot split by two guys who held K-7 off suit and not one of them was in the blind. It was not a huge pot, as they were shy of betting much on their low kickers, but it had some money in it.
    Unlike Niagara Falls, I did not get chewed out for winning with a hand of junk.

    I never understand the need to point out to a player that they were stupid for playing junk. When that happens I know the game is more about proving who is the smartest than it is about playing cards. If a player is playing junk, it seems ill advised to embarrass him. He will either leave or stop playing junk. Either way he is a more formidable opponent.
    Light teasing between friends is a different thing.
    Or helping newbies at the 2-4 table, so they learn a bit of the game.
    At No Limit, it is best to just say, "good hand" when the guy catches his junk on the river. And I heard that said when junk was played here when I took it to mean, "Keep playing that junk to the river, and I'll get you eventually."

    It was nice to play no limit and not feel much out of place. Many of the players at my weekly game Gregg's game up North are much better than many of those I faced at the tables here. However, there were fewer pots with multiple all-in bets and fewer went to the river here because the stakes are higher, and up North I know how each guy plays because I play with them every week. That makes a huge difference in No Limit.

    I'll certainly go back. I may go on a Wednesday when they told me that the old folks buses come in and the place fills up with players. Then they will have a 2-4 game as well. And then I expect there will be stories and I will be able to talk a bit. I just don't have much time to visit at a NL game. There is too much to study and watch. It takes a good while to see how the others play, especially since we see what they play much less often than at limit.