Thursday, July 12, 2007

History of gambling and Poker Elmo

Part four is complete - but since it has been so long, here are parts 1-3

A brief history of gambling and poker with Poker Elmo – part 1.

For almost as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gambler. I guess it probably started on the day the school year ended in 3rd grade. It was one of those half-days that end the year, so we were out at noon. My parents took my brother and I to the Canterbury downs (now Canterbury park) race track. I mean, they did not want to make the mistake of having kids who did not know what it mean to hit a trifecta or the daily double. They gave us $20 – enough to bet $2 on every race. But there was a catch. We only got to keep the $20 if we bet on each race. The thrill of watching the horses run down the track was amazing. I ended up with a 15% ROI and a profit of $3 – which was a pretty big deal to me back then. I was hooked.

Through my grade school and early high school years, I gambled sporadically. There were occasional poker games, although those were mostly at large family gatherings so it was not too often. For a short period of time in 6th grade our class was heavy into “flipping quarters”. In this game, you and a friend each flip a quarter in the air. One calls “even” if they think they both will end up on the same side or “odd” if they think they will not. I picked up tells on most people as they had a certain rhythm, so I could figure out whether they would get heads or tails based on whether it was heads up or tails up in their hand. After I kept winning (up over $10 - big stakes for us) the other kids stopped playing. Then my gambling ended for a while – really, for several years.

In the summer before my senior year of high school, as an avid football fan, I decided it would be a great idea to start wagering on football games. I even convinced about a half-dozen of my friends to start as well. We decided it would be a great idea to enlist in a service that predicts games (we were not very smart). The cost was not too high, but the picks were lousy. That being said, it is not like I could pick winners much better. I took a relatively major loss for a high school student and pushed thoughts of professionally gambling out of my mind, at least for moment. In the back of my head, however, I knew I would be back. In did not take long before I jumped back in …..

A brief history of gambling and poker with Poker Elmo – part 2.

After the sportsbetting fiasco, I decided that sportsbetting was not for me. But blackjack, yes blackjack, now that is where I would make money. I bought books and starting learning how to count cards. In MN, you could legally gamble at 18 and there were several casinos around. I turned 18 shortly after I graduated from high school and I was ready. Armed with a very loose knowledge of how to count cards and the willingness to risk up to $30 meant that I was destined for success. Quite surprisingly, however, things did not work out quite the way I had hoped. Perhaps it was because counting through 8 decks was not necessarily exciting, or that I spent more time hitting on the female gambling degenerates at the table with me, but my losses came as often as wins. It surely could not have been my lack of card-counting talent, so it must have been something else.

As I went off to college, I could not gamble often anymore (you must be 21 years old to gamble in most states), so my gambling adventures were limited to when I came home from school. What better thing for a broke college student to do than go to the casino? More time passed, and as I was entering my senior year of college, I realized that I should give sports betting a shot again. I was pretty smart, and surely could pick enough winners to make a profit. Well … the only positive thing I could say this time is I did not convince my friends it would be a good idea. Only I lost money here, but this spanking from the sportsbooks convinced me again that I should not gamble on sports.

I graduated from college and decided that the whole “get a job” movement was overrated, so I decided to stay in school. While I admired the tenacity of my friends who were going to take 8 years to get a bachelor’s degree, after 4 years in college I found myself in graduate school. I was quite busy with schoolwork there, and even though I lived 25 minutes from a casino, I did not go gambling too often. A few times a year I might go play blackjack, but that was it. My wife and I would host get togethers for my grad school friends and we would play micro-stakes poker. But I was pretty focused on grad school and was not thinking about gambling as any sort of serious activity …

A brief history of gambling and poker with Poker Elmo – part 3.

During graduate school, I gambled very little. I lived only 25 minutes from a casino, even, but was so focused on my studies that I did not have time to get back to my thoughts of gambling. This focus was necessary for me – I am not smart enough to coast through a Ph.D. program. There were occasional breaks where I could gamble a bit. I had poker nights with friends for low stakes (really low, like quarters low). I went to the casino on occasion, but overall I gambled little. Overall, my 4 years in grad school represent what could be known as “the lost years”.

Towards the end of my graduate studies, in June 2002, my wife was out-of-town on father’s day weekend so I decided to go to the casino as a present to myself. I took a break from the blackjack table to play 7-card stud. I had the “Thursday-night poker” book, which gave me a general idea of how to play correct stud, which probably gave me a small edge at 1-5 spread limit. I had sat down briefly before in the poker room, but felt so overwhelmed I quickly left. This time it would be different, I told myself.

I sat down with $20, not realizing that was a very small amount. The hours flew by as I kept accumulating chips. Before I knew it, I was up well over $100. Then the following hand came up. I am dealt T7-T, and I 3-bet for the max. I can’t remember the upcards, but someone almost certainly had me beat at this point. I got a 4th-stree 4 and a 5th street 7 for 2 pair. But, I had 3 spades and everyone pegged me for the flush. When I bet they all called to chase “my flush”. I felt so powerful to have them all fooled. When the 6th street T came up I had a boat and a well-concealed one at that. I kept max betting and all 4 who were in the pot came along for the ride. That was close to a $200 pot and was thrilled. In hindsight, I realize that I got really lucky to hit my boat, as others certainly had 2 pair beat, but that hooked me on poker. Further, having them all think I had a flush at a low limit game was not that important. But it did not matter to me then – I thought I was a natural poker player. Further, playing poker was so much more fun than blackjack and so much more mentally challenging. I guess this is when I could officially say that I was hooked.

We moved from Iowa to Raleigh a few weeks later, however, and I was no nowhere near a casino. My gambling days again slowed down. We moved in June, and I probably did not gamble at all until I made some friends there and got invited over to poker nights starting in April 2003(I call them friends, they probably call me “the annoying a-hole who wouldn’t shut up until we invited him over for poker”). I lost a bit the first couple of nights, but saw that I could beat the game if I took some time to learn it. The stakes were low, with $0.25-$1.00 betting limits or $5-$10 NL holdem tourneys. But, while low, the guys were great to hang out with and the stakes were high enough to keep me interested at that time. Soon, I began beating the game. Around this time I started seeing commercials for internet poker ...


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