Sunday, August 14, 2005

Someone told me I should repost my Aruba poker trip report. And so I'm gonna do that while I tackle an uber post.

So here it is - from almost exactly a year ago.

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Me, at the Aruba poker tables

The above is 'Fucking River' in Spanish. And yes, I said it often.

I'm way behind on everything but I'm settling in with a few many Beck's Darks and am gonna rip this banal, navel-gazing post out, for better or for worse. Please excuse my lame attempt at writing up my trip and let's just hope I get back to my normal uber-posts sometime this week. I just need to write this up as fast as I can.

Damn, I don't even know where to start. Last week was a fast one for news: Islamic extremists crossing a new line of evil, killing hundreds of children in Russia. Mudslides in S. Carolina. Clinton a-ok after major heart surgery. ("He's sedated, but arousable"). A 6.9 quake rocked Japan.

And hurricanes. Allow me to paint a picture for you of my last evening in Aruba. Hurricane Ivan was on it's way and everything was closed up or shut down. Arubans were twitchy and dumbfounded and that alone made me nervous. A hurricane, much less a category 4 storm, had not hit this lovely island in nearly 200 years.

But the wife and I decide to head out in the evening. It was our last night, after all. The hurricane wasn't supposed to 'hit' until early morning so we made some calls and discover that only the Allegro and Radisson (poker room there) are open. The wife and I head to the Allegro with intentions of my teaching her how to play craps after my WSOP lessons with Hank.

Sadly, not enough dealers showed up for work on this historic Hurricane evening so the craps table was shut down. I reluctantly sat down at a blackjack table for about 20 minutes before my lovely lady taps my shoulder and says, "Screw this, go cash out and play poker."

Di rules.

So she drops me off at the Radisson. The weather is getting very ugly now - the main coastal road is entirely washed out and the beaches are under water due to the relentless pounding surf.

I walk down the huge half-open-air lobby to the casino entrance only to find it locked. Ouch! But then I hear a Southern twangy voice call out to me, "Come on over, the poker game has been moved here!"

I look over and find the Aruban senior poker dealer dealing to what turns out to be five American guys on a big coffee table with bottles of rum, wine and whisky strewn about. They were drinking heavily, smoking bigass honking Cuban cigars, stacking giant stacks of ten dollar chips and looked to be having the time of their life.

"You've got to be kidding me," I utter.

The leader of this gregarious crew shouts out, "This is the only game in town and we're gambling like it's our last night on Earth, which very well may be true with the fucking Hurricane on the way!"

Egads, I think. I can't make this shit up. My 'sane' internal voice tells me to get the fuck out of this open air lobby and back to the resort, where my odds of living are far better.

But my internal IGGY voice bitchslaps the voice of reason and I hear myself say, "If that booze is available to all players, deal me in boys," and they all cheered loudly.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, as HST says.

It was a 10.20 game but spread limit, meaning you could bet 20 on the flop. I buy in for $500 and attempt to get a handle on the situation. We had the Aruba dealer, a highly skilled dealer and player who spoke eight languages and was living evidence that there wasn't any shortage of food on this island.

There was an extremely cool lawyer from Chicago, dubbed Buck, who was around my age.

There were two brothers from Arkansas who I'll get to later.

The only fish (besides me, perhaps) was a shaved head Manhattanite weighted down by massive gold jewelry and a thick wallet. This guy ended up so drunk that he kept pounding the big oak table with his fists after losing nearly every showdown, flecking his white cufflinks with blood.

After settling in with a cold beer and a fat Cohiba, I decided to play raise or fold just to show I wasn't going to be muscled by this deep stacked crew. Suffice to say, the deck hit me in the face and I was racked up over $1500 by the time midnight rolled around. The only huge pot of many that I can remember scooping was when I flopped quad tens and got raised all the way down to the river. Amazing.

It turns out that the two brothers have lived in Aruba for over four years and were instrumental in opening the poker room at the Radisson and now made their livings as poker consultants. The older one, a hilarious, outrageously gregarious and likeable guy turned out to be a huge country and alt.country fan. Hell, he even loved The Gourds. It turned out he had a beautiful baritone and serenaded us the entire evening, resonating nicely in the empty lobby.

Quite frankly, it was a great bunch of guys. Erudite conversation, heavy boozing and poker make for about as pleasant an evening as I can dream up.

At 3.30 AM, Hurricane Ivan finally swept by the island. It's presence was immediately felt and heard. As the winds roared and the palm trees bent, we in turn stood up, faced the Wind and drunkenly roared, "Fuck you Ivan!" - sat down and resumed playing. Eventually the water was up perhaps 6 inches on the lobby floor so we just played barefooted and used heavier card protectors than normal. Mine was a bottle of Balashi beer.

When the storm ferocity was at it's highest, Jeanick, the dealer asked if we should move to another area of the lobby. I affected my best Merle Haggard imitation and slowly drawled, "I think I'll just stay here and drink," causing much hooting and hollering.

Arkansas man sang that song to me all night, after that.

I can't possibly explain how surreal this experience was, sitting and playing poker during the hurricane. It defies explanation. If I had the time I could perhaps write up a fine short story of this historic once-in-a-lifetime poker game. I'll add it to my to-do list, damnit.

I ended up the big winner in the game, thankfully. This more than made up for my huge loss in my first night of Aruban poker which I'll get to.

The big loser was the charming NYC fellow, who apparently had more money than God. The first few times he reloaded, he did it due to sheer drunkeness - which was dumb, but at least I understood it. The last times he dug in (he lost close to $2500) it was sheer stubberness and an understanding that a Hurricane poker game is not one you easily get up and walk away from.

But the man was a fishhead, a creature without many cells. He was like one of those big lizards running around on the island that never feels any pain when you rip off its tail, or one of its legs - or even its head, as they do down in Venezuela - because it will all grow back by dawn, and nobody will know the difference.

The game finally busted up at 7 AM. The boys staggered upstairs to NYC's room, where he had offered up Carib ganja. I deferred and decided to try to find my way back home. This proved to be extremely difficult with the roads completely flooded and all cabs banned from working. But that's another story.

I wanted to write this quick addendum, more for myself, even though it is a fascinating sidenote to this tale. The Arkansas brothers were wild guys. I wish I could move down there and hang out with them on a full-time basis. There was much talk about Aruban banking procedures and florin versus the American dollar exchange rates and how these things work in reality among other random tidbits. Because both had highly unique first names, I decided to Google them and discovered why they had likely left the states in the first place. Some crazy shit.

I feel like a tard even trying to describe this evening. Honestly, I've played in too many poker games to count but I'll never, ever forget that one.

Alrighty then, enough on my last night of poker in Aruba. Time to move on.

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As I previously mentioned, I have explored many a sunny Carib island over the years. Most of these islands, especially the larger ones, have some staggering poverty. I fully expected Aruba, with it's population of 90,000, to have the same.

Negative. Nada. No poverty. An island of wealthy and middle-class. And incredibly educated people, far beyond American standards.

All Arubans speak at least four languages. English, Dutch, Spanish, and Papiamento, a local dialect. Most speak six or seven, adding Portuegese, Italian and German. It's incredible. The island is owned by the Dutch and uses their school systems. Also, most Arubans are college-educated - all can attend university for free in Holland.

I knew something was different when the first cab that picked me up was a Mercedes.

There are no road signs in Aruba. Twice my wife and I were pulled over on the side of the road, consulting a map, (as it were) when an Aruban pulled up next to us and offered to drive us to where we were going. Unbelievable. It's a very authentic hospitality thing that Arubans pride themselves on.

The windsurfing was outstanding due to the Trade winds. The snorkeling and diving were both above average. I actually came face to face with a fish larger than me for the first time, which was quite an adrenaline rush. Hello, 5 foot great barracuda!

Hrm, I know you all came here for photos of the Creative Bathing Suits worn by the beautiful women at Aruba but I need to recap the poker scene real quick. But here's one fer ya:

Oh the Humanity

There are currently three poker rooms - The Holiday Inn, The Radisson and the brand-new Wyndham (opening nite was on Wednesday). I played my first night at the Holiday Inn. They offered a nightly $25 no-limit tourney with unlimited rebuys for the first hour, coupled with an add-on. The dealers were awful and the place was pretty much a dump, but not any worse than say, Caeser's in Indiana.

Marta, the poker room manager, was very knowledgable and friendly. It was just her employees that sucked. Example:

me to the dealer: "when is the add-on?"
dealer response: "whenever Marta says so."

Um, ok.

Also, they doubled the blinds every TEN minutes after the first hour in the tourney. Wow, that's fun.

What was REALLY annoying, though, was the guy sitting to my left in the $2-$5 blinds pot-limit game I sat in after the tourney. It was a very juicy game, with perhaps two solid players sitting. This no-necked bastard was the type that when the money got allin, would start SCREAMING for his cards to come, complete with fist punching in air and gloating post suckout.

But hell, it worked for him. He sucked out on me three times and I dropped over $800 in the game. It was a little bit of a gutcheck for me - I prefer loose, aggressive games above all others and this game was the epitome of that. And I got my ass handed to me. It was at this table that I learned the operative phrase, MALDITO RIO!

They play everything in Aruba. Be forewarned. It's like 50.1 on Party Poker. Suited J3 under the gun? Of course. 39 SOOTED? That's gold.

It didn't help matters that I discovered late in the evening that FOUR family members were playing at my table. And forget about the English Only rule - it doesn't apply. It's all Spanish, baby.

And that was that, with the Holiday Inn. I had been told the Radisson was the nice room in town and hence, that's where I spent the remainder of my poker time. A very nice room with friendly, competent dealers. And many, many newbie players.

And just to show the international power of the poker blogs, someone down there has obviously been reading the PokerGrub. There was a large sign declaring:

Win With the Worst
Lose With the Best
Players who have a 2/7 offsuit in their hand and win the hand - and players who have two aces in the hand lose - each receive $100.

The Power of The Hammer. For the record, I saw this won twice.

The Radisson games were even more loose than the Holiday Inn. I have a ton of anecdotes about these games, but this post is dragging on enough as it is. I am happy to report that I booked a win in 3 of the 4 long sessions I played there.

Oh yeah, two quick notes: the Radisson tables had a black box thingy embedded into the table right in front of the dealer. They would hit a button and the opening would slide open, they would put a deck of cards in it, hit another button and it would submerge into the table. They'd deal, gather up the cards, hit the button, grab the newly electronically shuffled cards and stick the old deck in. Pretty slick and sped the games up a lot.

One cool thing - Marta, the Holiday Inn poker room manager, snuck into the Radisson to play poker late on a Friday nite. The place erupted as every dealer and regular player obviously knew her. It was her first time ever playing there. As fate would have it, she was seated to my right and provided a littany of juicy info about the local games that I am not privy to blog about. She became quite irritated at all the players/dealers who kept coming up to talk to her. As she put it, "I should have worn a fucking hat."

She actually called Aruba poker, "Not real poker," in the sense that it's 7 to 8 handed to every flop. I didn't disagree with her and kept right on folding in Party Poker grinding fashion.

It's funny how that first evenings poker loss forced me to learn, to think, to ponder game conditions, table image, family members possibly softplaying each other, starting hand values in an incredibly loose game. And perhaps, most important - the essence of Gambling. That word, that one word, does something to people. Gambling. It makes you excited or angry or sad or elated or whatever the fuck - but it means SOMETHING to you. You probably wouldn't be reading my humble poker blog if not so. It recalls an unforgetable anecdote, a thrilling triumph, a crushing defeat. It suggests romance and danger and, naturally, risk and reward. It means engaging life - sometimes courageously, sometimes foolishly - and not seeking refuge in the safe and secure.

Taking a chance.

But honestly, I saw SO many gambling attempts at the poker table (I only heard the phrase Pot Odds ONCE in all of my table time) this past week that it didn't take much of an adjustment to start beating these games. I think poker on television has driven many hapless players to the table who simply want to experience a rush. And these folks are coming in droves from the craps tables. The roulette tables. It doesn't matter to them.

The chilling Spanish term for whatever interior disorder drives the gambling addict back again and again to the enslaving Action is tecato gusano, which apparently connotes some kind of interior psychic worm that cannot be sated or killed. I first met this Worm through acquaintances while living in Vegas in the 90's.

And in that vein, I learned a few things on this vacation:

That you do not have to like a person to learn from him or her. That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid or ignorant person.

That there is such a thing as raw, agendaless kindness.

That different people have radically different ideas of basic personal hygiene at the poker table.

Damn, I wish I had taken notes during my stay in Aruba, but hell, we didn't even bring a camera. I know I'm missing some good stories. At the very least, taking some photos of the Hurricane Poker Game would have been priceless.

Sigh. I hate writing shitty posts like this but I suppose it comes with the territory. Lack of time is preventing me from proofing or giving this a proper re-write that it deserves. Have mercy on me, gentle reader. I'll be back in typical poker blogging fashion in a few days.

Did I mention that our house-sitter infected my machine with some nasty SpyWare during our absence? I can't even read my beloved poker blogs yet. My machine is riddled and useless right now. So thanks for humoring this post. We'll return to our regular scheduled poker blogging when I can repair my puter.

Thanks to anyone reading this drivel. Let me leave you with one final thought:


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