Poker in Macau

The stories that I heard about the game in Macau made me salivate. “Imagine a table full of people with top pair disease” – one story went, referencing the hand in which a person who has a top pair will stay in the pot till the end and will pay you dearly. The stories turned out somewhat true, but one little nuance was omitted: Chinese are gamblers by nature and they have limitless pockets. (Don’t ask me how, US Treasuries don’t pay much these days). Because the amount of money in the pot, odds and the size of their stack is not the issue for them – poker in Macau is a pure gamble.

There are no structured limit games in Macau – only no limit. I think they have no notion of a limit game – if I was to tell them that such games exist they would probably laugh at it, what do you mean I can’t go all in? Who plays such a game? Another factor that unpleasantly surprised me is that they all smoke at the table. The stench was unbearable for me the first few days and I covered up my nose with the scarf. Then I got used to it.

 In the first few days I played at the Wynn and the Venetian. Because I was completely unaccustomed to the way the game is played there and because of a few unfortunate hands that I pushed all-in with I ended up in a deep hole. In AC and in Vegas the prudent way of playing for me is to be as tight as a virgin. I thought that the correct response to a super-loose game in Macau is to tighten up even more. I was wrong, but it took me 4 days and several grand to reexamine and adjust my game. In AC I fold suited connectors and pat myself on the back for the correct play, here I should have raised with them, especially in the position. Sure, Chinese will nonchalantly call your raise, but if you flop something good it will be completely undetected and then you come and collect.

 The next five days I spent at the Grand Lisboa Casino where incidentally they also had a tournament going. I haven’t had a single losing session there as I somehow got into the swing of things, which enabled me to dig out of the hole and even make some money that I ran away with. In the morning of the last day however, I decided to stop by the Wynn where I left my money earlier in a week and exorcise my demons. I succeeded with just a couple of good hands – that’s all you need in a no limit game. I keep making a distinction between limit and no limit because I’m a recent convert to a no-limit game. I don’t think I want to go back to limit – way too timid for my tastes.

 The level of looseness is unbelievable – nowhere have I seen such a reckless, cavalier game. One loose guy at my table kept going all in and losing, and kept reaching into his pocket again and again for a $10,000 chip. He raised every hand he was in, which means every time because no hand was bad for him.  

 Some of my most memorable hands:

 KQ suited – I would never allow myself such frivolity in any game on the American soil. But this was different. The previously described loose guy makes a big raise preflop as usual, and everybody folds to me. I had about $2500 in front of me and thought for a long time. Usually I’m rather quick to make a decision, but this time I took my time. He can raise with 5-7 for all I know. I figured it was very possible that just my king alone would play as I did not put him on pocket pair. So I pushed, hoping he would either fold or that I still had a better hand if he calls. He calls. The flop comes K, blank, blank to my relief. He said to have pocket 10s and mucked, showing only one. I doubled up. I know I rolled the dice with this hand, but it worked. I played the guy, not his cards. Some of my much stronger hands didn’t hold up in earlier game so it was a gamble. After such a hand I couldn’t resist the “squeezing the balls” gesture with both of my hands to the delight of locals at the table. I guess it’s international!

 The two painful hands I had that set me into a deep hole in the beginning – I flopped two top pair both times. And both times I had somebody with an ace call and catch an ace on the turn and paired board on the river – counterfeiting my two pair. Same thing two times, both times I was all-in! Going all-in rarely scares a guy with an ace, and it just so happens he catches it when I’m in a hand. Another time I slowplayed my KJ with KK4 on the flop, almost celebrating my certain victory, when it was the guy who slowplayed me with pocket 4s flopping a full house. When someone flops a set – you rarely have any idea or any recourse against it. It’s undetectable!

 But the most stunning hand I saw I didn’t participate in. The board on the river had no straits, no flushes, no pairs – nothing. One guy pushes all in with maybe $2-3K in front of him. The girl thinks for a while and calls. As she calls, the guy mucks his hand face down (!) and says something like “it’s yours”. The girl shows ace high (what a gutsy call in itself!) and the guy in panic reaches for his mucked cards, probably having folded a small pair, but it’s too late. He folded a winning hand without even showing it after pushing all in! Such reckless, stupid play!

 One time I got a pair of black pocket kings. A preflop raise of $600 comes to me, I make it $1200. There’s another guy left in the pot and he’s thinking and thinking. A few times he made a gesture as if to fold his cards, a few times he pretended he wants to go all in, asking me how many chips I have, looking at my reaction. Because he hesitates, I know my hand is the best. He obviously thinks I have AA, as I count my chips in a way that says I want him to call. The guy really takes his time as I’m becoming annoyed: he’s either indecisive or he’s acting – either way I don’t appreciate it, so I called time. Patience is not my virtue, besides I don’t appreciate the theatrics. Btw, acting is big in Macau. He shoves his entire stack. The first raiser wisely folds and I, of course, call. The flop comes A, rag, rag – all hearts. Remember, my kings are black, besides the ace made me very nervous. Since we’re both all-in we turn our cards over. He has the same hand I do – only reds! Thank God no ace, but he has a flush draw, which didn’t materialize to my relief. The guy who folded had QQ. So we split his money.

 All in all, Macau is a curious place to play, but poker is not the predominant game in the local casinos – they have much fewer tables than an average American casino and a poorer choice of games. They prefer baccarat and some unknown to me games involving dice. Like I said – they are gamblers.

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Southern Trip Part Four: Mobile-Biloxi and Poker

I wanted to get to the Gulf as soon as possible, but I thought that Mobile won’t be much fun either, so I made a wise decision to book Beau Rivage in Biloxi and get there the same day with just a short stop in Mobile. The black owner of bed and breakfast where I stayed in Montgomery has taught me how to pronounce Mobile correctly, because I was cheerfully embarrassing myself by saying it as an adjective “mobile” with the emphasis on the first syllabus. Mo-BEEL, you have to say it. Armed with such piece of intelligence I arrived to Mobile to find it, what else, empty. It was too hot and humid to walk around the city or the beach, so I just went to the local museum. They were very happy to see me. The security guard could have easily worked as a guide, because before I even started my tour he took about 15 minutes to tell me every detail, location and description of the exhibits. This time, however, I listened patiently. Maybe it was the heat or my acclimatization to Southern ways or because his accent was so quintessentially Southern that I stood there not listening to what he said but to how he said it. Anyway, after just a few days in the South I myself became very slow. Mobile was a major supply center for the Civil War for the Confederates. They even built a submarine, back in 1860s that sank a Union ship! I was impressed.

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Southern Trip Part Three (Selma and Montgomery)

“Whitey just gave you another vehicle to oppress yourself.”

Joanne Bland, a local Selma woman.

Selma was not in my original plans, but I decided to make a detour there on the way to Montgomery and it was one of the most interesting parts of the trip. Selma was a site of 1965 civil rights marches from there to Montgomery. On the day that became known as “Bloody Sunday” a bunch of marchers were attacked by police as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge.

Edmund Pettus Bridge

As I rolled into town, and it’s a very small town, you can’t really get lost in there, I ended up right at the foot of that infamous bridge, which is where I parked my car. The electric tableau on some local bank branch showed 103F degrees. The place was, already predictably, quite dead. I thought just a few quick pictures and I’m outta here. But just as I thought that, I saw a small group of protesters near the bridge and decided to check it out. I thought wait a minute, protesters in Selma in 2010? Could it be that the time stopped there? I proceeded towards them.

(Long post below the cut)

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Southern Trip Part Two (Birmingham)

Birmingham.

Before I proceed to my further adventures I’d like to take a detour into describing the Southern ways. As you might have noticed, everybody called me ma’am, which I thought was kind of cool. After a few days, “sir” and “ma’am” have entered my lexicon as well.  The trait that stands out the most is general slowness in doing things. Everything and everybody moves at such a leisurely pace that it drove me completely nuts. At a convenience store with only one person before you it might take you full 5-10 minutes (an eternity by NY standards) before the cashier gets to you. Since everybody knows each other they have to ask each other about family, how’s everybody doing, and other chit chat – don’t they have a prepared 5 second elevator speech with which to answer “how’s things” questions? Maybe it’s because they don’t have elevators. Apparently people really expect to receive a full answer from you to this kind of question. I tried everything in my arsenal to speed up the process – giving them the stare, rolling my eyes, tapping my foot – but nobody was getting the message. Come on, people, I ain’t got all day. And the thing is – they don’t even think that they are slow, it’s just a normal pace of life.

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Southern Trip Part One (Nashville)

“The parochialism of the ghettos of Gotham had not prepared her for the uniqueness of Your Working Boy. Myrna, you see, believed that all humans living south and west of the Hudson River were illiterate cowboys or – even worse – White Protestants, a class of humans who as a group specialized in ignorance, cruelty and torture.”

John Kennedy Toole,  A Confederacy of Dunces.

Well, I’m back. For my Southern trip I came prepared. I bought Jesus is My Friend t-shirt just in case, stocked up on maps to avoid wrong turns, brushed up on Southern history and was getting acquainted with A Confederacy of Dunces as I was heading to Nashville, my first stop.

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American South

Traveling to the American South has long been something I wanted to do. My fascination with South is akin to my fascination with big hairy spiders and mega-tsunamis. It’s a voyeur sport. I’d rather be a spectator than a participant. I know all there’s to know about those two, I’ve watch all the National Geographic and Discovery channel documentaries. I like the chill running down my spine when seeing a picture of a thick, rusty-colored leg of a spider hiding behind an object, because my mind draws picture of the horror creature that can posses such a leg. I remember seeing one of those in the Amazon jungle leisurely making her way out of the hole in the ground – one set of thick legs at a time – followed by Rubenesque torso, generously covered with reddish hair. I was mortified but couldn’t take my eyes off her. With the mega-tsunamis – it’s simple awe. The size and the inevitability of it, because when it comes you can’t run and hide, the best you can do is marvel at such nature’s beauty before it consumes you. In all of the recent disaster movies I tend to watch the part with the wave, over and over. It is both alluring and repelling. Alluring and repelling: South is like that spider hidden in the hole – I want to see it, but all the signs show it’s not going to be pretty and that instigates my curiosity even more.

I confess that my image of the South is perhaps superficial and stereotypical – poor, incestuous, uneducated, bigoted while at the same time courteous, polite and charming. That’s why I have to go and see it for myself and hope for more of the latter.

The image of the South in my mind is reinforced by numerous horror movies with the same plot: a group of teenagers gets lost in a hillbilly country (usually it’s Texas or West Virginia), get terrorized by the weirdo locals and the only ones to survive are those who didn’t have sex at the beginning of the movie. Message: Don’t come near us and if you do happen to pass by – there’s no fucking allowed. That’s why, in order to avoid asking locals for directions, I stocked up on local maps. Or how about that original hillbilly horror movie Deliverance from the 1970s? Remember? “Squeal like a pig!” That scene gives me shivers. It also made me realize why people in the rural states insist on carrying guns – to protect themselves from those inbreds in the woods, and not to fight some imaginary Commies.

And then the music, although it’s a topic for a separate post. Not contemporary country music – which I don’t like, but Southern rock like occasional CCR or Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio – my guilty pleasures. Although I do appreciate some bluegrass influence in my favorite British bands like Led Zeppelin (i.e Gallows Pole) and Dire Straits (see my post about Mark Knopfler).

Let’s call of the above my “preconceived notions” about South. Anyway, trip to the South is something I wanted to get out of the system for a long time. My trip will start in Nashville and from there I will be making my way through Alabama down to the Gulf, then some poker in Biloxi and will end up in New Orleans.

In the meantime I’m practicing to keep my mouth shut, or at least not to give any political statements. Perhaps, I’ll marginally pass for a Southern belle this way. Any advice on manners and language is welcome!
And this is just to give you an idea of where I’m going.

Vietnam

I liked it not. Beautiful country, least pleasant people. I haven’t met a single tourist who didn’t have a story about an attempted or successful scam by the locals. Be it a taxi driver who takes you to the wrong hotel or tries to charge you more than you agreed on, or street vendors that grab you by your hand and don’t let go – everyone had a story.
They think you’re a foreigner – you must be stupid. I always had to be on alert and that was very tiring.
What I found curious about Vietnam is their fusion of religion and Communism. Their Buddhist shrines often feature Ho Chi Minh, who was a Marxist. They call him Uncle Ho and are pretty reverent about everything related to him. They worship him as if he was a deity and somehow it all fits nicely with the religious tradition. Even commies need to believe in the supernatural! Which made me realize that unfortunately, the quest to ban all religions would be an exercise in futility. People will find a way to believe.
Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City). The war museum in Saigon was sobering. There are pictures there you won’t see in the US. There are victims of Agent Orange still being born, three generations later. I mean they are born crippled, without hands or legs. I wanted to make a picture of that building in the famous “Last Helicopter out of Town” photo, but that building (the American Embassy) does no longer exist. The trip to Vietnam made me realize why Americans lost the war. These people can not be defeated. The communal is more important than the personal, they have no sense of personal space and they always work together. At the street disputes between a foreigner and a local, they all stick together and it’s easier for an unfortunate Yankee to just pay the damn $10 or whatever they are trying to hustle out of him than to argue.
Oh, and also, there are almost no places in Vietnam with decent food. The best Vietnamese food I ever ate was here in New York.
Rich experience, but I wouldn’t visit Vietnam again.

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