Friday, August 05, 2005


My first full day of BARGE I played in a couple of events, neither of them poker. At 10 a.m. was the blackjack tournament and at 3 p.m. video poker.

I watched BARGE participants hug or shake hands as many of them reunited for the first time in years. For a first timer, I felt like an outsider looking into an exclusive club as I watched the reunions. But most have welcomed me in with open arms. It’s a friendly, and crazy, group.

I played the beginning of the BJ tourney conservatively, which turned out to be a mistake. The dealer was as cold as my freezer, busting consistently. So I fell behind early and could not make it out of the hole, eventually betting furiously toward the last of the 30 hands until I busted out.

When someone heard that Andy Bloch was playing in the tournament they jokingly cried “Foul!” It can be hard to keep up with a former professional card counter, after all.

I had never played a video poker tournament so I didn’t know what to expect. There were five machines set up beside the poker room, with six flights for a total of 30 players. We were each given 10 minutes to play the machines as fast and furiously as possible, dealing the cards and making decisions quickly to get in the most hands and earn the most points. I watched some people play and was surprised at the number of mistakes they made, surprised until I took my seat in the fifth flight.

Knowing that you have to be as quick as you can does make it difficult to play your best. You just hold a couple of cards and run with it. I was slow at first, but was able to speed up as I got into the flow of play. First was already out of the question, barring miraculous luck, since someone from an earlier flight had already hit a royal flush for 4,000 points. Second was 1,285 and my goal was to beat that. I hit a four of a kind early, but then went cold through the middle stage of my 10 minutes. Things looked hopeless until I hit four queens with about 20 seconds to go. I knew I was close, but scarcely had time to look down at my score. I furiously played the last few hands. My final score? 1,290. I got paid around $300 and get some special BARGE chip for that finish.

I hit the Binion’s tourney again on Wednesday, but busted out early.

Yesterday I rode the bus down to Mirage to play some 10-20, dropping $300. The Mirage hasn’t been kind to me my last two sessions. The last time I was there in July I lost $600.

The BARGErs play all sorts of interesting games during their festival, from Chinese Poke to HORSE to Bingo-La-Ha (sp?) The last one is particularly nuts. It’s played 1-2 NL and it’s not determined if the game will be played as Omaha Hi-Lo or Hi only until after the flop is dealt and bets are made, when a die is cast to determine the format. I think they ought to invent another game like this, except the die determines between Stud and Razz.

I sat down for my first live game of HORSE on Wednesday and was able to win $70. I did well at Hold’em and Omaha Hi-Lo, but not so well at Razz, Stud or Stud Hi-Lo.

John Harkness, a film reviewer for a weekly in Toronto and a poker consultant for “Tilt,” told me that a number of tournaments have been played at BARGE over the years, including one called the History of Poker that features Five-Card Stud, Five-Card Draw and Lowball. Now only Lowball remains among the three and pot-limit Omaha was added this year.

John was bitching about the speaker of the banquet Saturday night when I inquired who it was going to be. In past years, it had been noted poker authorities like Howard Lederer, David Sklansky and Mike Caro. This year? Will Wheaton, former Trekkie geek and now poker aficionado. The key is cost.

“We can’t get Howard Lederer for free anymore,” John told me. “We can’t get Phil Hellmuth for dinner anymore.”

I talked with Dave McCay again last night, after he had a struggle with a video poker machine, and asked him why so few of the people at BARGE are involved with RGP anymore. He said there’s too much noise, from the spammers to the idiots. Now RGP is left to the young hotshots, some of whom may go the way of RGPers Greg Raymer, Andy Bloch and Chris Ferguson but most of whom are the “idiots.”

“The folks on there could learn from us, not that they think that,” Dave told me.

As the Stud Shootout began last night, people spread little plastic fish all over the tables. Players began tossing them around the room at each other. Clueless to the notion, I asked Dave what the fish meant.

“It’s BARGE,” he said. “What don’t you understand?”


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