Maybe it's some weird version of the Stockholm Syndrome that afflicts housebound poker writers, but after my first trip to a live casino in months and despite a long, well-chronicled losing streak playing online I have to admit that online poker has it all over the brick-and-mortar version.
(For those of you unfamiliar with the Stockholm Syndrome, it refers to the propensity of victims of kidnappers, terrorists and the like to come to have sympathy for their captors while under their captors' control. Think Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. The syndrome was named for a hostage situation that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, back in the day.)
I know, I know. All you purists and traditionalists are grinding your teeth at my perfidy especially after months and months of bad-mouthing the online version of poker in column after column. But that's the nature of a voyage of discovery sometimes what you discover is not what you expected to discover.
Let's back up a bit.
A LESS-THAN-TRIUMPHANT RETURN
When I arrived at Foxwoods a couple of weeks back for what turned out to be a futile attempt to qualify for the $5,000 buy-in New England Poker Classic championship event, I felt like a groundhog who had emerged from his cool, dark hole, only to be blinded by TV klieg lights and deafened by a huge crowd of media types hoping to find out when spring was going to arrive. After months of sitting in my Bronx kitchen in my underwear, staring like an idiot at a computer screen, playing and usually losing to people who call themselves Mr. McPeePee and Poop-and-Poker, I thought it would be a treat to see and talk with real grown-ups in adult clothing, while, in the background, I would hear the clicking of chips, not a computer mouse.
And, for a while, so it was.
A few people greeted me warmly, and wondered where I'd been. A couple of others commiserated with me about my father. Greg Raymer said hello.
Eventually, however, I had to sit down and actually play some poker. And that, as usual, is where the trouble started.
Because I hadn't played against live competition since November, I wanted to start slowly and work my way into fighting trim, such as it might be. So I chose a $125 buy-in winner-take-all single-table satellite, with prize money of $1,100, meaning Foxwoods was raking close to 15 percent from the pool. This is one of many areas where online sites, which almost always rake 10 percent or less from tournaments and sit-n-go satellites, have it all over the brick-and-mortar establishments.
I expected the pace to seem slow after months of nothing but online poker but this was worse than slow. It was slohhhhhhhhh! How slow was it? As Moms Mabley would have said, "It was so slow, I filed my federal taxes before the first guy finally decided to fold."
DRINKING CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR OPPONENTS' MENTAL HEALTH
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I was in the No. 9 seat, and the poor guy next to me was trying desperately to deal with his inebriated friend, who "only wanted to watch." No matter what the guy in the No. 10 seat did and no matter what happened as a result his buddy would slap him and say, loudly, "Don't worry. Nobody could have played it better." And the guy would turn around and say, in a stage whisper, with obvious pain in his voice, "Tommy, I don't mind you watching. I don't even mind you commenting on my play, 'cause I'm your friend. But you are annoying the other players." Tommy, however, could not be dissuaded ... until about a half an hour later, when a cute cocktail waitress walked by. Tommy followed her into the distance as if his nose was attached by a short leash to her apron, never blessedly to be seen again.
To my mind, this is another blow to live casinos as they try to compete with online sites. In theory, the availability of other humans with whom to interact is supposed to be a plus. However, as Tommy clearly demonstrated, the benefits of human interaction might, like Mark Twain's death, be greatly exaggerated. Believe me, there are no Tommys wandering around my kitchen while I'm locked on my computer, banging heads with all those Scandinavian nuts who dominate play at Captain Cooks. Online, win or lose, is all about the sounds of silence. And that's a good thing if the alternative is a half-hour with the Tommys of the world.