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Poker in the Sticks

by Lucy Rokach |  Published: Nov 01, 2005


Recently, I paid my first visit to the Rendezvous Casino in Brighton for the last few days of its festival. I was impressed. The general manager, Campbell Dixon, is new to poker, but very enthusiastic about it. He enlisted local players to help him organise the event, and between them they did a great job. The reason I'm waxing lyrical about it is because it was such a refreshing change to come across a manager who was honest enough to admit his inexperience in the game, and smart enough to listen to his players and want to learn from them.

On the whole, my experience of provincial casino managers has been quite disappointing. They listen politely and nod in agreement, but what goes in one ear comes straight out of the other. It's as if acting on the advice of players is a sign of weakness.

What a pleasant surprise, then, when I found a player who made a stand. I was playing in the monthly £300 tournament in Walsall, and the person in question was sitting next to me; naturally, we got chatting. The alternative venue that weekend was a £750 no-limit hold'em tournament in Sheffield, where he had previously played. As a nonsmoker, he wasn't too happy about the tobacco smoke fog that enveloped the cardroom, but it was an occupational hazard that he could live with now and then. What he was not going to tolerate, though, was the management's casual approach to the tournament structure. Apparently, on past occasions, tournaments that were advertised as leisurely two-day events suddenly became one-day events, ending with a crapshoot. So, this time, rather than travel all the way there only to find himself facing the same again, he phoned the cardroom manager in advance. He was seeking assurance that they would not speed things up just to finish it in one day, but the response he got was a vague, "Well, let's see how it goes." My companion saw red. They were expecting him to make the two-hour journey, get there early (there was no pre-booking), and fork out £750 plus a registration fee, all for the privilege of playing in a tournament that they could alter on a whim. No, thank you.

I don't think he will be returning to Glasgow, either. He went there to play in a two-day event, but at the end of the first night he found himself short-stacked. Rather than come back the next day and have to gamble, he made a move and was eliminated. However, the next day, the management decided to be player-friendly and reduce the blinds! Of course, if they had announced their intentions at the beginning of the tournament – as they are supposed to – he would not have felt compelled to gamble, but would have hung on till the following day, instead. He was not pleased.

A little while ago, I had a similar experience in Salford. The dealer at my table was putting the discards at the bottom of the deck (which he had spread out in front of him). Obviously, he had been badly trained and no one had corrected him. Well, I tried, but he got stubborn, so I called the cardroom manager over. No joy there, either; that was what the dealer was used to, and I would have to accept it. What an attitude; I couldn't believe my ears! The general manager was called over, and, finally, common sense prevailed and the dealer was instructed to keep discards separate from the main deck. However, the 15-minute battle left me feeling quite disillusioned with the place, and matters were made worse when the venue decided to alter the advertised prize structure of its main tournament. Things wouldn't have been so bad if they had announced the new payouts at the beginning of the competition, when players could still withdraw if so inclined. The tournament had been advertised as a two-day event, and they had failed to get down to the final table at the end of the first day. So, in their ultimate wisdom, the organisers decided to give all remaining 18 players some prize money. Unfortunately, they waited until player 19 was eliminated before announcing the change. Needless to say, he took a very dim view of that, and who can blame him? The remaining players who had added on or topped up were not very happy, either, because now, just to break even, they would have to finish about sixth. It goes without saying that most players would not have added on had they known the score.

If a casino is making a pig's ear of its poker and the management is deaf, I avoid the venue in question and spread the word. Well-run cardrooms are to be supported and sloppy cardrooms are to be given a wide berth – as they don't deserve our business. Sadly, I find that most players are so lazy that, although they might whine about their local cardroom, they are not prepared to vote with their feet. So, one can hardly blame the management for not listening. Why should they, when their punters still keep coming through the door? Maybe it's because these casinos are in the sticks, and have little local competition, that they behave as if they are a law unto themselves.

Lucy "Golden Ovaries" Rokach has long been one of the most successful tournament players in Europe, with 14 major tournament titles to her name in the last five years alone. She hails from the Midlands in the UK, but can usually be found on the European tournament trail.