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Monday, November 01, 2004

A Pleasant Poker Surprise: Turning Stone
So B and I were at a wedding this weekend, our 4th in 5 weeks, and as I lamented a couple posts ago, all the traveling has meant very little poker for me on the weekends (don't get me wrong -- seeing so many friends in such happy circumstances has been great -- I'm just venting my "degenerate gambler deprived of poker" feelings here on the blog). However, this past weekend the wedding was in Geneva, New York. That's about a 6-hour drive from Providence, so we left around 3pm on Friday. About 6:30pm, we started seeing signs for Turning Stone Casino, near Verona. I convinced B that we should do a quick pop-in and see what their poker room looked like. It looked pretty nice, and we agreed that, barring any really ridiculous hangovers Sunday morning, we should try and play a bit there on our drive back to Providence.

And play we did. We arrived at 1pm. From the outside, Turning Stone looks much better during the day than it does at night. At night, it lacks both the fun, excessive neon lighting that screams "casino" and the more practical, tasteful lighting to provide a well-lit parking lot. But that is small criticism: The inside of Turning Stone is quite nice. It felt to us like a mini-Foxwoods, and since in our opinion Foxwoods is a bit too freaking huge for its own good, this is a good thing.

The main poker room has 15 tables, 11 of which were occupied when arrived on Halloween Sunday. The poker room has also evidently claimed the "Torch Lounge" next door -- that is, what used to be a enclosed bar and lounge has been cleared of regular tables and filled with about 6 poker tables. I think this is where they play their daily tourneys.

The main Turning Stone poker room also has 3 wide-screen, flat-panel TVs hanging on the walls, and this was a big part of our decision to play there on Sunday. If we drove straight home, we would miss almost all of the Sunday NFL action. But with the stop at Turning Stone, we could both play some poker and see whatever 1pm games they had on (as it turned out, Giants-Vikings and Eagles-Ravens).

B and I were surprised at the number of different games being spread -- for Hold'em alone they offer $1-$3 spread-limit, $2/$4, $3/$6, $5//$10, and up, along with $100 buy-in no-limit. They also were spreading Stud, Stud/8, and Omaha. That's quite a lot for a seemingly small casino. (Foxwoods and most Vegas rooms don't offer that range of low limits.)

When you buy in at the cage, you have to pay $2 for a poker room card. The cards says "Poker Room Club" on it, and when I asked about it at the tables the players and dealers seemed to think it was a way to skirt some state law -- that by paying $2 for the "club" card the Turning Stone poker room was technically a private club or something. No one seemed very sure about this, though, even the dealer I asked. (And if private poker rooms were really legal in NY, wouldn't there be more of them? I don't know the state laws well enough to really comment.) What they were sure about was that you could show your card (which is only good for one day; you have to buy a new one every time you play) at the poker desk when you left, and they would give you a $3 meal comp, enough to buy a hot dog and a soda at the Nathan's cart located near the poker room.

B and I both signed up for $3/$6. There was a short wait, so we played $1-$3 for about 15 minutes, then were transferred, to different tables. My table was just about ideal at first: Very weak-tight, with one woman seeing every hand to the river. She dropped about $300 in the first hour I was there, and I got about $100 of it. By halftime a few more no-folders sat down, though, which made everyone looser and I was reduced to having to show down the best hand, which I know is more profiatble in the long run, but it makes a single session less interesting. I ended up leaving up $79 -- B showed me up by leaving with an $89 profit.

The crowd, even the no-folders, was mostly older than I've seen at Foxwoods or in my trips to Vegas. I'm not sure whether this was because it was upstate NY, or because it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday, but I'm guessing the latter. The aggression factor was also much lower than at Foxwoods, which tends to have a large share of "hard guys."

The rake at $3/$6 and $1-$3 was $3. It was not taken in increments, and their signage referred to it as a "drop" rather than a rake (is this a recognized distinction?). They took $3 if a turn card was dealt, otherwise they didn't take anything. I figure that this rake is near-unbeatable at $1-$3, but for $3/$6 it didn't seem too bad. Foxwoods rakes $4 in increments at $2/$4 and $4/$8, but since the games at both levels are so loose, the full amount is usually taken out of the pot. Still, if you won a small pot a Turning Stone it did hurt to fork over $3 of it.

The weird part at Turning Stone was that when you won a pot, the dealer would shove the whole mess of chips to you, along with a small button. You then placed $3 on the button (or $4 or $5 if you wanted to tip), and gave it back to the dealer. Why in the world would they do it this way rather than just having the dealer take the rake out, as in most poker rooms? The most obvious effect of Turning Stone's procedure that I could see was that, if you were a casual player who was pretty much oblivious to the rake, as many are, this procedure made it clear just how much was going to the house. I didn't ask at the casino, but on the ride home B and I speculated that there must be some legal technicality involved -- like maybe by placing the chips on the button and giving it to the dealer, you're making a "voluntary donation" to the "poker club" you've paid $2 to become a "member" of. (Google turned up on interesting page on the issue here.)

All in all I found Turning Stone to be a very pleasant casino, at least by non-Vegas standards. The most glaring problem is that the casino does not sell alcohol at all. Actually B and I went to college in upstate NY and later remembered that students sometimes made road trips over to Turning Stone, because since they didn't sell drinks you only had to be 18 to play (we never went because we were broke back then :).

There were many positive points to offset the lack of alcohol. The cocktail service was excellent, even if all they offered was soda, water, and coffee. The cokes came with cherries in them -- sounds dumb but it was a nice touch. The staff at the poker room was very nice, in an upstate NY way that I had kinda forgotten about.

Also, it was Halloween, and the cocktail waitresses and many dealers were in costume. The cocktail waitresses brought candy around at one point. There was also a costume contest being held so all around the casino folks were walking around in some crazy getup. So instead of just a really boring 6-hour drive, we got in poker, football, and Halloween fun -- what more could I ask for!

Although we were tempted to stay until 6pm for the judging of the Halloween costumes, B and I left around 4pm at the end of the early NFL games. We talked poker for much of the ride home, and tried to think of the next time we might be up that way again. In the meantime, I am fired up to play some more live poker and am definitely going to tackle the Foxwoods $4/$8 games, possibly this Wednesday, and if not, then definitely next week.

no alcohol?

oh the humanity. send those commies back to russia! :)
How does the Foxwoods 4/8 game compare to Empire/Party online? I play 3/6 online. Just wondering as I might go down someday and break my B&M cherry.
I've only played the Foxwoods $4/$8 game once, almost exactly a year ago (the Saturday after Thanksgiving), and I lost $120, which back then seemed like a ton of money to risk/lose at poker (I was playing .50/$1 at the time). I had an absolute maniac on my right and he put me on tilt. Since then I've played and won at the Foxwoods $2/$4 games several times, and won at $3/$6 and $4/$8 in Vegas, so that's why I'm now psyched to tackle the Foxwoods $4/$8 again.

In general live play is quite a bit different from online. On the one hand, $2/$4 live is even looser than some .50/$1 online games. People want to see the flop with almost anything and will call one bet with any draw, but they are much more like calling stations and won't raise without the near-nuts. Having 5 players check it through is not uncommon; everybody just wants to see another card. In live games I've found that players are less aggressive than online and more likely to fold on the river, in part because they don't want to have to show the embarrassing junk they are playing with. The berating that many players take online for playing like idiots is harder to deal with live (not that I ever do the berating). So peopel sometimes fold stuff like second pair, and I think that's one reason that bad beats seem more common online.

The $3/$6 games I've played have varied quite a bit. I've seen crazy games where it's regularly capped pre-flop and very weak-tight games that are more like $2/$4 online. Hoping to get the latter at Foxwoods.

I'm going to edit my template and put links to my archived Foxwoods trip reports on the right.
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