After Hours: Low pressure, low stakes poker
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2006
CAMBRIDGE — The man in the yellow shirt looked gravely at the cards in his hand, then down at his chips, trying to decide whether his eights were good enough to pull him back into the game.
The blonde on the corner was drawing him dead with a gut-shot straight, an eight and a nine in the middle, but he couldn’t read it on her, apparently, or didn’t think she would hold out for it.
So the man, let’s call him “Vinnie” because of the gold chain weaving through his chest hair and recent use of a blow dryer, sacrificed his remaining chips to the woman (let’s call her “Lucky”) and became the next in a string of players to fall at the hands of the first-time player. (She eventually lost in the finals).
Gutted by the defeat, Vinnie looked skyward in aggravation, but beginner’s luck is a tangible risk in the Monday night poker game at WT’s Snooker and Sporting Club in Cambridge. With no entry fee and low-end prizes on the line (the winner gets a T-shirt), the WT’s game is a low-pressure atmosphere where beginning players often try their hand at the Cadillac of poker.
Without any stakes on the line, the game is a low-key affair populated by friendly players generally happy to explain the rules to newbies, and Tom the dealer offers tips on betting to those who need it.
But for a small event, the WT’s game draws an interesting crowd worthy of a poker tournament. Take last week, for instance, when the game attracted Ilia Boyko, a Russian émigré living in Cambridge, and a Tibetan chef named “Beezer,” or something like it. (Let’s call him “The Cook.”)
Neither made it out of the elimination rounds, but the game does draw a small crowd of spectators who orbit around the table and whisper predictions to each other, and it adds an air of excitement to the mix.
To award the WT’s T-shirt, Tom deals to four rounds of eight players each. The top two finishers from each move on to a fifth and final table. To join in, interested players should call ahead to the club and reserve a spot on a first-come, first-served basis, though you can sign up on arrival if there’s still room, said WT’s manager Adam Day.
And there’s usually a little room, though the games have been filling up lately, Day said, and he may try to host a second poker night on Thursdays if demand remains high.
Getting to the final table can be a slow process, however, because there’s only one actual table, meaning that if you win in the first round, you’ll have to wait for three other rounds of eight players to whittle themselves down before you’re up again. Play starts at 7:30 p.m. and goes until there’s a winner.
Tom does his best to keep the games moving rapidly, hiking up the blinds regularly to force players out, but play can get slogged down if three or four well-matched players find themselves with equal stacks.
Another tiny catch is that, as a club, WT’s requires you to be a member to enter, which means a 10-pound lifetime membership fee, though it is waived for servicemembers bearing military ID, Day said. Alternatively, members can sign in for up to three guests for 1 pound apiece.
It’s a minor hurdle to get into a free poker game with a dealer and chips and a crowd of friendly players, and for those with an interest in poker and an aversion to losing money, it beats a Monday night on the sofa.
WT’s Snooker and Sporting Club
Location: 39b Burleigh Street, just off East Road, adjacent to the Grafton Centre.
Food and Drink: No hot meals, just filled rolls, and the regular cadre of beers and spirits.
Ambience: A smoky pool hall feel, with numerous pool and snooker tables, a large-screen TV for sports events and, of course, the poker table. Frequented by teenagers.