Tuesday update: News and first impressions of River Rat Rounders poker

When the Winter Olympics were on TV earlier this year, there was one sport that kept my eyes glued to the TV: curling. It’s like shuffleboard on ice, basically, with teams of four sweeping heavy stones to get as close to a target (the “house”) as possible, and trying to knock their opponent’s stones away from the target. At first glance I thought curling was stupid, but after watching a match or two, I began to realize what a cerebral sport it is, how much it relies on critical thinking, planning and strategy.

So, yesterday as I was waiting for poker to start at the Silly Goose, I learned that there’s a place in the Mid-South that offers curling. It’s a bit of a drive from Downtown though. The place is called Mid-South Ice House and it’s out in Olive Branch. They have beginner classes for those without experience in the sport. They also have curling leagues, as well as corporate events. Very cool… or actually, very cold, since you play on a sheet of ice.

Cordelia’s Market Fall Festival and Grand Re-opening will happen this Saturday, October 20, from noon to 6 PM. This will be a fall festival to celebrate the market’s recent remodeling as well as its 20th anniversary. Free food and drinks, live music, pumpkin patch, bobbing for apples, cornhole, many vendors onsite, and more.

My BBQ teammate Mike wanted me to let my readers know that a unique apartment is about to come available in the South Main District. He and his wife have lived in an apartment at 509 S. Main for the past five years, and in fact love the place so much that they got married there. It’s on the second floor of the row of buildings above Bluff City Coffee and Downtown Yoga. The building was originally a warehouse built in 1910, and still has the brickwork, hardwood floors, and industrial skylight. It’s a two-bedroom unit, huge master suite with bath in-suite and walk-in closet. The second bedroom is loft-style, also huge, with a walk-in closet. There is a second bathroom, laundry suite, and you get two parking spaces in the gated parking lot next to Bluff City Coffee. Mike says this would be ideal for a single person or couple who can use the second bedroom as an additional living space, which is what he and his wife did. The unit will be available mid-November and is managed by Phil Woodard Properties.

The Community Alliance for the Homeless is looking to hire a Coordinated Entry Facilitator.

The Daily Memphian has a great article about the $34 million homeless shelter being built by the Union Mission at 383 Poplar, replacing its outdated facilities. The new shelter will be known as “The Opportunity Center.” “If Jesus was our guest, how would we serve him?” asked the Mission’s executive director, with the intent of serving their homeless guests the same way.

In the remainder of this post, I want to give my first impressions of Texas Hold’em with the River Rat Rounders poker league, based on the game I attended last night at the Silly Goose. Technically this is not a “first” impression, because I did play a RRR league game at the Mad Earl. However, that was over four years ago and I have not played in the league since, so last night was very much a new experience to me.

First of all, a little background about me: I have been playing bar poker since it came to Downtown Memphis in 2010. At the time I was playing online on PokerStars for real money, and was starting to figure the nuances of the game out: things like position, bet sizing relative to the pot, being aware of your chip stack size relative to the big blind, pot odds, that kind of thing. I’m not claiming to be the best player at the Downtown bars, but I got good enough to win now and then. I won some sweet Grizzlies tickets at a Bardog game. I won the Silly Goose game multiple times, going heads-up with some of the players I respect the most. I won multiple Thursday Buzztime poker games at Max’s Sports Bar. I’m a two-time final table champion at Blind Bear.

Around the beginning of 2015, I lost my interest in bar poker. There were several reasons why, but let me explain the main one. In Tennessee, if you run a poker game in a bar there cannot be a cash buy-in. It has to be free to play for all, by law. What you can do, however, is offer incentives to purchase the bar’s products. You can offer add-ons – extra chips – for purchasing particular drinks and/or menu items. Also, if someone goes all-in and loses all their chips, getting knocked out of the game, they can rebuy (get more chips and get back in) by purchasing items the bar offers.

The thing for me is, I play poker because it’s a game where you never stop learning. It’s a game where you can get better with every hand you play. It truly is a mind sport. However, by about 2015 it seemed that a player’s results at the Downtown bar poker games had more to do with how many shots of Fireball they ordered than their skill as a poker player.

I’ll give you an example: A player looks at his hand and sees 9-3 offsuit, and decides to go all-in for his stack of 50 big blinds. By conventional poker strategy, that’s a really stupid move. 9-3 is one of the worst starting hands at Texas Hold’em, and going all-in pre-flop eliminates the strategy of betting the flop, turn, and river. However, their logic is, “Well, if I lose I can pay $8 for two Fireballs and get back in.” Most of the time they lose, most of the time they’re buying shots – but 9-3 is 40% against a random hand (I have a poker calculator on my iPad in case you’re wondering how I know that), so if they rebuy often enough, they’re likely to outlast someone who plays proper poker strategy and tries to avoid getting wiped out and rebuying. They run up a $40 tab trying to win a $50 first-place gift card, which is a pretty horrible expected value, but they don’t care. They also don’t care that they ruin the game for those of us who want to play real poker. In fact, I think some of them enjoy ruining the game.

Recently, though, I have heard from friends who play in the River Rat Rounders games that the kind of chaotic betting, the high-variance poker I just described, does not exist in their games. People play real poker. When the Silly Goose announced it was converting to the River Rat Rounders league, I decided to give bar poker a second chance.

The game was at 8 PM but I got to the Goose early… way early. My plans for yesterday were to drive out east because I needed to do some shopping at Best Buy and Target, but it looked like it was going to rain on and off throughout the day, and I prefer not to drive in the rain. So I postponed my trip until Wednesday (there’s a chance of rain today too). That left me free to hit the Goose, which is my normal Monday happy hour spot anyway, a little bit after it opened at 2 PM. I stuck around until poker started.

Teresa, the league owner, was hosting the game along with her co-host Mike Tucker. They got there about 7 and started setting up the felt overlays.

The Goose game under the River Rat Rounders retained the previous prize structure: $50 gift card for first place, $25 for second. However, players also earn points toward the River Rat league. Every three months or so, top point earners are invited to play in a Tournament of Champions freeroll tournament with a total of $1000 in prize money. The winner of the tournament gets an additional prize, a seat at an event in Tunica when the World Series of Poker comes to town on tour. As an additional incentive, one player at last night’s game would win immediate entry into the Tournament of Champions freeroll: the player who knocked Muruako, who was the Silly Goose poker host for years, out of the game.

About 7:50 Teresa told me, “Are you playing, Paul? We do check-ins online.” I had downloaded the River Rat Rounders app the day before, and Teresa showed me how to check in. The app remembered my RRR player number from when I played at the Mad Earl years ago. No clipboards to pass around, no illegible names for the poker hosts to try and decipher. Very well organized.

“How many PBRs have you had, Paul?” Teresa and Tucker then asked me. “You get extra chips for every one you’ve ordered.”

“Well, the thing is, I’ve been here since 2,” I told them, not expecting to get chips for beers I drank hours before poker began. Teresa said it didn’t matter. I had been drinking slow, wanting to conserve my wits for poker, but still, one beer an hour added up to six beers. Tucker handed me 6 bonuses, giving me a monster starting stack.

The felt poker-table overlays seat 8, although you can squeeze 10 in if it gets busy. The four seats in the middle are for people who don’t mind being dealers. Rather than the deal being passed around, the four middle seats alternate the deal. In addition to handing out the cards, dealers are responsible for managing the pot, making change for large chip denominations, and handling things like dead dealer buttons and dead small blinds. By having multiple dedicated dealers, you can get more hands played per blind level. Dealers get extra chips for their effort. I chose a corner seat, not wanting the additional mental effort of being a dealer. I wanted to be free to observe my fellow players and their tendencies.

The starting stacks, not counting any bonus chips, were 8000. The first five blind levels were 100/100, 100/200, 200/400, 300/600, 400/800, and 500/1000. I like it that the blinds went up slowly, rather than doubling every level. More time to play deep-stack strategy and accumulate chips.

The players were a mix of league regulars who came from other parts of the city, probably people who play league games every night; and holdovers from the Monday night Silly Goose poker game. I noticed that the Silly Goose players who bet chaotically – the 9-3 all-in specialists – were not there. Not sure if that was a coincidence or if they knew their style of play would not be tolerated.

I picked up some small pots at the first two levels. It was 300/600 when I played my first major hand. With a couple of people who called the big blind ahead of me, I was on the dealer button. I looked down and found a pocket pair, 5-5. I raised to 2000. Small pocket pairs don’t play well against multiple opponents after the flop, so I hoped to chase at least one of my opponents away. They both called though.

Flop was three overcards to my Fives, I don’t remember what, an Ace, a picture card, and a medium card, I think. Both opponents checked to me. They either missed the flop, or they wanted to see what I would do before making their decision, since I took the initiative in the initial round of betting. Their checks told me my Fives were probably the best hand at the moment – but, I knew there was almost no chance they would still be the best hand by the river. I bet about two-thirds the size of the pot. My pre-and post-flop betting looked a lot more like a big hand than two Fives.

My bet worked. Both opponents folded. At the bar poker games I am used to, multiple opponents would have called my bets all the way to the river, where one of them would have sucked out a card to beat me and win a huge amount of my chips. I felt like I was playing real poker strategy in a bar for the first time in years!

More people came in – they allowed late entries until 9:35 – and Tucker broke us up into two tables. That put me at a different table than Muruako, putting my plan to eliminate him and get into that $1000 freeroll on hold.

The new table brought me luck. After a few hands, I found myself holding Q-Q pre-flop. I raised the big blind and got a couple of callers. This time I was out of position, meaning I would be first to act on the flop, turn and river.

The flop came something like low card-Queen-medium card. I had a “set,” a three-of-a-kind where two of my three are hidden. It’s a great spot because my hand was well disguised. Being out of position, I decided to further disguise my hand by just checking the flop. My one remaining opponent bet 500. I decided that now was the time that I should project the image of a bar poker doofus who’ll call all the way to the river with nothing. I meekly called his 500.

When the turn card came, again I checked to him. He bet 1000. Again I meekly called.

I checked a third time on the river card and my opponent bet 2000. This time I had a surprise for him. I raised to 5000. He thought for a minute and folded. Teresa told me that was one of the few times she’d ever seen another player make him fold.

Anyway, I’m sharing these two hands with you not to brag or gloat, but to share the thrill I experienced of playing actual poker strategy, and having it work, for the first time in a bar in years! I felt like I was learning with each and every hand, that I was getting better. I felt like, if I get to the point of winning one of those WSOP tour seats, my experience with the River Rats will prepare me well to make it into the prize money. (As a side note, at least one RRR member cashed in every WSOP tour event held in Tunica in 2018.)

Kudos to Tucker on keeping all the players supplied with drinks, and also with the bonus chips they got for ordering those drinks. Also, thanks to Tucker for noticing that at one point, I knocked my good luck charm Perjorie T. Roll off the felt overlay and down to the floor. He picked her up and handed her back to me. I know there are some people Downtown who would be very sad if I lost my troll.

Old Dominick brought a bag full of swag by, and there some very nice T-shirts. Teresa told us we could go pick one out if we bought two specialty cocktails made with Old Dominick. I don’t know if “beer before liquor, never sicker” is true, but experience has taught me that “beer before liquor, your poker game goes to hell in a handbasket” sure is. I decided I didn’t need another T-shirt that bad.

Unfortunately about 9:45 I received a text that my presence was requested down the street, that it would be nice if I could be there for a friend. My luck at the table was starting to turn bad anyway, so I donked off my remaining chips – went all-in for 4 1/2 big blinds with 9-8 offsuit, not a terrible move but not ideal – and got out of the game. Teresa told me there was a second-chance turbo at 10, but I explained to her why I needed to go.

Overall, I was very happy with my experience playing in a River Rat Rounders game, and it has re-ignited my enthusiasm for  bar poker games. I plan on being back next Monday, and Mondays after that as well.

If you want to give the RRR games a try, check out their schedule. There are games to play 7 days a week. Downtown games include

  • Mondays – Silly Goose – 8:00 main game, 10:05 turbo
  • Tuesdays – Green Beetle – 6:30 main game, 8:35 turbo
  • Saturdays – Club 152 – this is a once-a-month game

Oh – by the way – in case you’re wondering who knocked Muruako out and got the entry into the Tournament of Champions freeroll – no one did. Muruako won last night’s main game.

That’s it for now. Back tomorrow with more news.