It was a four-week run that felt like a dream, as I continually scooped up poker chips and headed to cashier cages with a smile on my face. A straight flush at Seminole Coconut Creek yielded a high hand of $750. Another high hand, after my fourth king hit the river, brought $250, at Magic City Casino. Pocket aces, first at Gulfstream Park, then at the Seminole Hard Rock, held up as opponents chased flushes — and missed.
That memorable March run solidly put me in the black for 2016, and a few smaller subsequent wins propelled my profits even higher. While many decry that 2016 is a year to forget, it was my best year ever at the casinos. I finished up $3,991, thanks mostly to poker.
I have been keeping a gambling log for about 10 years, using it to track my play and keep my accountant happy. (We’ll have a nice, long talk this year.) This year’s log shows I sat down for 135 poker sessions, as well as some video poker, blackjack and slots.
I play mostly $1-$2 no-limit poker, starting with a stack of $140 or less. (After this year, I’m debating graduating to $2-$5. Greed?) I learn from my log that the majority of my sessions are non-descript — win or lose less than $50. But I had a very nice handful of days walking out of the card room with a couple of Benjamins.
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I’m a patient player who is smart enough to fold when I think I’m beat. I tell people that I’m not great at winning chips, but I’m pretty good at not losing them. And every now and then, I’ll get a great hand, and a very stubborn opponent who won’t fold.
That balances out the times that guy chasing his flush defies the odds and takes my stack. (I lost $100 or more 14 times this year, the most ever for me.) But, overall, my patience compensates for my lack of a burglar’s heart when it comes to making a big bluff. I get a good hand every hour or so, and in 2016 someone often bet while holding inferior cards.
I categorize my winnings according to casinos to see if there’s a pattern. From the numbers, I hypothesize that Magic City Casino in Miami has the biggest swings (I had five wins of $180 or more in seven 2016 trips) while the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach and the Seminole Hard Rock gave me the most trouble. My thinking is that the Isle has more conservative players, who are less apt throw their money in on a whim, and the Hard Rock has some adept bluffers, who buy the pot on hands even when they don’t have the best hands. I’m also smart enough to know to keep away from the real pros, the ones who wager more in one session that I did the entire year. This level is about all I can stomach.
There also are the high-hand jackpots, which can skew my numbers. For those who don’t follow poker closely, many poker rooms award cash to the player who has the best hand over, say, a 30-minute period. The card rooms take $1 per hand to fund the jackpot, though, so you’re essentially winning your own money back. But if you don’t win a couple of those a year, it’s hard to end up in the black. I won four of them, totaling $1,750, one each at Coconut Creek, Gulfstream, Magic City and the Hard Rock. That’s just how competitive South Florida poker rolls: The jackpots draw players, so everyone has one.
Here are the poker numbers: Magic City Casino, plus $1,247; Seminole Hard Rock, plus $849, Seminole Coconut Creek, plus $630, Gulfstream Park, plus $550, Isle Casino, plus $484, Mardi Gras, plus $144, Hialeah Park, plus $24, Casino @ Dania Beach, plus $18, Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, minus $70. I also ended up minus $38 in video poker, plus $92 in slots and plus $190 in blackjack. Sometimes it’s just your year.
▪ Hialeah Park has $400 high hands in the poker room every 10 minutes from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, as well as Jan. 16 and 25.
▪ Casino Miami gives away up to $100,000 via its “Crack the Code” promotion from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays in January. Five players will be selected each hour, with secondary prizes ranging from $50 in free slot play to $1,000 cash.
▪ If you won a slot jackpot of $1,200 or more in December, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has a party, giving away more free play, or cash. Top prize in the 7 p.m. Jan. 12 event is $10,000.
▪ The first Friday of each month is Ladies’ night at Calder Casino. Fusion Band plays from 6-9 p.m. and prizes include Grey Goose gift sets and gift cards.
Get daily gambling news at SouthFloridaGambling.com