There are many reasons why people will tell you that they enjoy playing poker. Common ones you’ll hear are things like financial independence, competitiveness, or the ability to travel to some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. But for some players, there’s another reason – one that is less spoken of in polite company.

And it’s this: the ability to do crazy things that you would never in your normal life even consider doing, or as it is sometimes referred to more plainly: being a degenerate.

A Fascination With the Dark Side

I admit I’ve always had a fascination with this other side of poker’s culture. To be clear, I don’t mean things like scamming people or leaks in the pit, or anything like that. What I’m taking about is the fun stuff; the zany stuff that pushes limits in creative ways.

Things like Joey Ingram’s legendary 24-hour online PLO session; Phil Laak playing poker non-stop for five straight days in order to get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records; or an MMA match between two average Joe poker pros because…. you know, why not?

For me – and I imagine some of you reading this – the idea of being able to just completely let loose from reality and do something for a short while that you would never otherwise do is truly beautiful and poetic in its own special way. Unfortunately, it’s also something that my nit personality has kept me from doing…

… except for that one time in Atlantic City when I basically played for 24 hours straight, of course.

A Snap Decision At 10pm

It all started, as most things in New Jersey do, with an evening conversation over dinner at the diner. My friend Katie and I met in law school and we both had the poker itch. Normally, if we were going to go down to AC for a session, we would plan it in advance so we could get an early start to the morning, But, as we were sitting there over our greasy food, she looked up at me and asked “wanna go play some cards?”

Atlantic City
Atlantic City

It felt like a line straight out of Rounders, as well as a straight up challenge from one poker player to another. How could I say no?

“Let’s go,” I answered. “But I have one condition.”

“What’s that?” Katie asked.

“We have to go to Dunkin’ Donuts first.”

“Naturally.”

The Big Blind Special

So off we went, Iced Caramel Swirl Latte in tow. Pulling up to the bright lights of Atlantic City around midnight. We headed straight over to Caesars.

Now, as you can tell from the fact that I write for a living, I’m obviously a #baller who loves to play for high stakes. So, as soon as Katie and I got to the casino, we plunged right in to the action at the $2/4 Limit Hold’em (LHE) tables. There we sat, grinding away and drinking free shots until the following hand came down nearly six hours later:

The under the gun player raises, and there are four callers before it gets to me in the Big Blind. I look down at 6-9 offsuit. I seem to vaguely remember deciding to make the call because I was getting good pot odds; either that, or it was because I was on my sixth free drink… It was 4am, my caffeine levels were down (that DD latte had left my system a long time ago) and I was playing No-Fold’em-Hold’em.

The flop comes 6 6 9 rainbow. This is what savant LHE players call the Big Blind Special. I’m already thinking of how many DD latte’ I’m about to win as I toss my two white $1 chips out there like the Hold’em boss I am. The under-the-gun player  (UTG) calls, and then everyone else folds. The turn comes an A. I bet, he raises, and I call to slow-play. After all, I wouldn’t want to scare him off with the nuts. The river is a K, making the board 6 6 9 A K.

full house

And Then The Sickest Thing Happened

That’s when things got crazy. I throw my four white chips out there, and he raises. I raise. He raises again.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the joys of No-Fold’em-Hold’em, players can actually raise the river as many times as they want until both players are all-in. In this instance, given the fact that the number of video poker variations of a full house I would fold is exactly zero, I decided to raise again… because you would be absolutely shocked how much video poker and No-Fold’em-Hold’em seem the same at 4am by your sixth shot of rum.

Eventually, I ended up putting all my chips in the middle with my flopped boat. Incredibly, however, the UTG had turned a bigger boat, holding AA. This was not what I had in mind when I pictured degenerate snap-trips to AC at midnight. Where where the huge scores at the $2/4 LHE tables? The glamour? All I felt like was that I needed another latte ASAP to clear my head.

But a True Degen Never Gives Up

After taking such a sick beat, I wandered away from the table dazed and confused (mostly because I was drunk), with my wallet $100 lighter. I wandered all the way to the penny slots, where Katie found me a few minutes later, dejectedly pressing the button, spinning for dollars.

But Katie is a good friend, and after confirming for me how completely unlucky I had been, she took me outside to get a hot dog, Coke, and some fresh air. She then took me back into the parking lot and let me sleep it off for about three hours. It was the first time I had ever spent sleeping in a car in AC. Three hours later, I woke up and played another 12 hours with Katie – my first (nearly) 24-hour session.

It was also the last. Life intervened and I have never had another chance to live that degenerate life. It might not have been much, but for one night, at least, I will never forget the little taste that I got of the other side of the game that I’ve fantasized about so much.

degenerate gambler

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