Home Game Hustle: Part 2

By Connor Whiteley
September 17, 2021

In July, I shared how I first became a dealer in the underground LA Poker scene. Today I will share a story from when I was dealing in those games.

The Underground Dealing Lifestyle

I had secured a regular gig dealing a downtown LA $1/$2 poker game twice a week. It was running very smoothly. My mechanics had improved immensely, and I was very comfortable in the box. It was a fun atmosphere, I met a lot of great people, and I was settling into a nice routine. Unfortunately, that routine consisted of waking up around 4 pm, eating “breakfast” and spending a little time with my girlfriend when she got home from school or work. Then I traveled downtown around 6:30 pm. Most nights I came home around 8 am, just in time for my girlfriend to head off to class. The schedule wasn’t ideal for our relationship, but it was only two to three nights a week.

I was mainly living off some savings I had from college, and my parents were helping a little with the rent while I “looked for a job”. I did technically look for employment, and by that I mean I sent a few applications each day that I wasn’t dealing. Maybe I’ll admit to trying my luck online with some free spins, too. But at the time I had no intention of leaving my dealing life, I just needed more games. I was lucky enough to be dealing for a poker game that consistently ran twice a week and sometimes a third. It’s not often you find a twice-weekly game run by a 20-something with mainly college-aged players. I had a feeling it wasn’t normal to run so many games with this demographic. The player pool was relatively small, with seven to eight regulars and a rotating cast of 15-20 others. Between the rake and two sharks eating up most of the profit, I had a feeling our player pool was going to go broke fairly soon. I started ramping up my job applications after a few months of dealing the game and was convinced I was going to have to find a real job. That is until Greg pulled me aside.

Texas underground home game

Greg was a semi-regular player. He was there at last once a week. Greg was a fairly solid player who generally didn’t buy-in for more than one bullet, but he spoke and acted as if he was bringing the action. Players really enjoyed having him there, and so did I. He tipped great and was always striking up conversations. It didn’t take me long to realize why he was such a delight at the table. Greg had his own game. He ran a $2/$5 game in Marina Del Ray in a top-floor apartment right on the water. He didn’t talk about it a lot, only if he was asked directly or if someone inquired about a bigger game. This was my introduction to home game politics.

As a general rule, you don’t advertise competing home games at the table. Open invitations, handing out your number to everyone, talking up your game, and talking down the present game are all VERY frowned upon. People who break these rules are called poachers. They go from game to game trying to poach players. It’s part of the business to identify and get rid of poachers. Greg however, was not a poacher. Since he ran a $2/$5 game in which our clientele generally did not mix, he never brought up the game voluntarily and never spoke ill of the $1/$2 game. Most importantly, his game ran on a different night than ours. Greg knew Peter, the $1/$2 game runner, quite well, so it was agreed upon that Greg could mention his game when asked.

A New Dealing Gig

Greg pulled me aside one day and asked me if I was available to deal his game also. Which of course I was. I said yes instantly, as I knew it was an amazing opportunity. I would be splitting time with another dealer, but it was a great chance to deal another game. The next week I travelled down to Marina Del Rey on Friday night ready to hop in the box. As soon as I walked in the door, I realized this was a totally different ballgame.

Apartment Poker Table

Source: Trivago

First of all, the apartment was gorgeous. It held two poker tables, a big kitchen island serving as a bar, a large living room and dining room area, and a massive balcony. From the balcony you could see the beach, and when dark you could see the lights from the Santa Monica Pier. Secondly, there were a lot more people working. Greg had one main partner, the two owners of the apartment, three waitresses, and another dealer all working hard. It was as if I was in a restaurant an hour before opening. The waitresses were going through the stocked liquor cabinet while Greg taught them how to make the signature cocktail for the night (each night had a new cocktail). Greg’s partner was counting chips, and one of the guys living in the apartment was printing out a spreadsheet for players to sign when buying chips. It looked more like a business than a game amongst friends. As the players filed in, the waitresses took their orders. I sat waiting at a table with the cards fanned out as Greg was welcomed everyone and kept the music going. I was very impressed with the operation.

As the night progressed, it was clear that not all the players were regular poker players. You couldn’t script the absurdity some of the hands they played. A lot of the players were clearly there to party, not play serious poker. This game was merely an alternative to a club, and I quickly learned that made the game very lucrative. The players splashed the pots with chips and spilled liquor and were quick to throw a big tip my way. The true card players of the bunch went up early and they went up big. Most players bought in for $500-$800, and by the first hour, the biggest stack was around $3,000. The game played out that way for the next two months as I worked each Friday.

A Night to Remember

The most notable night I worked was when a notorious action player (we’ll call him Joe) visited the game. Joe was about 45 years old, probably 350 pounds, and a troublemaker. Joe’s reputation preceded him, as I heard from a waitress that he was banned from another game she worked. I began that night helping with game organization and getting players in the door. Another dealer, Marie, was in the box when I first heard a commotion. Joe had called a big river bet and was shown the winner by his opponent. Instead of mucking his hand, he turned his cards face up, mixed the board and the opponent’s cards into the muck, and started dragging the pot. Marie was about 130 pounds soaking wet and a little timid, so she wasn’t able to stop him. Luckily the host was at the table, and he made Joe stop. Joe apologized and pushed the pot to the winner. He wasn’t angry about the situation and actually was in good spirits, but it was way out of line. There was clear tension in the room after that.

The next few hours went as planned. The players drank and played while Joe kept causing trouble and busting. He dug into his pockets quite a few times and by 1:00 am he was in the game for $8,000. While these games did play fairly large, I had never seen anyone buy in for more than $3,000. By 1:30 we heard the classic “all-in” by a crusher and a “call” from Joe. The board was KJ956 with three spades, the crusher showed AQ of spades for the nuts, and Joe called off the last of his stack with a weak top pair. It was a $2,500 pot and Joe was out of money. Joe then said a few words that no game runner wants to hear: “let me borrow $3,000.”

I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT let poker players play on credit. It’s one thing if you have a regular who comes to every game, or a close friend, but generally, credit is a terrible idea. If you let one player borrow money, they all want to borrow. It’s much easier not to pay when you borrow. I have seen plenty of game runners decide to give lines of credit to certain players and get burned. As a game runner, you want to keep the game going so you extend credit, but you also end up paying out of pocket. It’s a bad situation. Greg was smart and didn’t extend credit to anyone…but Joe was a special case.

While Joe’s history of causing trouble is alarming, Greg was in a lose-lose situation. Say no and the game likely dies, with Joe never returning. This night was the best I had seen at the game and everyone was happy. The rake box was staying full, the waitresses got big tips, and I made a killing dealing Joe losing hands. However, if Greg extends the credit, he is risking $3,000 and the game’s “no credit” policy.

Greg pushed back at first, listing a number of reasons why he couldn’t extend credit. Joe suggested Greg follow him home after the game to ensure the debt is paid. When Greg said he couldn’t, Joe smacked me on the arm and said “have the kid do it.” At this point, Joe liked me, so I wasn’t surprised when he offered me as tribute. Greg pulled me aside and asked if I would do it. For an extra $100 we agreed that I would follow him home (only about a 15-minute detour for me) and collect the money. Joe lived near me in the valley, so I was going to hold onto the cash and bring it to Greg the next week. Greg and I both agreed there was a chance Joe would try to ditch me, but Greg decided it was worth the risk to keep the game going.

It only took another 30 minutes for that $3,000 to vanish, and once Joe busted, the game broke up. Joe went to the bathroom and Greg waited at the front door. As expected, Joe came out of the bathroom and looked as though he was going to leave while I was still being cashed out. We quickly wrapped up and I followed Joe out the door. The apartment’s garage was large, so I had to separate from Joe to get my car.

A Wild Ride

Unfortunately, Joe was closer to the gate than I was, and sure enough, as I was getting into my car, I saw him peel out. Driving out onto the street I could barely make out his minivan as he tore down the road. I did everything I could to keep up with him, but a few cars got between us. When I got caught behind an Uber drop off he took his opportunity, speeding off after a right-handed turn. I made the turn quickly and came to a fork in the road. I had no idea which way he went. There was no chance of catching him, and I wasn’t about to audition for The Fast and the Furious for $100.

Fast Car

I called Joe’s phone about twelve times while driving in the general direction of the valley. He finally answered, and he tried to play dumb. I asked where he was and told him to pull over. He said he needed to stop at the Burbank Best Western. On the off chance he wasn’t lying, I made my way to the Burbank Best Western. Sure enough, the parking lot was full and there was no sign of Joe’s car. I went inside to check and was grilled by the front desk considering it was past 2 am. This was way out of my comfort zone. After about 10 minutes of waiting in the parking lot, I called Greg and let him know.

Greg wasn’t surprised. He said he might be able to get the money another way, but I didn’t ask any more questions. I wanted nothing to do with Joe at that point. Greg offered to send me the $100, but I told him to just give me half since the job wasn’t done.

That was the last time I signed up for something like that. While nothing bad actually happened, I wasn’t thrilled about a car chase over a debt that wasn’t mine. After that, I stuck to dealing. Between the $1/$2, the $2/$5 game, and playing poker myself, I made enough to pay my half of living expenses and enjoy a night out with my girlfriend each week. Everything was starting to settle down and I stopped applying to jobs. I was perfectly content playing poker, dealing, and meeting new people.

However, I kept hearing about bigger games. I knew I could get into those bigger games, I just needed to meet the right people and continue to be a solid dealer. Little did I know, I was nearing a potential career-making opportunity…



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Connor Whiteley poker author
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Connor Whiteley

Connor Whiteley is a financial services professional and freelance writer who spends as much time as possible on the felt. Previously, Connor was a dealer in various underground Los Angeles poker games, but left the city and those games to raise his daughter with his loving wife Jennifer. Connor is constantly staying up to date […]

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