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Poker in San Juan Puerto Rico Pt.1

[flickr align=”right” hspace=”10″]photo:5286735135[/flickr]The InterContinental Casino & Puerto Rican Poker Rooms

I chose to stay at the InterContinental because from what little I could find online, it had one of the better poker rooms in Puerto Rico. First, I was under the mistaken impression that the casino was more formal. We were informed that shorts were fine and I am okay with that. A sign said no ball caps, but there several at the poker table, but turned backwards. I figure it is for the security cameras. And yet sunglasses are okay, although very few people wear them. Not sure what the thought process behind that is, but whatever! Not my casino. The casino has about a dozen table games ranging from $5 blackjack to roulette to three card poker and an area for 4 poker tables.

[flickr align=”right” hspace=”10″]photo:5287336516[/flickr]I got there at 5:30pm just to scope it out, and there were two poker tables already going. The only games they spread are 9 seated, 2-5 no-limit hold em (my personal favorite) and unlike most Caribbean poker rooms, open at around 4pm (most open at 9 PM) and go to about 3:30am. One downside was the rake. $10 maximum (10% for the first 100.00) PLUS a Royal Flush bonus pulls off of a few more dollars. At times, I watched them rake $12-13 from a relatively small pot.

The Poker Players

The players were almost ALL locals and while they could speak English, they didn’t. Again, it’s their country. I get it. But unlike any poker room I have been in, they never shut up. Ever. In Vegas, poker players assume that deadly silent, calm demeanor of a paid assassin (or so they would like to believe). In Puerto Rico, they become a roomful of partying women, all talking at the same time. The later it got, the louder and more boisterous it became. And for the most part, they weren’t drinking heavy. This was just their high energy, Latino personalities coming out. They were all buddies, but there didn’t seem to be any of the collusion I had witnessed in Aruba (later article… wait for it…), but they were all joking, extremely loud, and very intense. The battery in my Bluetooth/iPhone headset died about 2am and that meant I couldn’t drown out the rapid fire Spanish (coming from 8 directions simultaneously). The camaraderie was very evident and in the few instances where I outplayed one of them or took a bad beat, they gave me props or commiserated appropriately. I was outplayed a few times but eventually got a read on the action players. Unfortunately that was about the time my cards turned to ice.

The play will vary from everyone at the table limping in, with 6-7 people calling a $30 pre-flop raise. The river usually ends up heads up and time and again, it was the long shot that they kept paying to see, that would win.

[flickr align=”right” hspace=”10″]photo:5286735095[/flickr] The Ritz Carlton

From what I can gather, The InterContinental, The Ritz Carlton and the Marriott have poker rooms in San Juan. If more do, no one talks about them here. The Ritz and InterContinental are in the Isla Verde section of san Juan and the Marriott in the older somewhat seedier Condado section. The second night we went over to Ritz Carlton (about 1/2 mile away); a decent walk if it isn’t raining. The casino and hotel are much nicer and has that all marble that you see in the nicer Vegas hotels such as the Venetian. The casino was larger and more modern and very beautiful. Probably a dozen gaming tables and 4-5 brand new poker tables… all empty. I hadn’t called ahead because regardless, i wanted to see the place and snap a shot with my phone. But at 8 PM, very few people were in the casino and none at the poker tables, although the poker manager said they were starting a list. “Would I like to be first?” I did hear later that they do a fairly big tournament on Thursdays and Sunday nights that draws cash players afterwards. So another hasty $10 cab ride back the few blocks to the InterContinental and a much different poker night awaited me.

Back at the InterContinental

First, there were three tables going and after a wait of a few minutes I was seated. At a seat backed up to the table that was noisiest last night, with the same cast of characters there. It’s almost like their home game, which I guess it is. Very loud and every outburst draws players from the other tables to see what’s going on, disrupting that game. My seat was only important because the guy seated behind me had his chair pushed way out (it is HIS home game after all!) and every time the female floor manager would pass through, she would slam into my chair. No one as leaving the table, so a seat change was long in coming. By that time, I was grinding my teeth in aggravation. Next up, she told me, politely, no headphones. When I questioned the other floor manager as to why, in limited English, he said “it was the rule.” But why? “Because it is the rule.” Well, that cleared it up for me. All the while, several guys were wearing baseball caps, clearly in defiance of the numerous signs posted. But not wanting to be That Guy, I just gnashed my teeth and moved to the other end of the table as soon as a seat opened up. I tried plugging my ears to mute the non-stop Spanish machine gun rattle, but that didn’t work. I couldn’t hear myself think. My table was relatively sane, but the “loud table” more than made up for it. And instead of trying to cool them gently, the female floor manager, Marisol, seemed to be instigating the behavior. Maybe the casino wants to encourage a party atmosphere more so than a professional poker room, but for someone who likes to focus on the game and not yelling and arguing and raucous laughter, I prefer professionally managed. Maybe its just a culture thing, but if you’re used to Vegas, this will be different. It made for and aggravating night. Won about $100 but it took all night and I was frustrated and aggravated. Cold cards.

Upcoming: Part II….

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