One nice thing about playing poker at any level or frequency is that it is a way to connect with other people when traveling. On an earlier podcast episode with professor Dave Karph, he talks about how when he has to travel around the world for various conferences, he often spends his downtime playing poker. He has had the opportunity to play all over the states and Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to play outside the States a few times in Canada with Jack before we were 21 and were craving our live action fix and while in Berlin at the beginning of the year. I just got back from a week long trip to the U.K. and I got the chance to play twice at The Victoria Grosvenor Casino in central London, known by locals as ‘The Vic’. It was quite a different than playing at a casino or card-room in the U.S.
For starters, there is a pretty serious dress code, especially when compared to what the average poker player in the U.S. looks like.
I only had the opportunity to play at this one casino but it seemed like a very different type of player pool than what I’m used to. The average age was a bit younger and everyone was well above the minimum standard of dress. I was pretty ‘dressed up’ for me, with a nice collared shirt and jeans, yet still felt underdressed for the room.
To check in for a game here no need to wait in a line at the desk, they have an automated kiosk where you just swipe your card and choose the games you’d like to join or be on the wait list for.
If like most members I was based in London, I would have connected my phone number to my member’s account so I would get a text the minute the seat was ready whether I was at another table or across the street grabbing a bite to eat. This is a much better system than everyone going up one by one and taking the floor people’s time to place one in the various games. With a notification that seemed to work 100% of the time, as a result that were seldom players going up to the desk double checking they weren’t called or wondering where they are on the list.
Next to the automated kiosk and front desk was a self-serve water station.
This might sound kind of funny but this was probably my favorite part of the entire experience. I drink a lot of water so when I’m normally playing, I always end up ordering at least 10 of the little water bottles that are unfortunately standard in U.S. casinos over the course an average sessions. This of course seems a little annoying to the wait staff and puts me out a few extra bucks I’d rather not spend. Not to mention that sometimes when you’re most thirsty, you end up waiting 15, 20, or even 25 minutes for a measly water bottle which you often only get one or two of at a time. There’s also something that is simply classier about being trusted to fill up your own glass (yes glass!) cup with ice water versus getting a room temperature branded water bottle. While this was much appreciated, unfortunately this was the only complimentary beverage offered.
Despite having an absurdly high rake in the games I played in, 5% up to £10 with an extra £1 bad beat drop [do exchange rate calc and list max rake], they couldn’t even offer soft drinks or Pellegrino for free let alone alcohol or food. And no, there was no comp system offered :( Despite this high rake, luckily for me, the games were quite good.
On the first day I primarily played £2/5 which had a minimum buy in of £500 and max buy in of £2500. In general, the structure of the games here were quite deep with the max never being less than 200 BB at any of the stakes, often being much higher. At first I thought this might be bad for the game where regs and pros would buy in for the max and everyone else would buy in short. But in the £2/5 game I played in the average stack was around 2k over the whole session. Given this is the most popular place to play poker in London, this makes sense in retrospect. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and there is a ton of wealth here. At the £2/5 game, besides two other players that seemed like pros, everyone was impeccably dressed all with expensive looking watches.
This game played like some of the best $2/5 games I’ve played at at Maryland Live!, but with even more aggression in general. I saw my first preflop 5bet bluff!
There wasn’t a single recreational player that didn’t seem not capable of 3betting light. This created an interesting dynamic and allowed me to make my first preflop 4bet bluff (against a non-pro).
My second and unfortunately final session began early, around 10:30 am. Despite it being a Friday, the only game that ran until about 3 pm was £1/2. My disappointment was short-lived though as this table was way softer than the previous one - even though the stakes were 2.5x smaller. I’m guessing due to the sensational lineup I was in I probably had a similar expected hourly rate in this game. But that didn’t stop me from lighting £40 on fire. In one my first hands at this table, I’m not proud to admit I made a very loose call. This mistake though wasn’t one of poker fundamentals, but one that derived from a language barrier. I was holding a bluff catcher in a spot where I was planning on check folding, but when the villain bet, the dealer announced 14 into a pot of 65, so I sigh-called. Only after I called did I look at the amount of chips and to my dismay the dealer said 40 in a heavy Scottish accent that sounded a lot more like 14 to me. Oh well. All things considered it was a relatively cheap mistake. The max buy in was £400 and after about an hour the average stack at the table was £500. After around three hours with almost the same exact lineup, the average stack was £750. While this game was incredibly loose, there seemed to be only one player who was capable of 3betting light and he was two to my right. Despite his post flop skills compared to the rest of the table, he simply played so many hands that he was just as welcome as everyone else at this table :)
As a result, combined with some run-good, I played about 40% of hands over my 7 hour session. My goal when sitting at the tables is always to play the most profitable form of poker I can: not to sacrifice short term EV or try and maximize a metric that isn’t cold hard cash. But I’m not gonna lie to you all, when I’m able to profitably play significantly more hands than normal and just run over a 9 handed table it feels really good. Since I started to primarily play $2/5 NL and $1/2 PLO a little over a year ago, these types of sessions don’t really happen anymore, where they used to be a bit more common during my 1/2 and 1/3 days. Maybe someday I’ll find a $2/5 NL game someday where this is possible…
One concern I had with playing while abroad was getting hosed on the exchange. If I’m losing 1-3% of the money both ways, this takes away a lot of my incentive to play while traveling abroad. Fortunately at The Vic, they have an option where if you give them USD, they’ll hold it of you until 6 am and let you buy it back at the same rate they sold it to you. So if you profit they can change the additional chips at a fairly uncompetitive exchange rate. Alternatively, you can walk outside, go down the street a few minutes, and there are three places to change money that offer exceptional rates and are open to negotiation. I was able to change my pounds to dollars at 1.21 dollars per pound, where google said the actual exchange rate was 1.22. It’s incredible rare to find a place where you lose than 1% when changing money in any country for any currency.
I hope to have the opportunity to come back again to London soon. Not just for poker, but now it’s certainly a big pull after how great the action was on a random Tuesday night and Friday afternoon. Stay tuned over the next few weeks where Jack and I will discuss a hand or two from these sessions.