Before I ever stepped foot in a casino, there was 7-card stud.
It has always been, and will always be, my favorite variant of poker.
While other poker players were idolizing Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negrano I was studying the play of Johnny Moss and Chip Reese. People clamor for the Poker Brat, I was fascinated by the "Grand Old Man of Poker" and other players.
But for me, 7-card stud was (and is) a game played at home. Even before the "poker" boom finding a good game of 7-card stud outside of Atlantic City was tough. Texas Hold-Em has always ruled the mainstream poker room, despite the fact that it's (in my mind) the worst game of all the variants to play.
My early gambling life was full of 7-card stud home games. I used to play with friends for change. I would like to tell you that I was a 7-card version of Matt Damon rounding in the underground poker rooms of Midland and Houston but that would be a lie. But I did get games almost whenever I wanted them. Quietly, without raising a fuss. You see, gambling was illegal in Texas (still is for the most part) and I've always been risk-averse to getting caught. Plus, my parents were not, shall we say, "open" to having a gambler in the family, probably doing to our Baptist up-bringing.
I'll never forget the first time I played 7-card. It was at a friends house in Midland in 1989. I "stayed over" with some other friends and we played cards until 6 o'clock in the morning. None of us were any good, and our stakes were micro, but I caught the bug from that point on and to this day I can't put 7-card down.
And that's how it went for years. I'd head over to a friends house with a sixer of Miller Genuine Draft and we'd play cards for hours. As I got older the stakes got a little higher, but never too high, and the tables got a little smaller with fewer and fewer players joining in as guys got married, had kids or generally lost interest in the game.
Not me though, I loved 7-card stud. I actually, at the time, became pretty good at it. My knack for reading other people is slightly above average, but no where near where you need to be for a successful run at professional poker. My mathematical knowledge is fair but, again, nowhere near where it needs to be for a successful pro-poker career.
Then there's the fact that I don't WANT to play poker as a profession, and I never have. I enjoy playing poker and I always want it to remain a game. I thought about, for a minute, making a run at a professional career in Texas Hold 'Em. And while I can beat most weekenders and conventioneers at a table, I'm just not good enough to beat the professionals or top players. Plus, as I stated. Poker should be fun.
Finally, after watching the WSOP on ESPN for a few years, I decided I'd give this live, sitting in a casino, poker thing a try. In 2005 my family decided to take a trip to the Grand Coushatta Hotel & Casino in Kinder, Louisiana. They had, at the time, a small poker room that was supposed to have attached to it some pretty good action and fair games.
I was brave, I bought into a 2/4 limit game with a hundred dollars. I played Texas Hold 'Em for 5 hours, and walked away from the table with $100. Five hours, no money made, or lost. I won three pretty good sized pots the entire 5 hours, and folded most of rest of the time. As grinds go it was fine decaffinated espresso.
But it made me think, falsely, that I might be good enough to give this poker game a whirl. So I would head out to the Isle of Capri from time to time in Lake Charles to play poker. I'd arrive on a Friday evening, eat dinner, and play until early Saturday morning. Then I'd drive home.
Lather, rinse, repeat for several years. Throw in also the odd trip to Choctaw casino in Durant, Oklahoma and I had a pretty good regional casino poker tour going on. Overall, of course, I lost. Because, at hold 'em, I'm not very good. I'm easy to trap, get over-excited when I (finally) get a hand and over-bet the pot frequently when I do.
Finally, in 2012, I decided that I was ready to hit a Las Vegas poker room and see just how good I was. Sort of. Because I decided to play at the no-action pit that is Circus Circus, which was horrible until I ran into two poker players who were worse than I.
And I won. Amazingly. Despite being card-dead I bluffed or semi-bluffed off of those two jokers around $2,000. At one point one said to another before folding "I have no idea what he's holding". I knew right then I was NOT the sucker at the table.
After that trip I was feeling pretty good about myself, and not worried at all that the run of cards I was on bordered on historically bad levels. The best hand that I caught the entire Vegas trip as 2-pair. I hadn't made a flush since before Moses, and even my straights were being caught on the joker end of things. In short, disaster was on the horizon, but I was too convinced of my ability to read and bluff to notice.
In 2013 I made yet another weekend trip to Lake Charles, this was during the time that they had both boats open, and the 3rd floor of the 2nd boat was entirely devoted to poker. I was living large this time, I had a bank-roll of $1000 (half of my Vegas winnings) and was ready to jump into the "adult side of the pool" by playing 1-2 no-limit (don't laugh).
I got to the poker room around 10 PM and started playing around eleven. From eleven to around 2 AM I was actually doing pretty good. I was up around $200, which was nothing special but it was a profit and the quality of player at this table was better than what I beat in Vegas.
At around 2:30 AM, the worm turned. I was holding AK off and the flop came out A-K-K. I had flopped a King-high Full boat. The only hand that could beat me was AA and, since no one re-raised my opening raise pre-flop, I thought I was OK. The turn card was a 7, which was a blank, so I bet into it around 1/2 the pot. One guy, a very loud and mouthy local, came along. The river is where everything went wrong. Of course, the Ace came out, the ace of Diamonds in fact, and I had the sneaking suspicion that I might be beat. I min-bet. Realizing, at this point, that the Ace had me at a disadvantage. If the guy raised, I wasn't sure how I could call. If he folded, of course, I won, but that Ace had given him all of the power.
Then he called. Which was an odd play. But he did so I turned over my boat and he immediately whipped over his AA and started pointing at me and calling me some names that involved the initials "M.F." 'I got you, you MF' etc.
"Idiot", I replied, "got lucky on the river."
What happened next was surreal.
"Sir, please don't insult the other guests" - This came from the dealer. And I realized he was looking at me. I just got MF'd by a guy who had caught a one-outer on the river and he was jumping my shit for calling him an idiot? (It was only after all of this that someone informed me the guy who beat me was a local, regular.)
I lost it for a minute. Then the poker room manager came over, informed me of my breach of poker-room rules and asked me to leave.
I was stunned. And pissed, and utterly done with Texas Hold 'Em and casino poker all-together. I hadn't been drinking, at all, so at 3:30 AM I cashed out, got in my car and drove home. I told my wife that I was done with live poker and would never play it at Isle of Capri again, something I've held to until this day.
At that point I was all but done playing Texas Hold 'Em, and live poker in casinos all-together. I did have one last go in Vegas, which reaffirmed my decision to not play, but that story is best told in conjunction with another tale, so I'll save it.
However, if you want a 7-card home game I'm all ears.