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Poker in The Boston Area

Most of my high limit stud play is done at Foxwoods Resort casino in their spacious poker room. But I've written about that place dozens of times in this column. Let me give you a picture of the local Boston poker scene.

Boston, as with many cities in the United States today, has a large poker scene. There are no legal clubs. Poker is illegal in Massachusetts. Though it is rare, illegal clubs are occasionally busted, the owners fined, the players losing their chips and their corresponding cash buy-ins, and the clubs shut down.

There is one exception. Poker is legal if it is part of a charity tournament of if there is no cash prize. There are a few operators who regularly run "charity" poker tournaments in the Boston area — though as of this article none have figured out away to offer cash games. The prize pool is usually consists of half of the buy-ins, with the other half going to the game operators and the charity. I run these charity games from time to time. Attendees enjoy them, charities make money, and they are fully legal.

Last year, however, the Attorney General issued an advisory, severely limiting how these games may properly operate. Without going into too much detail in this article, let me just add that many tournament operators have found these guidelines burdensome and do not abide by them. They include such requirements as forbidding rebuys, not allowing a prize to be based on the number of people participating in the tournament, and not allowing the person or company providing the chips or other equipment to actually be on site for the tournament. Cash prizes are not allowed (though gift checks are).

This all being said, poker is alive and well in Boston. Let me give you a rundown of the games I know about.

There are two nearly identical games in the heart of downtown Boston. Each offer $1/2 blind no limit hold 'em, one with a maximum $200 buy-in, the other with a $300 max. One charges a $4 rake, the other $5.00. The level of play is comparable at each — intermediate to excellent with only a few guppies gracing the tables every so often. I should note that the number of rank beginners seems to have thinned in general in the past year.

One of the clubs offers regular tournaments. The other sometimes has a slightly higher limit game. Both have good house dealers, security, and waitresses willing to walk the extra ten or twenty feet to the well-stocked refrigerator. One has a cook who will, for a small $4.00 charge, whip you up a sandwich, pasta, pancakes, or other dish as you wish — provided there is food in the refrigerator to cook. All have convenient delivery service from nearby eateries. These clubs run from about 7PM until the game breaks — often not until 5 or 6 in the morning.

I know of another $1/2 game across the river in Charlestown. But I haven't been there. I hear it runs very much like the other two I described earlier. It used to be in Chinatown but has since moved. I suspect there are more — and just a little probing at any of these games I'm sure reveal other venues for poker.

There's a private club in Cambridge, an abutting city to Boston that offers a weekly $10/20 SH game — that's Stud/Hold 'em for those of you unfamiliar with the abbreviations in HORSE — the classic rotation game that has become a centerpiece of the World Series of Poker. This game is very lightly raked — at $4/hour. It runs from 8p-1:30a. And if you want to play you need to arrive by 7:45 or so to lock up a seat. I can't comment on the level of play, because I haven't yet been there. But knowing a few of the regulars I'd say that it is a relatively tight and passive game.

There's a high limit place to play as well in the Greater Boston area. They offer $75/150, $50/100 and $20/40 Stud and Hold 'em as well as twice weekly no limit hold 'em with $2/5 blinds (one night with a $500 max buy-in and another with a $1,500 max buy-in). I'm a member, have played many times, and can say that the games are filled with a couple of pros, some good regular players, and a few huge donators. I've played in the no limit games only and have managed to have a couple of awful sessions and a few small winning ones. There's a membership fee to join the club of $200/year and the house takes out a $5.00 maximum rake.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also regular "charity" tournament action in the area. You can find a tournament within 30 minutes of Boston just about every night of the week. The Boston Herald lists the games in a special classified ad every day. It also includes notices of games in nearby Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire — the largest of which is at the Seabrook Greyhound Race Track. Run by Capone's, it offers not just twice daily no limit tournament action but the charity equivalent of cash games and sit and goes. Without going into too much detail, leave it to say that the house takes a 25% rake — very high for a public card room but much lower than the standard rake of a charity tournament. I've played in these games and can say they are fair and at least moderately well dealt. The room is exceedingly well run.

Finally, I should add that there are always home games that are not open to the public. To find these I'd suggest that you check out the home poker game directory on this site, or that you use your own personal networks to link up with friends of friends of friends — as I always do when I visit a new city. I can honestly say that I have never failed to find at least one game in every city I have visited in the past two years.

Good luck. And if you'd like more information, please email me.

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