Dover is a small city on the east side of New Hampshire, a few miles west of the Maine border. It's about an hour's drive from Boston – more if there's any traffic. Most folks know the city by passing quickly by it on their way up north to the White Mountains for skiing or summer vacations.
But Dover has something that the giant metropolis of Boston doesn't have — a legal, seven-days-a-week poker room. It's not much of a room. But something is always a lot better than nothing.
Sharky's Dover is actually a fair-sized room with 16 poker tables, a nice long bar, three large television screens, and very high ceilings. There's no smoking, the tables are amply spaced, and the place is ready to rock and roll.
Unfortunately, the crowds aren't there yet. When I was in attendance, on a late Saturday afternoon, there was one table going. The advertised tournament, which should have been in full swing, never went off. And there were no cash games.
Even so, I enjoyed a nice, if brief conversation, with some of the staff who let me know that the room is starting to build attendance, though it's still spotty. They anticipated that there would be a cash game soon and that there would also be another one table "mini".
"Minis" are a wonderful creature of man's ability to create something out of nothing. In New Hampshire, no-limit poker is illegal except in the form of tournaments. Cash games are allowed, but only with limits of $2 a bet. What to do? Come up with a no-limit tournament that can play like a no-limit cash game.
Here's how this wonderful invention works. Players buy into a single-table "tournament" for $60.00. The house takes $10 off the top – a 16.66% rake if you like. $50.00 goes into the prize pool. Blinds go up every 30 minutes. Players receive 5,000 in tournament chips.
So far, it sounds just like a single-table tournament, yes? Not so fast. The tournament is timed for exactly one hour. At the end of the hour the tournament is over. All remaining players, by prior mutual agreement, get prizes based exactly proportionate to their chip stacks at the end of the hour. So if you have 1,000 in tournament chips at the end of the hour you get back $10. If you have only 300 you get back $3.
I played in one of these minis. It was my first. I was impressed with how the house turned over pre-game deliberations over to the players. We decided to allow one re-buy during the first 30 minutes of play. (We could have allowed unlimited buy-ins or no buy-ins or any variation in between.)
It worked out fine for me. I made a few bucks. But the rake is quite steep. Imagine paying $5/half hour for a game where the maximum starting stack is only $50. Eventually the house will get all the money – unless a player or two is incredibly better than average and the supply of new bad players is enormous. I have no idea what the long-term effect is on the players in this game – but we all had a good time.
As it turned out, I literally only played one hand during the entire hour. I must have been dealt 9-3 off-suit 20 times or so. OK, maybe I exaggerate. But I had only two premium cards in the same hand once – and that was the one hand I played.
I was dealt Q-Q in sixth position (the table seated 11). A player to my right – who was quite loose and aggressive – raised to three times the big blind. I made it nine times the big blind with my sweet looking ladies. Everyone folded but the initial raiser. He went all in for a less than I had. I called him. He flipped over 9-9 and I turned my Q-Q.
The flop was K-9-3, giving him trips. The turn was a deuce. The river was the magic two-outer QUEEN!
I raked in a nice pot – putting me well ahead of the game. But then my cards went absolutely dead again. I did not play another hand for the last 40 minutes. I ended 900 tournament chips to the good – so up $9. A real Johnny Chan, no?
After making my great tournament cash I helped start a $2 limit hold'em cash game. The rake had just been reduced to 10% with a maximum of $4.00 (from $5.00) for a full table and $2 for a five-handed table. We started with seven players. I enjoyed a few hands and some pleasant conversation with some of the regulars who kidded me good-naturedly about writing notes while I played. I left $10 or so in the black. But hey, $10 was five big bets in this game so I didn't complain.
I wandered over to the bowling alley, Dover Bowl, right next door. It is a huge place, with at least 20 lanes. This being New England, some of the lanes are the conventional ten pins, others are the New England form of bowling known as candle pin. I checked out the snack bar that serves both the bowling alley and the poker room. It was nothing fancy. I wasn't tempted to buy a slice of pizza or order a hamburger, though the price was reasonable.
The poker room is open seven days a week, from 11:00 AM until 1:00 AM. In addition to poker, they spread 3-card poker, blackjack, and roulette – as do the other New Hampshire poker rooms I visited. Roulette pays casino odds, but the blackjack doesn't – it's considerably worse.
It's not a great room, but if you're in Southern Maine or southeastern New Hampshire and you're looking for poker action, especially tournament action, you'll find it in this room. Just call ahead to check out how much action is really going on.
Sharky's Poker Room Dover
887 Central Avenue, Dover, New Hampshire