Stud Poker: FARGO isn't only in North Dakota
I've written a lot about game selection – about the importance of a finding a game where you are better than the average player. I've shown in these articles how your ability to win is directly connected to finding games with poor players whom you can exploit. In general, game selection is the single most important element in being a winning player.
And yet I intentionally deviated from that good judgment this weekend, seeking out players who were every bit as good as I – perhaps in many ways better. Not only that, but I paid extra for the privilege and I drove a total of 300 miles to compete against them.
This was the weekend of FARGO – the Foxwoods' Annual Recreational Gambling Outing. It is, as the name implies, a yearly event that gathers together those of us who have the hobby of thinking and writing about poker theory and practice. Most of us met on the internet in a news group known as Rec.Gambling.Poker.
There are many of these meetings that go on every year. In Las Vegas there is BARGE, the grandpa of these events. In Atlantic City there is ATLARGE – also MARGE and SARGE and ESCARGOT and probably a few I'm forgetting in other parts of the United States. They are an interesting sort of excursion – part Star Trek convention and part poker tournament. The participants tend to be the best and the brightest poker minds and their many friends, relatives, and associates. Though the poker action tends to be correspondingly tough, the friendships and acquaintances that have developed over the years at these affairs are well worth the toughness in the competition – the negative EV as it tends to be called by these literate poker linguists.
I am a relative newbie (newcomer) to these events – having only been participating for four years in FARGO, and never having attended any of the other happenings. Even so, I've been made to feel welcome by the "no-lifers" who have been coming from the beginning over ten years ago. Let me share with you the happenings of this event. Perhaps you'll get inspired to participate in it or other similar events next year. (Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you are so inclined.)
FARGO consists of four tournaments, played over four consecutive days beginning with a Thursday night. It begins, typically, with a banquet of some kind. This year, PokerStars treated all of us (and a few of our spouses) to a spectacular buffet dinner at Custy's, a top-of-the-line restaurant a few miles from Foxwoods in Stonington, Connecticut. It was a remarkable all-you-can eat buffet, consisting not just of the many items you find in most buffet lines but also lobster, steak, Alaskan King crab, and a spectacular dessert bar. Thanks to PokerStars we also enjoyed an open bar.
When we were done with dinner, the 48 of us who didn't have to go lie down immediately from overeating competed in a $100 heads up tournament. This has become known as the "Fossilman Invitational" – named after the original organizer of the event, Greg (Fossilman) Raymer, who organized and participated in this year's event as well. The event goes until the early hours of Friday morning, doesn't always finish then, and often has to be completed during the day on Friday or Saturday. Players begin in flights of six players each, playing everyone in their flight one time each, with the person finishing with the best record in each flight advancing to the next stage. Alas, I only won three of my five heads up matches and did not advance.
On Friday morning there was a $120 pair's event. It was an interesting format. Teams of two alternated between Hold 'em and Omaha – each member of the team playing one game each for twenty minute rounds. The blinds went up every forty minutes, with the tournament continuing without break or other interruption until one team prevailed.
My partner was Brian (Large Sarge) Hackett, someone I had been randomly paired with last year. I was very fortunate in that regard. He tore through the Hold 'em opposition, amassing mounds of chips at the right moments, while I tightly held on as best I could during the Omaha8 rounds. Though we were literally down to the felt a few times (mostly under my watch), we managed to knock out all but one team when we proposed a deal. We won the event, paying the second place finishers a small piece of our winnings to end it in time for me to go home for my weekly Friday night Sabbath dinner with my wife. Not a bad day's work. Thank you very much Brian!
There are many informal get togethers thoughout the event. Foxwoods deliberately spreads games to appeal to this crowd of poker aficionados. This year, for example, there were at least three H.O.R.S.E games of different levels going Friday and Saturday night, with a few O.E., Stud8, and Omaha8 games going as well. In year's past, FARGO participants who wanted to play exclusively with each other retreated to a suite to play games of their own choosing. There have also been midnight tournaments to suit the night owls, though I don't believe any went off this year.
I returned on Saturday morning at 9:00, when many of us gathered for a buffet breakfast – an opportunity to renew acquaintances of years past and meet new people who share a common passion. I met folks from as far away as California and Toronto, Canada and as near as my home town of Boston. I typically dig up a few invitations to home games in my area. This year was no exception, as I learned of at least four poker games in the Boston area.
At 10:00 we convened for the $120 No Limit Hold 'em event. 120 or so folks entered this competition. The 25 minute rounds, blinds of $25/25 to start and $3,000 in tournament chips assured a relatively long time to play. The winner wasn't crowned until nearly 8:30 PM. It wasn't me. I got knocked out a little after the tournament was half over – my QQ versus his KK.
Sunday at 10:00 marked the start of FARGO's last event, a $120 HORSE competition. (For those of you who don't already know, HORSE is a rotation game, where games of Hold 'em, Omaha8, Razz (7-Card Stud for low) Seven Card Stud, and Stud8 are played in succession. Today's competition saw roughly 75 of us squaring off. I did not get any of the money, finishing 21st.
Participants spice up the event by adding their own "knock out" prizes as bounties for when they get knocked out. This year I collected a lovely bag of imported Italian pasta from one entrant and a large lollipop-shaped bar of scented soap. I forgot to bring my own gift – which was probably a good thing considering that I was knocked out of three of the four tournaments I entered. Next year though I'll have to make sure to bring suitable gifts for my victorious opponents. I've already eaten the pasta, but maybe that soap lollipop would make a nice gift.
In sum, FARGO – skillfully organized each year by the talented and lovely Joan Hadley – is a blast for any serious or even not so serious poker player. Though there are surely easier tournament lineups to compete against, there are none more interesting or rewarding – at least socially rewarding. I will surely attend next year and recommend it to all of you.
Ed Note: If you live in Fargo, you can still sign up at Poker Stars who welcome all U.S. players.