It wasn't the World Series of Poker. No, not at all. No cameras; no celebrities; no crushing together of tables or squeezing by of people as someone was knocked out. No, the World Series was far away – though it was going on at the same time.
It was just another Tuesday night at Foxwoods. And while others now yearn to be in Las Vegas at the largest tournament in the world, he would be have been perfectly happy playing 7-card stud far away from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas.
The Foxwoods poker room is really four large poker playing areas connected seamlessly but highly segregated by game and type of player. In one area are the tournament players – playing sit and goes most of the time but also thrice daily multi-table tournaments. In a second area are the middle and high stakes hold 'em and stud players in games ranging from $5/10 to $75/150 or even higher sometimes. In another area are the low stakes hold 'em players, gambling it up at $2/4 and $4/8. While the fourth and final area sits off by itself in what looks like a large game room of a retirement community – with mostly grey haired gents and ladies playing low spread limit 7-card stud. That's where Stan normally would be – playing $1-5 7-Card Stud. He wasn't there tonight though, and he missed it.
For twelve years Stan's been coming to this poker room and its somewhat smaller immediate predecessor upstairs. He's been coming during his weekly swing through Connecticut for business. At least that's how he justified to himself and his family his weekly poker session at this great card cathedral. "I'm down there anyway" he'd offer. "Might as well catch some cards while I'm in that neck of the woods" he'd conclude with only a small trace of a smile to betray him.
Before too long, the poker experience became much more important than the work. It became a ritual of sorts – homage to this hobby he learned to love. It never was much about the winning – though he claimed to be about even or a little ahead.. It was more about the playing of the game. He loved watching the cards, waiting for the good hands, considering his options, and then making his move. Even folding the bad hands had a muted thrill for him – another bump in the familiar and pleasant poker road.
It was never thrilling like the World Series of Poker is thrilling. It was a different sort of poker action – an engagement in the pleasant and relaxing poker that many people grew up with in weekly or monthly games. Dozens joined him in this every week. They had become familiar faces playing the same sort of game for the same sort of reasons.
These were the games that had roots in the army – when guys could distract themselves from the boredom or the terror of military service by diving into the kind of combat that was played with cards. And when the GIs came home they took their poker game home too – to their new domestic world with wives and kids and apartments and homes and cigars and scotch and card games.
This weekly visit to Foxwoods became more than just the poker after a while – more than the cards. It became a somewhat odd form of camaraderie with familiar but largely unknown people, punctuated with oft made comments, bad jokes, and familiar phrases. "Deuces never loses"; "your pot"; "Hit the flush on the river"; "should have gone out"; "can't win if you don't play". The players revealed little about themselves with their comments. Still, it was pleasant and comforting in its indistinctness – like those white noise machines that play repetitive sounds from the beach to help people sleep.
It was not the World Series of Poker – not even close. It was just a low stakes stud game in the huge basement of a huge casino in the middle of the Connecticut woods with a bunch of players he recognized but didn't know. Still, he yearns to be there this Tuesday night as he thinks about it from home. He's not well enough to travel there any more. He'll have to make due with the memories.