Statistician, author and poker player Nate Silver recently spent a week in Round Rock playing no-limit Texas Hold ’em at The Lodge Card Club.
Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of political analysis and sports blog FiveThirtyEight, sat down with tens of thousands of dollars for a week of high-stakes poker games.
Unfortunately, his statistical acumen did not serve him this time as Silver lost almost $50,000 in one session.
An unlucky night in a stacked lineup
Live poker in Texas is under fire, as a court case or pending legislation could shutter poker rooms across the state. Online poker in Texas is prohibited as well, and there’s no effort underway to legalize it.
The most popular form of poker is no-limit Texas Hold ’em. It can be played in tournament form or a cash-game format. In a tournament, players “buy-in” for a set amount. If they run out of chips, they’re out of the tournament. The amount of their buy-in is the maximum they can lose.
A cash game is very different. Based on the stakes, there is a minimum and maximum buy-in. A player can choose an amount in between to sit down with.
Silver played in two poker cash game sessions late last month. He started hot, winning $28,000 on the first day. The stakes were $50/$100 blinds, and his average buy-in was around $15,000. Silver came back for a second shot … and almost nothing went right for the former professional poker player.
In one hand, Silver held ace-queen and got in four bets before the flop with that hand for $20,250. He was up against cash game professional Mariano Grandoli, who held ace-king. All of a sudden, Silver was down two buy-ins.
On his third buy-in, Silver put $15,075 in the middle with a pair of eights in a three-way pot. Professional poker player and World Series of Poker commentator Jamie Kerstetter had him dead to rights with two kings, and a third player named Avi held jack-nine of clubs. After “running it twice” on two boards, Avi won them both, and Silver found himself down $47,000 on the night.
Texas poker rooms operate in a gray area
Texas law prohibits gambling except for charitable bingo, state lotteries and charitable raffles. This means the traditional way of playing poker in a casino or poker room isn’t legal.
Card rooms in Texas can operate legally because of some gray areas in legislation. The criteria for operating a legal private club in Texas:
- You must play in a private setting
- You must not have an economic benefit from the gambling itself (rake)
- Everyone must have an equal chance of winning
Private clubs cover the first two requirements by charging a membership fee and/or hourly rate for sitting at a table. The third requirement is covered because players are up against each other instead of playing against the house, so everyone is on an even playing field.
Polk’s group working to pass poker bill
Doug Polk, co-owner of The Lodge Card Club and retired professional poker player, recently created Texans for Texas Hold ’em, a lobbying group meant to protect poker in Texas.
Polk is working with Rep. Ryan Guillen on a bill to legalize poker, House Bill 2345.
The Texans for Texas Hold ’em website describes the bill as “a proactive social poker bill that looks to amend the Texas penal code gambling definitions section by adding a favorable definition to the term economic benefit and editing the current definition of private place.”