Whether you were born a gambling man or just liked the movie “Rounders,” you don’t have to go to Foxwoods if you want some action.
From a residential college basement to a fourth floor dorm room, a gambler can get his fix right here on the Yale campus. And with the games ranging from serious tournaments to “in-the-family” guys’ nights, you don’t have to forfeit your tuition to have a good time.
The Trumbull table
Those looking for a serious, high-stakes game can find it in the basement of Trumbull College most Thursday nights. The game, organized by mass e-mail, consists mostly of Trumbullians but entirely of serious players. The reason: the game is no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, referred to in “Rounders” — which sometimes plays in the background of the Trumbull game — as “The Cadillac of Poker.”
Anyone who knows what he is doing is welcome. Players are quick to note that they would gladly let girls in — but none has ever played. The group has even held a poker workshop earlier this year for interested Trumbullians.
But one player, who preferred to be known as the Montana Banana — for the uninitiated, that’s a hand of a nine and a two — had a solemn warning.
“No limit Texas Hold ‘Em is not a beginners’ game,” he said, explaining that the many opportunities the game provides for a player to outplay his opponents can be dangerous, or at least costly. “If you have good cards, they [can] very quickly go to crap.”
Ariel Schneller ’06, who joined the game after the group’s workshop, can attest to that fact. Though he often played poker with his friends in high school, he said, his first two games at Trumbull cost him close to $70. But in his third game he won $110.
The competition is serious, if not fierce. Professional poker players Daniel Negreanu and Alan Cunningham visited the game last year when they were in the area for a tournament at Foxwoods Casino. Last year the group hosted what they hope to make an annual tournament — the Trumbull Poker Classic. A portrait of the winner, Bo Jackson ’02, still watches over the table, pictured holding his winning hand.
“We’re going to get a plaque on the wall,” regular player Gary P. Fernando ’03 said.
But though close to $400 is on the table at times, a new player should not arrive expecting neon lights and showgirls.
Players never bet without looking at their cards, they “straddle.” And they never get angry at a loss, they go “on tilt.” But they also leave to study for tests, pause for the best scenes in “Rounders,” and even occasionally caution a novice, “You don’t want to do that.”
Talk is usually kept to a minimum, but it is not uncomfortable. Players break it up with short questions about others’ personal lives, then return to the game.
Jason Sclar ’05 said most of last year’s players lived together in two or three Trumbull suites. But they’ve all graduated now, leaving the current game behind. Sclar said some of the current players, such as he and brothers Richard and Daniel Berger ’05, spend time together when they are not playing poker. But he and the Berger brothers knew each other before they started playing.
But even if their time together is limited to the poker table, group members are still devoted.
“Last year for Lent I gave up poker, and I used to come down here and watch these guys play for forty days,” Fernando said.
The God Quad game
On the other side of Elm Street, in Branford College’s God Quad, Thursday nights call for a different kind of poker — low-stakes dealer-calls-it.
“It’s basically just a way to get together with some of your best friends and hang out,” said Chris Torres ’03, one of the regular players.
Torres’ suitemate Adam Rein ’03, also a regular at the God Quad game, said he and his friends have played together since their sophomore year. That year, when some of his friends began spending a lot of time with their girlfriends, the group decided a guys’ night in was in order. Torres said Thursdays are still devoted to beer-drinking, male bonding, and, of course, cards.
Because poker is not the night’s main attraction, Torres said the group has deliberately limited the money involved. But even though each player only puts in $10 — there’s no point in playing for no money, they say — he and Rein said the game can become intense, sometimes causing arguments and hard feelings. Torres said some of the original players have left the game because competition can escalate, or simply because they wished for more conversation.
“Sometimes we don’t really talk, we’re just kind of intent on the game,” Torres said.
Though they may keep talk to a minimum, Rein said the God Quad game is still between a group of friends and does not recruit new members.
“We always like to keep it in the family,” Rein said. “It’s really not about poker.”
Stiles “stud” poker
One weekly game in Ezra Stiles college has weaned itself off high stakes, and now sticks to stud poker and small pots.
Poker night regular Nick Marchitto ’05 said his group has played together about once a week for the last year. At first, they played no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, but they have since stopped because people were losing too much money and the game was becoming too competitive. Now, Marchitto said, they compete for “modest” sums of money and sometimes smoke cigars and drink cognac.
The game is mostly for friends, but Marchitto said anyone is welcome, even a female player or two.
“As far as girls playing, we don’t care. We’ll take anyone’s money,” Marchitto said.
Once, the group played with two girls from across the hall who were interested in setting up their own poker night. The game stayed social, player Hallie Haglund ’05 said, but her suitemate Vanessa Selbst ’05 wanted a more serious tone.
“She’s really hard-core into it,” Haglund said.
Selbst could not be reached for comment.
Haglund theorized that male players often expect that women will not take the game seriously enough. But she said this was not the case with her suitemate.
“No boy was as hard-core as Vanessa,” Haglund said.
Last year the boys’ game was serious enough that $400 swings happened on occasion.
But Marchitto and his friends said they always intended their game to be social. Steve Witthuhn ’05, who started playing this year after the stakes were lowered, said players generally keep themselves out of trouble.
“People know their limits,” he said. “It’s not a situation where you’re losing fortunes.”