BARGE: Four Days of Poker, Madness, Little Sleep, and (of course) Cheap Shrimp Cocktails

by Lou on August 9, 2010

I just returned from BARGE, the Big August Rec.Gambling Excursion to Las Vegas that’s been going on since 1991.  What began when a few participants of the rec.gambling usenet newsgroup who were attending a computer graphics conference in Las Vegas got together grew from a private poker tournament with about 10 players, to an event attracting 200 or more attendees with its own traditions, jargon, and zany, madcap, non-stop fun.

The official schedule of BARGE events is, of course, supplemented by numerous informal events, often organized on the spot, by attendees.

  • Binion’s: Tuesday, 8/3/2010: Limit Badugi @ 7:30pm. Entry: $50 + $10 + $5
  • Binion’s: Wednesday, 8/4/2010: Blackjack Tournament @ 11:00am. Entry: $50 + $10
  • Binion’s: Wednesday, 8/4/2010: Video Poker Tournament @ 3:00pm. Entry: $40 + $10
  • Binion’s: Wednesday, 8/4/2010: Draw Lowball Tournament @ 7:30pm. Entry: $60 + $15 + $5
  • Binion’s: Thursday, 8/5/2010: Team CHORSE @ 11:00 a.m. Entry $400 + $20 per Team
  • Binion’s: Thursday, 8/5/2010: Limit 6-game @ 7:30 p.m. Entry: $75 + $20 + $5
  • Binion’s: Friday, 8/6/2010: TOC™-style @ 10:00 a.m. Entry: $75 + $20 + $5
  • Binion’s: Friday, 8/6/2010: Symposium @ 4:00 p.m. $10 (“Symposium” is a code name for a Calcutta auction at which participants in the main event are auctioned off to individuals and syndicates—and purchased players have the right to buy back some of their own action—to create a second prize pool)
  • Binion’s: Friday, 8/6/2010: Annual BARGE Board of Directors Meeting @ 6:00 p.m.
  • Binion’s: Friday, 8/6/2010: TOC™-style (Finals) @ 6:30 p.m.
  • Binion’s: Saturday, 8/7/2010: No-Limit Hold’em @ 10:00 a.m. Entry: $100 + $20 + $5
  • Binion’s: Saturday, 8/7/2010: Significant Others Hold’em @ 11:00 a.m. Entry: $20 + $5
  • Binion’s: Saturday, 8/7/2010: Banquet @ 7:00 p.m. (speaker: Barry Tanenbaum), $20
  • Binion’s: Saturday, 8/7/2010: No Limit Hold’em Finish (if needed) @ 10:30 p.m.
  • Binion’s: Saturday, 8/7/2010: Expanded Cash Game Roster @ 10:30 p.m.

I didn’t arrive until Thursday, which was when the majority of attendees pulled into town.  My wakeup call Thursday morning was early—5:00 a.m., to be exact—to allow me sufficient time to make it to Binion’s in time for the Team Chorse event in which six-player teams engage in a variety of games, with one player from each team playing one of the six games in the rotation.  It’s a great time to talk to a lot of players you see maybe once a year in Las Vegas because there are tables for flop games and tables for stud games in the rotation, so there is downturn between whatever orbit you’re scheduled to play in.

My team, the Coney Island Whitefish (named for the used condoms that floated through the New York City sewage system back in the days when it used to empty out right into the ocean at Coney Island, to the dismay of the beach’s swimmers) didn’t come close this year, but there’s always 2011 to look forward to.

Thursday evening was a six-game tournament, comprising hold’em, Omaha/8, razz, 7-card stud, 7-stud/8, and chowaha.  The latter is a hold’em variant and a BARGE staple, played with three boards, two turn cards and one river, and if you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link you’ll need to get started:

I managed to finish fifth, but that meant not leaving the table until 2:30 a.m., so it had been a long day. By the time I got to bed it was probably 3:15, so I had about three or four hours sleep that night because my body is used to rising early, and besides, I had to play in the 10 a.m. Tournament of Champions-style event Friday morning.

Three to four hours sleep per night is about par for BARGE, though some people never seem to sleep at all.  I did not do anything in the Friday tournament, but busting out early gave me an opportunity to indulge one of my favorite Las Vegas activities: going to the Golden Gate—Las Vegas’ oldest hotel and casino—and pigging out on their inexpensive shrimp cocktail in the casino’s art-deco style.

When I got back to Binion’s I played cash games and just bounced around with no real results other than enjoying the games, the people, and Binion’s poker room.  The poker room loves us.  One of the BARGE traditions is to always toke the dealers when they come into the box and again when they leave, as well as when you win a hand.  Oh, yeah, we also toke them randomly too, which is one of the reasons the dealers wish BARGE was a month-long event.

Saturday is BARGE’s main event, a no-limit hold’em tournament where I lost the majority of my chips early on when I reraised with pocket queens after my opponent had made a smallish bet into a flop of three blanks.  Since he made a smallish raise before the flop, I figured it was a standard continuation bet and assumed that my pocket queens were at the top end of his wagering range, since the only hands ahead of me were pocket aces, pocket kings, or an unlikely set of rags. The latter were a real longshot because it would have meant he raised from early position with a very small pair before the flop.

My bad.  He had pocket kings. A queen never came and I was very short, and went out not too long afterwards when I had to make a stand with A-4 suited and the blinds staring me in the face.

The good thing about the early bust-out was that the cash games were calling me, and this time they were rewarding.  I won during the afternoon in a mixed game that was populated almost entirely by BARGEers, and following the banquet, which featured Barry Tanenbaum as guest speaker (If you’ve never attended a Barry Tanenbaum seminar, you’re missing a lot.  He’s a great teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of poker, and extremely witty too), I found an empty seat in a no-limit hold’em cash game with three locals in addition to the BARGE players. Two of the locals didn’t seem to understand us at all, played very predictably, and went broke. The other local was having loads of fun, drinking way too much, and losing a few buy-ins in the process.  I played until I was too tired to concentrate at all, got up, went to bed, got the requisite three hours sleep so I could get up, drive back home and reenter the real world.

BARGE is always great fun, and if you’ve never attended, you might want to make a point of showing up next year.  Here’s a link to BARGE history, glossary, traditions, and the event schedule:  You can also connect with the BARGE mailing list, so you won’t miss a thing as you plan for next year.

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