Vill du spela poker?

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
–Miriam Beard
The strangest thing about summertime in Sweden is that it’s almost never dark. And although I’ve been there once in the summer before (and twice in the winter), my biological clock was still baffled by watching the sun go down at 11 and come up at 2. If you asked me 5 years ago what I thought the probability was that I’d be taking the train from my wife’s parents house to play poker in Stockholm with my best friend was, I would have bet the farm against it. And although it doesn’t seem so unusual to me now, it still looks strange on paper.
The two weeks went by quickly– I spent most of the time hanging out with Mrs. Double and her family, lounging around the house in an attempt at relaxation. I was able to hit the Stockholm casino with the expatriate Monk, and was lucky enough to hear one of his live performances. Since I hadn’t had any time off since last July, I was content to take it easy, although the Swedes drink so much coffee that I found myself bouncing off the walls (they actually have a verb–“fika”–which roughly translated means, “drink coffee, eat pastries, and talk”).
I was hoping to get a fair bit of online play in while across the ocean, but because of the jet lag and the cold I caught the second week, I only managed to get a couple online sessions in. For those of you that remember, I had jumped from playing 3 $3-6 tables on Party to two $5-10 tables, and was struggling to make the leap.
I’m happy to say that over the last 1000 hands, I’m a winner, although unlike the steady bankroll growth at $3-6, the swings are fast and furious. Although I’m still a fish in these games, I can offer a few bits of advice for shorthanded games:
1. Raise with KJo or better if you are opening from any position
2. Play second pair or better hard, but usually third pair should fold
3. Play draws if you have additional (overcard) outs
4. Small pairs and middle aces and below are weak hands
5. When you have a hand, pound your opponents until they convince you that you’re beat
The most challenging part is knowing when to bet your Ace high and putting players on hands. Since correct play is much looser shorthanded, it’s much more difficult to put a player on a hand than in a full game.
But back to Sweden– the take home lesson from my trip to the Stockholm casino is that socialism and gambling don’t mix very well. Sweden has 4 casinos, all owned by the government. In typical European style, they all have a dress code (no sneakers, but shorts are ok in the summer?) and charge a membership fee (300 Crowns, or about $40 US for the day). The Swedes have the old European attitude about a night at the Casino– a high society night on the town, where nice clothes and a “respectable” environment are a cover-up for gambling’s bad reputation.
Monk and I ambled into the casino around 5 pm, knowing that there was a pot limit tournament starting at 6. $50 + $10 juice… no thanks! The casino was very nicely maintained, and although smaller, was as clean and shiny as the famous Vegas strip casinos. We immediately made our way upstairs, to check out the poker room and see if the tournament was worth entering. Monk had been here before, and wasn’t surprised to find that the poker room was closed only an hour before the tourney, and would open at 6 pm sharp.
Me: “Isn’t the point of the tournament to bring in players to make money in the side games?”
Monk: “We’re dealing with socialists here.”
We finally found a floorman who informed us that after the tournament (around 9), they would open 2 10-20 tables and a pot limit table, and we should sign up during the tournament if we wanted a seat. Um, ok. We made our way back down to the bottom floor, past your usual variety of slot machines (they were advertisting a $70,000 jackpot as the biggest prize of the summer–wow!), but we ignored these and made our way to the 2 blackjack tables. Want to count cards? Too bad, both tables have continuous shuffle machines. Ok, how about roulette? 2 tables here, and there’s only one green slot in Europe (no double zero). Craps? There was a strange looking craps table, but we were told it didn’t open until nine.
We were able to find a strange table with big lighted buttons in front of each seat (think Jeopardy), laid out in front of a table with various squares representing the different wagering possibilties. The two corner squares looked like even money bets, as each wager had the odds of winning below the bet. The “dealer” showed us the yahtzee like popcorn-dice-machine, a glass case with a metal cover that held three dice. The player presses the lighted button 3 times, the popcorn pops each time, and the metal case is removed. The three dice make up various craps-like bet combinations, and the dealer determines the winners. Welcome to SIC-BO.
As you might have guess, we quickly got bored with the popcorn machine after just missing several longshot bets. Sic-bo is a very poor substitute for craps, but I have to admit the absurdity of pressing the button and hearing the loud pop was greatly amusing. Monk and I quickly getting fleeced was not quite as amusing.
We had 3 hours to kill, and wandered across town to talk metaphysics over sushi. Question of the day, posed by Monk: “If ESP exists, and some people have mastered it, why don’t they use that talent to become the best poker player of all time?” What he was suggesting is that there are greater uses for abilities like this (bad analogy: the same reason Superman doesn’t become a heavyweight boxer). Or perhaps Phil Hellmuth really does have ESP.
Of course it rained the whole way back to the casino, and we arrived with our barely-passable dress code attire soaked. The tournament finally wound down, and we were able to get a seat in the 10-20 game. The highest game I’ve played live before this was $8-16, and because of Sweden’s economic environment, this game was more akin to a $30-60 American game. High taxes and lower wages make the dollar go farther in Sweden than in the US, and I expected to face a lineup of some of the toughest players I’d seen. But the rake was so high (5% up to $10) that I understood why there are so many good Swedish players online. In chatting with another player, we discovered that there was an illegal club in the near vicinity owned by a WPT pro that was more popular than the government owned casino.
Most of the players ranged from age 35-50, and the play was loose-passive preflop and weak-tight post flop. There were plenty of weak spots, as 2 seats at the table always seemed to be filled by calling stations with little experience. One would bust out, and another would immediately appear and dump $400 calling people down with nothing. The rest of the table waited to isolate these players, but there wasn’t much money to be made from the other 8 players.
I had a bad session, winning a big pot early and then slowly losing my stack while getting cold-decked. I think I lost my top pair to trips 5 times, and went down in flames when my pocket aces went down in flames to trip nines (I threw my last 2 $10 chips in telling the guy who raised me I would bet the farm he had trip nines, but it was little consolation being right). Monk was playing way over his head bankroll wise, but played extremely well, especially considering it was only his third or fourth time playing live. My favorite hand was when he scooped a monster pot after rivering a flush with 53s on a newbie who slowplayed trip aces. He ended up about even, and the only mistake I saw him make was placing his chips on his cards before the action got to him.
The only thing I took home were a few new names for hands: the Swedes call a straight a “ladder”, and a flush a “color” (also the same word for paint). And they use the original name for the jack– “knight”.
Continuing on the non-capitalism theme, there were about 30 players waiting on the rail to get into a game. The casino is making $10 a hand, and they refuse to put another dealer at one of the empty tables to start another game. Ye gads.
So there you have it, my Swedish poker experience. I didn’t play very well, and didn’t get much luck, but it was fun to see how different poker and gambling are treated in another country. I have to say that as far as gambling goes, America is as good as it gets.
Thanks for reading, and good cards.

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