I co-write the gambling column for the SF Chronicle, and every so often I get to relate first-hand experiences while playing poker. This column documents one of the most memorable sessions, a night of utter chaos at Petaluma’s 101 Casino. Click the link above or read full text below:


What to do when poker table gets unruly, San Francisco Chronicle, July 16, 2014

By Michael Shapiro

The no-limit table in the VIP room of Petaluma’s 101 Casino on a recent Saturday night was an utter train wreck. A middle-aged man who said he was a military veteran kept acting out of turn. Another player, an off-duty casino employee who sounded just like actor Steve Buscemi, said he was drunk and acted like it, spraying his chips all over the table.

One player, clearly rattled by the unruly scene, scooped up his chips and left. But sensing there was money to be made, I chose to stay.

Poker is a mercenary game, and when you feel like any factor is tilting the odds in your favor, take advantage of it. That said, you can offer some help to players who need it.

The veteran playing at Petaluma’s 101 that night didn’t know the game that well, so I began prompting him when it was his turn to act or cautioning him against betting too soon. He seemed to appreciate this and said, “Jesus loves you.”

Soon the betting got big. After flopping a flush, I bet $90 and got three callers. When a blank came on the turn, I went all in for about $300 more. Buscemi tanked and finally folded as did another player.

But the veteran called, looking straight into my eyes and saying, “You better have the flush.” I told him I did.

A fourth spade dropped on the river, causing Buscemi to utter a stream of profanity suggesting he’d have hit the nut flush had he stayed in. The veteran showed the 3 and 5 of spades, I revealed the jack and 2 of spades for a higher flush to take a $1,000 pot. The vet smiled vacantly.

A few hands later, feeling generous, the vet decided to give about $120 of his chips to an Indian player he’d befriended at the table. I protested, noting that it’s against the rules for one player to give chips to another as it alters the stack sizes. The floor manager concurred and required the Indian man to return the chips to the vet.

This points to another lesson: Know the rules so if a player tries to bend them you can speak up. And, if you believe it could affect the game, don’t hesitate to challenge a player who’s flouting regulations.

After midnight I got pocket kings and went all in. Buscemi called. My kings had Buscemi’s jacks dominated but a jack fell on the flop, so his trips took the $1,100 pot.

Then a player named Angela, also a casino employee, let a talented player who’d just busted out of a tournament take her seat and play with her chips; the new player began pushing around the table. I wasn’t sure if this was legit so didn’t protest, but it was unnerving.

After the bad beat with kings my stack dwindled further. I no longer felt in command of the table. So, up about $330, I cashed out and called it a night.

Which suggests the final takeaway: When the game turns against you, quit while you’re still ahead.