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Top-10 observations from a charity casino night

15 April 2013

From time to time, my wife informs me that she's hired a babysitter and we're going to a fundraiser for some cause in our town. I usually go begrudgingly, then am pleasantly surprised when I actually have a great time.

But last week, there was no hesitation on my end when she told me about the latest event: Casino night to raise money for our son's school.

Now this was a fundraiser I could get behind. Obviously I wasn't going to win any cash, but I did feel like all the time I've spent studying games of chance might actually pay some dividends.

There's a big difference between charity casino night and a night at a real casino. And if you find yourself attending a charity casino event, you need to be prepared. Here are the top-10 things I observed at my first charity casino night.

10. Interesting setup
The event I attended provided us with a total of 1,200 in chips for our entrance fee. That might sound like a lot of chips to play with, except that my wife and I had to split it, and the minimum bet at all table games was 50. We could buy another 1,000 chips for $20, and you could also spin the Wheel of Fortune twice for $20 with a series of prizes available, from cases of beer to gift certificates to local restaurants.

At the end of the night, every 500 in chips was worth one raffle ticket, which could be redeemed for a chance to win a wide variety of prizes.

9. Positive expectation games!
The first game we played was blackjack. While I was somewhat disappointed with the short chip stack we were offered, I was thrilled when I saw the rules at the table. The dealer stood on soft 17, but more importantly, blackjack paid 2:1. So on a 100-chip bet, instead of raking in a 150-chip profit on blackjack as you would at a standard 3:2 table, players banked an impressive 200-chip win. I'm not exactly sure what the odds are with such a setup, but with basic strategy, I'm sure this game offered players an advantage over the "house."

8. My wife is very results oriented
Seeing that blackjack was such a great deal for the player, we spent close to an hour playing. My wife doesn't know basic strategy, so she asked me what she should do on most hands. I'd tell her what basic strategy says she should do, and if it didn't work out, it was my fault. This is why we don't travel to Las Vegas together.

7. No free drinks
I'm not going to imply that I was expecting free drinks at a charity event where I was playing casino games with play-money chips. But I will say that it was odd to play blackjack and have to go buy a beer at the bar instead of having a cocktail waitress come around and take my order.

6. Poker was a waste of time
After booking a small win in blackjack, my wife and I went in different directions for the rest of the night. I took about 1,000 chips to the poker table, where two friends and I started up the game, and she took a few hundred chips to the roulette wheel. We started three-handed play and the dealer informed us that the blinds would be 50-100. None of us had more than 1,000 chips, so there were a total of 30 big blinds at the table. Needless to say, we protested, and he changed the blinds to 50-50; still way too high to get any play, but at least a little better.

Soon after we sat down, a few more players joined us, but I don't think there were more than 7,000 chips on the table at any time, so it was pretty hard to play serious poker.

5. Poker was awesome
Instead of lamenting the ridiculous lack of chips, I decided to have fun with it. I played tight and waited for decent hands. Because 75 percent of the players at the table were limping in on every hand, whenever I got a pocket pair or A-10 or better, I raised all in. I got all the players to fold three or four times, then got called by 10-4 suited when I was holding A-K. I guess he'd just had enough of my overbets. Of course the flop came with a 10 and a 4, but thankfully I had him covered so I still had chips left to play.

Regardless of the bad beat, I have to say that I loved the atmosphere of the table. I don't play high stakes when I play, but there's a real difference between playing for real money and playing for play chips. And some of the guys at the table probably didn't play for real money often, or perhaps ever, because they were staring me down and contemplating their decision for 30-40 seconds whenever I moved all in. I thought it was hilarious, and wished I could be a fly on the wall later when they told their wives about the guy who kept bullying the table and how they were trying to come up with a strategy to beat him.

4. Forget the auction, play the games
I understand that a charity casino night is all about raising money, and I appreciate all the work the organizers were doing to raise money for my son's school. But right when the poker game was getting good, all table games were stopped so that an auction could be held.

The problem with live auctions at events like these is that no one pays attention. The group at my poker game sat there wishing the game was still going, with none of us bidding on any of the items available. Those who weren't at tables were talking amongst themselves, ignoring the women running the auction.

I think people would have enjoyed the evening more had the auction been a silent one. And considering how often many of the players at the poker table were reloading when they ran out of chips, there was an opportunity for more revenue.

3. Don't give unsolicited advice
Most of our friends at this fundraiser were asking me how they should play the games. And I was happy to offer advice to those who asked. But I also followed the same maxim that I follow when I'm playing games for real money: Let other people bet their chips however they like. It's not your place to be the table captain and tell people the "right" way to play. If people ask, go ahead and answer. But otherwise, realize that people are there to have a good time and leave them to make their bets in the method of their choosing.

2. In the end, I really didn't care
It was getting towards the end of the night, and I was holding steady at about 1,000 chips at the poker table when I decided I would try to steal a pot on the button holding K-7. With five limpers already in the pot, I decided to change it up, so instead of shoving all in, I raised to 300. The guy who called my all-in bet with 10-4 suited called, and everyone else got out of the way. A J-high uncoordinated flop didn't leave much out there, so I bet another 300, thinking I'd convince him that since I was betting less, my hand was actually stronger than it had been in the past when I'd been bullying everyone out of pots. He called, and we saw the turn, which put a flush draw on the board. He checked and I moved all in. He stared me down for a good minute, trying to get a read on me (which I found hilarious), then finally opted to call with the nut flush draw. My K-high was drawing super thin and he caught his flush on the river, so that was the end of my night at the tables.

I had fun, but was tired of sitting there treading water. I either wanted to double up to get more raffle entries or just be done. I was done, and I was okay with that.

1. My wife did care
My wife, who had given me the last of her chips after seeing that I was short after losing half my stack in the A-K hand, was talking with friends when I came over and told her I lost all the chips. She didn't share my thoughts on doubling up or going home, especially when she found out I moved all in with K-high. Next time, I'll know enough to bring the chips back to her when I start getting bored.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.