The early shift – preying on overnighters at your local casino

Lee Jones
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Posted on: November 27, 2023 2:07 pm EST

Sometimes one plays poker because it’s easy and convenient. You’ve been there – it’s a rainy day and the family is going to a movie that is just not your bag. So you decide to head down to the casino and get your entertainment in the $2/3 NL hold’em game.

Sometimes one plays poker because – well, because the conditions demand that anybody serious about the game play poker. I mean, come June of every year, there are two kinds of tournament players: (a) the people at the WSOP, and (b) the people who wish they were at the WSOP. To that point, it seems that we’re about to say the same thing about the WPT World Championship at the beginning of December.

Conversely, cash players bemoan the state of their games in Las Vegas during the WSOP because all the Euro-crushers are in town. But give them a Super Bowl, a March Madness basketball tournament, or a major heavyweight boxing match, when the sports fans take those seats – the serious cash players clear their calendars and stock up on protein bars so they don’t have to leave their chair.

And then sometimes, the two motivations to play align like Jupiter and Mars in The Age of Aquarius. My wife is recovering from a knee replacement operation (beautifully, thank you), so she’s sleeping in a separate room, and our sleep schedules are fairly messed up. Which is how I woke up one Saturday morning recently. Wide awake. At 5:00am. I waited a few minutes and, yep, I was awake.

Then I had an awful, terrible, wonderful thought. I called Bay 101. Why yes, they had two $2/$3/$5 games going, and a third that was probably about to break. Normally I wouldn’t have even bothered checking – I didn’t want to be more than a few minutes from home with my wife in her current state. But our younger son was sleeping over after visiting friends on this side of the Bay – she was in good hands.

Suddenly I had motive and opportunity. I hopped in the car and headed south.

I-880 never looks this empty

Here’s the thing: I don’t usually find myself playing poker first thing in the morning. And I’m almost never playing poker first thing in the morning when it didn’t involve playing through the entire previous night.

About that – I have played enough overnight sessions to know one thing: nobody is playing their best when they’ve been playing all night. In fact, a handful of Brad Owen’s recent vlogs have involved his waking up and driving down to the Bellagio or Wynn even before the breakfast buffet opens. He doesn’t say it explicitly, but we all know what this is about – he’s there to catch the crowd that hasn’t left the game since dinner time last night.

Which is exactly what I was doing.

I got to Bay 101, and found a parking spot that was immediately adjacent to a blue-lined handicap space. Another thing that never happens to me.

A rare circumstance – walking into the casino near dawn.

The third $2/$3/$5 game had, indeed, broken, and both tables were playing about 7-handed. Perfect. I got my chips and asked the server person for a breakfast menu.

It’s funny – in a couple of minutes, you can figure out who’s stuck, and who is sitting on piles of profit. You might think that you look at the chip stacks, but nah, the faces tell much more. The winners – they’re just biding their time. Maybe they’re supposed to be somewhere at 9:00am, so they’re just hanging out, not really moving any chips around. If they start putting money in the pot, they’ve got a premium – they don’t want to risk a significant downswing at this hour. Conversely, the ones who are stuck, they’re the ones that are happiest to see early-arrivers like me. I’m bringing fresh chips onto the table, my presence mitigates the danger of the game breaking, and maybe I’ll be willing to play a pot even when I don’t have the nuts.

I got breakfast and coffee ordered, and settled into the flow of the game. As I suspected, the ones I had marked as winning were chatting, discussing whatever sports-ball was on the TV, and folding a lot. It looked like the #2 and #6 seats were the ones who had suffered the most in the prior hours. Both had just a hair over the maximum buy-in on the table, while some of the other players had two or three buy-ins in front of them. Seat #6, in particular, seemed ready to flip for stacks if need be to give themselves a chance of getting unstuck.

It’s always broad daylight over the table.

I wasn’t eager to get into any high-variance confrontations with this crowd. Against the winners, I would be shown the nuts, every last time. Against the losers, it was just a question of waiting for a decent hand.

And that’s the thing about preying on overnighters – your goal is to break even until you get one good spot against somebody who just doesn’t care any more.

I finally got my spot – it wasn’t against the #6 seat, as I thought it would be. Instead, it was against the #2 seat – the other guy who appeared to have been taking it on the chin all night. There was an early position limp, and then he raised to $25 in the lojack seat. It folded around to me in the big blind. I found A♣️4♣️, and called. To my astonishment, the limper folded. Then I realized that the limper was working on breakfast and was sitting on about $2500 – over three maximum buy-ins. He had no desire to let his eggs get cold while he messed around with a marginal hand.

With $55 in the middle, the flop was 4♦️-2♠️-9♣️. I checked, and the lojack bet $40. We had started about $700 effective, so there was plenty of money to win if I could get a good turn card. I called.

The turn card was, well – better than the vegetarian omelet, which was delicious. It was the A♦️, giving me two pair. If it also gave my opponent top pair, there could be fireworks. There was now $135 in the pot, and I checked again.He bet $100. I paused briefly, then check/raised to $270. If he called, there would be $675 in the pot, with $365 behind – a perfect size to jam the river.

His shoulders sagged, and I knew my two-pair was good. After a while, he sighed, and slid the call in. Now normally, the “sigh” is the single most terrifying noise you can hear at the table – it usually means the sigher has the nuts. But not this person, and not at this hour. Nope, this sigh meant exactly what a sigh is supposed to mean.

The river was an inconsequential (I hoped) 8♠️. My plan had been to go for the rest of the lojack’s chips, but I sensed that, despite the sigh, despite everything, he still might have the discipline to fold a bluff-catcher.

I slid one white chip toward the middle of the table. “$100, please.”

His shoulders sagged again. Shortly, I would be finding out if the sigh on the turn meant what I thought it did. He looked at the pot, then looked at my bet, which he was getting better than 7:1 to call. He looked back at his cards, and his shoulders sagged again. Finally he sighed, again, and threw his cards, face down, toward the dealer.

Then he did something he probably should have done hours prior – he stood up, and said, “Seat open.” A few of us, including myself, wished him a good day, and I truly hope he had one. At the least, I hope he got some sleep.

I played for another hour, but the #6 seat left had also left somewhere in there. The table was starting to fill with people who’d woken up that morning, gone for their run, showered, drunk a protein shake, and were now buying into our game.

You have to know when the predators are becoming prey.

I cashed out a profit that was almost identical to the profit I’d made in that one hand. I was back home mid-morning and ready for… well, ready for a nap if I’m being honest.

Hunting overnighters – it’s tiring work.