For years, my poker experience centered on rounding an array of underground games within the New York City/New Jersey area. Even though today I go to Parx Casino (PA) and Borgata in Atlantic City more regularly, I still play twice a week in a NYC area $5/5 No Limit underground game. Yet, I keep my ear close to the ground about where the best games in the area may be located next. For now this game plays huge, and I’m not going elsewhere anytime soon.

Often times, probably because of the movie Rounders or simple curiosity, I am asked about my experience in these underground poker facilities. Today, I talk about just that: the good, the bad, and some things in between concerning underground poker. For obvious reasons, I can’t touch on the location of these clubs.

Usually, when asking anyone if they would like to hear good news or bad news first, they tend to respond with wanting to hear the bad news upfront. With that in mind, Underground Poker has two major faults:

Rake is high…sometimes absurdly high

If you aren’t careful or attentive concerning rake, you can get raked up to 10% no cap. After much complaining, many clubs have implemented a $25-50 cap on the rake.

Games sometimes don’t get off

No matter how strong of a game you attend, all games will experience a dry spell. This may be a result of numerous things: players may have lost a substantial amount the prior game and choose to take a break, some are out of town, others work that night, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, if this is your bread and butter game, you will either have to find another game or be out of action for the time being.

Underground Tip: If a game has not gotten off for three consecutive games, it likely will never get off again, and you should find a new game.

This poker scene, at times difficult to find, isn’t all bad. Some good traits are to be considered:

Action is good…really good

To offset some of the high rake, these clubs tend to provide some good action and exceptionally weak play. At times, the house will sit in on games and, fortunately for the game, they tend to be on the weaker side of the poker playing spectrum. Moreover, their sole purpose is to provide loose action for the game. Therefore, preflop straddles and re-straddles abound. This is good news for everyone, and even more so for the Pros/Regs.

Location, Location, Location

We’ve all heard the phrase that location is everything. The truth is most of these clubs exist because no one wants to drive hours to a casino. This is especially true if you have day job which you have to report to in the morning. This applies to many of the middle-aged players who enter the underground scene.

Who doesn’t like free food?

Most of these establishments provide free food and drinks. This is definitely a plus, at least for me, because I can eat! This isn’t major but it is a nice perk given the premium we pay per pot.

These are some of the pros and cons of the underground scene. However, as a disclaimer, I would be doing this article a disservice if I didn’t touch on raids, police, and robberies. Simply put, this is rare. I’ve never been involved in any raids, police involvement, or any safety issues. With that said, they happen, and it is a risk you absorb when you enter these facilities. It is important to note that under NY/NJ law it is not illegal for one to play in the facility but it is illegal to run the games. Therefore, you as a player have no issues with the law for playing there. However, you will lose the money on the table if raided as that will likely be seized.

I am hoping this article will serve as a precursor to other Underground Poker writings. Future pieces will involve hands played within these clubs, which play, for lack of a better word, interestingly. Other players, some of which are fellow coaches on this site, call them “Fantasy Hands”, as they are so ridiculous that they may not apply elsewhere but are fun to read and analyze nonetheless. I will also attempt to include some fun underground stories to fill in the article.

With that said, see you on the felt!

If you have any questions about this article hit me up on the Red Chip Poker Forum or on twitter @ChristianPoker.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Lucas

    I live in an area with no legal games, and plenty of underground games. I’ve logged maybe 8 sessions, and while i’m a slight winner, the rake has always scared me off. Do you ask the host about the rake directly? Do you ask for any kind of rake discount? Is there a way you use of figuring out if the rake is beatable? I’m looking at mostly x/5 games.

  • Christian Soto

    Hey Lucas,

    So what I usually do is keep an eye on the dealer when you are not in the hand, especially in the big pots. This will give you an idea of what they truly raking.
    Asking the house won’t do you much good, as they will almost always lie.

    Try to find a game that puts the rake on the side versus ones that rake and drop on every round of betting. Those games are usually cleaner.
    As per you beating the rake: it’s going to hard but two factors are key. 1) how deep are the players 2) how soft is it
    Those will be the main factors in helping you keep a win rate.

    Good luck! Let me know if u have any other questions

  • Jeff

    Fun underground stories still coming?

  • Jay

    It’s impossible, or nearly impossible, to beat that kind of rake. 10% even with a $25 max = ~$500 / hour house take. That’s insane for even a 5-10 game, forget the 1-3 or 2-5. You might as well buy a lottery ticket. The game logs let’s say 8 hours, all player money house take = $4000! That means any loose player money is going to the house and not to the other players I’m afraid. Within three sessions every player can expect at least an average loss of $800 spread out over each session.

    I’m sure you beat the game regularly but mathematics dictate it’s nearly impossible to be a consistent winner even over a short series of games.