Let's face it: Atlantic City is no Las Vegas, but A.C. still brings poker players to the tables and thanks to Borgata's commitment to the game, the poker community is alive and flourishing. Although it does not have the marketability and television presence of its West Coast rivals, A.C. continues to provide a playground for those who seek high-stakes action and -- despite an economy that seems to have dried up many of the country's biggest games -- this famous seashore resort still has a "Big Game" that meets regularly.
Although this is the East Coast's version of the Big Game held in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, you'll still need $25,000 to buy into this game and don't expect it to be soft. Featuring an eclectic mix of game specialists, big-name tournament players, and non-professional players that include a doctor, builder and restaurateur, the A.C. Big Game features a rotation of players that can hold their own just about anywhere.
According to Borgata's resident shark, Matt Glantz, the Big Game continues to thrive in A.C. for a number of reasons while other Big Games across the country die.
"For one thing, we don't keep raising the limits" Glantz said. "It's usually $600/$1,200, sometimes $400/$800. When I've come out West over the last couple of years, the limits always get higher and higher. You start a game at $500/$1,000. By the end of the night, it's $1,000/$2,000 or $1,500/$3,000. Ultimately everyone wants to play higher, but it's not good for the game in the long run."
The A.C. game continues to meet regularly because the rotating lineup of between 15 to 18 players is a tight-knit group and many of them have incomes and lives outside of poker.
"It is a bunch of friendly guys and it's an honest game," Glantz said. "You don't have to worry about cheating. Everyone enjoys themselves and we play at a level that is comfortable for the players in the game. The guys in our game also have decent bankrolls and jobs outside of poker, so we're really not worried about losing players. The bigger games are drying up because people simply run out of money. They play higher than they can afford and they go broke. If the economy was doing better there would still be bigger games, but it's hard when players don't have excess income. They don't feel like gambling with the rent money."
Meeting two weekends a month and playing 12 hours a day, the players in this game go out of their way to keep things going, which differs from other Big Games where people randomly appear hoping to get some sick action.
"Nobody just shows up for a game," Glantz continued. "We're on the phone during the week in order to organize the game. That way no one has to drive from Virginia or New York City just to see if there is a game and waste their time. Usually we know by Wednesday or Thursday night whether there is going to be a game that weekend and then everyone just shows up.
"The trust factor in the game is big in that you don't have to worry about being cheated," Glantz said. "You don't have to be concerned about whether someone is going to short the pot chips or do anything that is not on the up and up. The A.C. game is an honest one because Borgata protects the game. Poker room manager Stan Strickland is on top of things and he runs the game well. He does a great job of coordinating with players and making sure everyone is happy and that there are no problems. That makes a big difference. Everyone warns me when I go out to L.A. or Vegas to 'look out for this' and 'look out for that.' Although it hasn't happened to me, I've certainly heard some legitimate stories about this stuff happening in other places."
Free from worries about shady dealings at the table, the Borgata Big Game is pure poker at its best and that is a big reason the players keep coming back.
"We play the basic forms of HOSE -- Razz is not a legal game in New Jersey, so we play hold 'em, Omaha, stud, and stud right-or-better," Glantz says of the differences between A.C. and Las Vegas. "You don't really see that anywhere else. If there is a mixed game on the West Coast, it usually has triple draw, badugi, no-limit deuce, no-limit hold 'em or pot-limit Omaha. Our game is a very clean, vanilla type of poker. It's a real poker game, no draw games and nothing fancy."
Possibly the biggest reason players return to Borgata's felt is that although the stakes are high, it is difficult to go broke in one night.
"The average swing is about $25,000," Glantz said. "On a good night, a player can take home between $50,000 and $60,000, and then you have weekends with big winners who take home much more. You still make a good amount of money if you're doing well and you still lose enough that it hurts. The restaurateur has won the biggest amount I've seen at $600/$1200, taking home about $230,000 over the course of a weekend."
According to Glantz, the players' familiarity with one another offers each an attractive shot at a big payday, and that is one of the big things that keeps the civilians playing despite facing the tough professional competition. Although the swings in the A.C. game are typically on the mellow side compared to those on the West Coast or to online counterparts, the A.C. game still has enough action to attract some of the country's elite.
"Sometimes we get locals like John D'Agostino, and you'll always find cash game players like Cong Do, who is a tough player and very consistent," he said. "He's probably the biggest winner in Atlantic City over the last 10 years. Then there are the bigger-name players that play when they are in town such as David Williams, Amnon Filippi, Ted Forrest, and Nick Shulman."
The A.C. Ace
Although a number of talented players are included in the mix, Philadelphia resident Glantz has emerged to dominate the action over the past two years and many poker industry insiders believe that he is arguably one of the sport's best cash game players. Despite having claimed more than $1.8 million in career tournament earnings, Glantz spends most of his time dominating the A.C. Big Game. After making his high-stakes debut roughly two years ago, he quickly earned a reputation as the casino's biggest baller despite flying under the radar of the poker public.
Having seen his share of swings as an options trader, Glantz learned to adapt to the pressures of playing high-stakes poker easily and he feels as comfortable on the felt as he does taking big risks on Wall Street. "It's just part of the game," he said. "You have to think of it as one large session. You don't think about it from hour to hour. As long as you come out up at the end of the year, then everything's fine."
The only player to cash in the past three big buy-in tournaments since the start of last year's WSOP, including the 2008 $50,000 HORSE event, the $25,000 World Poker Tour championship and the 2009 WSOP $40,000 no-limit hold 'em event, Glantz remains level-headed despite the lack of coverage he gets.
"I'm not frustrated by it and it really doesn't bother me," he added. "I'm more of a family guy and I would rather raise my kids on the East Coast than out west. If your goal is to get a sponsorship deal and become known, then you would really have to move to the West Coast. I don't think anyone has ever done it out here."
After taking his game nationwide last year and tackling the Big Games in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Glantz believes that players from the East have an advantage over their Western counterparts when it comes to certain variations of the game.
"In reality, the game at Borgata is a little tougher than it is out on the West Coast because most of the players here are primarily stud or stud eight-or-better players. They are a lot tougher than players from the West in those particular games. When I go out to the West Coast, the games are usually a mix of eight to 10 games and once the games get around to the stud portion, they are a lot softer than the ones in Atlantic City. When it comes to limit hold 'em, no-limit hold 'em or pot-limit Omaha, the guys out West are a lot tougher."
Despite believing that East Coast players have an advantage in stud games, Glantz is quick to say that West coast players are no joke. "The players are much more aggressive on the West Coast, even for the limit games. They are much more passive in the stud games. Everything else on the West Coast is played with the same aggression as the way in which players on the East coast play stud."
Even though he has the chops to get a big sponsorship deal if he moved to a poker hotspot that has more media coverage, he remains steadfast in his decision to stay where he is because he enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow players. "The East Coast players seem a little bit more down to earth," Glantz said. "It's not a TV environment and we're not getting sponsorship deals. We just play poker and enjoy the game. Many of the West Coast guys are more worried about things like their sponsors and trying to either become famous or to make it look like they're winning big instead of trying to win. Trying to win seems to be their secondary goal."
As Borgata's cash game specialist, Glantz finds himself akin to the gunfighters of the Old West in that he has to be ready to take on any challenger at any time.
"That's part of the deal," he said. "If you are a known player and someone wants to play you, you have to agree to play limits and games that they want. If you're willing to concede those things and you still think you have an edge, that's when you play. It's part of the job."
Despite being considered one of the best cash game players in the East, Glantz remains humble and admits he still has a long way to go if he wants to stay on top. "Only time will tell for sure. There is no way to know if I have just run good for the last two years or whether I can continue to beat the biggest games. I bet most players you talk to won't tell you that, but it is the truth."
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