It's been one month since I have started to play poker at Top-Pot Poker Club at the WM Casino. I have lived in Sihanoukville before and it was a big deal for me to come back. So I determined at the start of all this that it would have to take a lot for me to decide to stay, and perhaps even move here for the long term. I began play on the 27th of June and the screenshot of my results that I have included above cover 20 days of play in 30 days. I should note before I list my results that I am by no means a crusher. Friends have referred to me in the past as a marginally winning player and I think that description is appropriate. I need certain lineups to win and by no means can I beat every type of lineup. That having been said, here we go:
• Total Hours - 107.8
• Total Profit - $2,814
• Rakeback - $1,611
• Total - $4,425
• Hourly w/o rakeback - $26.10
• Hourly w/ rakeback - $41.05
Judge these results however you will, but I am very happy with how things have gone. I knew the lineups here would be weaker considering the Chinese composition and that I would most likely beat it. The $26 hourly without rakeback is basically what I expected, although I thought it might creep up above $30. But rakeback my hourly jumps up to over $40, having earned a total of $4,425 for the entire 30 day period.
I told myself that I would need to make at least $3,000 per month here for this to start being worth all the trouble. As my first month's total has exceeded those expectations, I have decided to stay in Sihanoukville. My rakeback deal will continue and I have also been told that I can extend the same to anyone I choose to invite. So I've called a few friends and they are slowly starting to filter into town, with one having arrived already last night. He will also play $2-$5 and will play on the same 3x big blind per hour deal that I am on. The only requirement to earn this is that any player on the deal play at least 70 hours within a 15 day period. We were both on the table last night and it was a good game as the Chinese boss was playing and he had put in a few of his associates. If I'm able to entice a few more friends over and the boss continues to put in his players, I anticipate that we may be able to run two games of $2-$5 on a regular basis.
Life in general is starting to look up and become normalized here in Sihanoukville as well. I found a decent hotel for only $20 per night that is much closer to the casino than where I was previously staying at in Otres Village. And I swear this was not intentional, but it turns out that the hotel is located right atop the Vietnamese red light district here in town so the next couple of weeks should be very interesting. I checked in today and already by 3:00 PM the girls were out in the street calling and cackling at me to come over. I've also rented a new apartment for my wife and daughter in Phnom Penh. The last couple of places that they have stayed were temporary homes at best. They were always single rooms with no kitchen and not really appropriate for a family. And while I may not be there a lot, I still wanted a real home for my daughter. So they are moving in today into a nice 2-bedroom, 2-story apartment by her family for a very reasonable price. This extends a bit the time of travel to go see my family every week as I will now have to go into Phnom Penh instead of Kampot. But the games here are too good and the opportunity too great to not take advantage.
Time spent as a poker player in Phnom Penh would not be complete without a visit to the Red Fox. The Fox is an iconic spot in Phnom Penh, not only as a guesthouse and bar, but perhaps as home to the craziest little poker game you'll ever encounter. The Red Fox hosts three no limit hold'em tournaments every week, a small $20 rebuy event that most in town are able to enjoy. And while that is great fun, the real craziness starts after when they spread a dealer's choice $0.25-$0.25 game with just about every game imaginable in the rotation. I have personally played everything there from 8 card short handed omaha, 6 card badugi, super stud and follow the queen. These games are legendary as most players familiar with the region have all heard the stories about players winning and losing thousands of dollars in what is supposedly a $0.25 game.
As I previously mentioned, the Fox spreads three tournaments every week at 7:00 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. They are small $20 affairs, but the pot can get really big as players often play for prize pools north of $1,000. There really is no rake in the tourneys nor the cash games as they just ask that players order food and drinks from the bar. The Red Fox has garnered a lot of good will this way through the years with such practices and it is often said that the first organized poker game in Phnom Penh was played in this very bar. The staff at the bar double as dealers for the game and they are some of the funniest characters you will meet in the city. They have even developed their own catchphrases with their unique way of speaking English that players throughout town are well familiar with. If you play in the Red Fox just a few times it is easy to fall in love with the bar and those that work in it.
The most epic nights of course occur in the cash game where players can buy in from $20 to really whatever they want. There have been those who have taken advantage of the non-cap and have created some of the memorable games in the city's history. They really will play anything as the game is dealer's choice. Personally I usually pick Razz or 6 card badugi but there have been some exotic games chosen that you really will not find anywhere else. I don't want to say that the players are bad, it's just that no one cares. The game is meant to be fun and not a vehicle for which bankrolls are won and lost. The games can last a long time as just a few months ago there was one cash game that ran for 24 hours. And there is always someone to play as the bar doubles as a guesthouse and players stay there all the time. The owner plays in the game himself and will often cut good deals on the rooms for players who drink, eat and play there.
The Red Fox was one of the first places I played poker in Cambodia and has provided some of the fondest memories I have of Cambodia. They are still going strong so if you are in Phnom Penh and still haven't experienced the Fox, get out from under your rock and drop by for a fun game.
The following is an excerpt from the blog of my best friend here in Cambodia, Renton555. He posted this on the 2+2 poker forum a few weeks back, discussing the recent increase in rake at the Nagaworld poker room, or as he calls it "Clown World." To read his entire blog, click here:
So they just raised the rake at Clownworld. 5% cap 20usd not enough I guess. They now take 10% until the commission reaches $5 (i.e. $1 at $10 pot, $2 at $20) then they take another $5 at 200 at another $5 at 300 (*).
For those of you who don't have a lot of experience playing live poker, there are basically three types of rake structure that are commonly used:
1) high percentage low cap (i.e. in Vegas for $1/$2, 10% capped at 4 or 5 is typical)
2) time-based rake (usually in the West, usually for bigger games or heads-up)
3) low percentage high cap (more popular in Asia, where 5% capped at 20 or 25 is pretty standard)
All three of these can be tweaked to achieve the $/hour that the poker room is looking for. High% low cap tends to take more from nitty lineups and also creates a meta where pots are opened for larger than 3bb so that the pot is more likely to cap out. Low% high cap gives those lineups a break but takes a ****load from very good games, which people generally don't mind playing in regardless of the rake.
However, the clown crew decided to have both. Now they rape the small pots and the big pots. They've also increased the rake at a point when their games are as inconsistent (in quality) as ever and when their competition has developed a lot of momentum. Competing private games in town take a lower commission AND offer free food and lodging AND offer promos like high hand and hourly rakeback. Meanwhile, they offer very meager comps. A once a day food voucher that frequently doesn't pay for a whole menu item, free tea, coffee, water, and draft beer. A can of coke is $4.
When I worked in poker rooms one of my favorite pastimes was to hate on the nits who would do obnoxiously nit things like insta jesus seating the table mark as soon as a seat to his left came open, insta leave as soon as the table breaks to 8 handed, insta request table change as soon as the other table is even slightly better than their table. Having a rake like like this just encourages more of such behavior, and might even make it mandatory in many cases.
Unless there's a pair of Indian whales punting 500 an hour, the large majority of otherwise-winning regs will be losers with this rake 5 handed, maybe even 6 handed, and no rake reductions are granted for shorthanded play. It will discourage games from starting short handed and it will cause games to break that might have run for 8 more hours with a lineup who doesn't mind playing an hour or so of 6 handed play waiting for more to show up. Kind of reminds me of the Laffer curve, the theory that the higher the tax rate is (after a point), the lower the state's revenue ultimately is.
(*) They also take a staggering 5 more dollars for running it twice. Something that they should be encouraging because it extends the length of a game. facepalm.gif
Anyway rant over. I might have to find a new place to play.
No lengthy blog post today. I have shown so many photos and videos of what Sihanoukville is like today, I thought it would be germane to show what it once was like through photos I took five years ago during my first visit to the beach city.
This is now my third time living in Sihanoukville. I first moved here three years ago, before the Chinese were here and the biggest game in town was $1-$2 NLH. Then I moved back about 1.5 years ago to run a poker room for a friend of mine in the middle of the Chinese migration and the expat exodus. At the end of this last stint, I swore that I would never come back. For those of us involved on the management side of things, running that room was very difficult and it soured our experience for the entire city. And besides, it can be hard to truly grasp what your environment is like when you are constantly trying to post a rosy picture for those who you are trying to attract as players/customers. And now I have returned and while I have some loose ties with the room at the WM Casino, I am not working for them in any real sense. That having been said, I think I have developed a truer picture of what Sihanoukville has become.
First the good, the poker is phenomenal. I admit that my own game at the poker room I managed was not that great of a game. But that is the only place I ever really played as most of the managers and I always had to sit on the table to keep the game going. Now having had the chance to play somewhere else, and also at higher stakes, has given me a true appreciation of how good the games here are. I have now been here for thirteen days, ten of which I have spent playing poker. Playing mostly $2-$5 my combined earnings from winnings and rakeback are a bit north of $2,200. Taking out the rakeback I have still achieved a rate of $45 per hour. These are all numbers that far surpass anything I have made recently in a similar amount of time, and it's not even close. The Chinese mostly play $2-$5 and above and there are basically two types. There are the loose passives that play most of their hands and call everything to the turn. On the river they either fold because they've missed whatever they were chasing or they make their range completely transparent by raising. Then there are the loose-aggressive types who raise every pot and give action to even the tightest players, simply because they want to "get them." They don't care about the rake and the only bonus that really concerns them is the free food and drinks. The rakeback in this town is very generous for expat regs who are willing to put in the hours. Honestly if I really clamped down and put the hours in, I probably could live off of that alone if I just broke even.
Now for the bad, and there are at least a few items here. The traffic conditions are absolutely horrible, not only due to the influx of people, but also due to the sheer number of building projects. These projects clog up the roads with trucks that travel up and down the roads nearly 24/7. They produce a lot of debris and dust, making it very difficult to see while driving during the day. The roads themselves are completely torn up and there are pot holes everywhere. And when it rains, which is often this time of year, the roads get flooded with what is basically waste product from all of the building projects. The most difficult part is driving home at night when I am finished playing. Obviously all of the conditions I have described exist at night as well, except now there is far less visibility as the streets are completely devoid of street lights. And of course this causes every vehicle to drive with their high beams on, making it impossible for anyone on the other side of the road to see more than a few feet in front of them.
None of this would be that bad if the drive were not so long. But I have to live in Otres Village, about 6 km from the casino as everything nearby is either completely occupied or too expensive. When I lived here three years ago, I had a huge 1 bedroom apartment for only $150 per month. Everything I have looked at recently suggests that such a place would command nearly $600 per month presently. Guesthouses and hotels are $50-$60 per night and so I live in Otres Village, the last "oasis" for the few remaining expats and the backpackers that still travel through. I have a simple fan room, wit no air conditioning and a shared bathroom. It's basically a bungalow and I pay $10 per night, which when calculated monthly is twice as expensive as the expansive 1 bedroom I rented just three years ago. So every night I finish playing poker around 1:00 or 2:00 AM, go grab a few drinks with friends then come back to my bungalow to crawl into my mosquito net covered bed. It really is not as bad as I am making it sound, but still it is a far cry from how life was here just a few years ago.
Speaking of grabbing drinks with friends, the nightlife in Sihanoukville has also completely changed. The Chinese have erected many new clubs and KTVs throughout town, but most are too expensive for the expats. In my poker room dealings with the Chinese I have had occasion to visit these types of establishments and the amounts of money spent would make Solomon blush. Longstanding areas familiar to expats are mostly gone. Pub Street was torn down and so was the Square. And while they built a "New Square" at the Youth Center of all places, the torn up roads leading up to those bars make it nearly impossible to get there. The beach bars have long since been gone so that only leaves Victory Hill. The Hill, as we affectionately call it, is a red light district of sorts in Sihanoukville and has been around for quite a few years. But now most of the bars on the street have been bought out by the Chinese and turned into other types of businesses. A few bars remain towards the end of the street, but only one is busy and the others are not long for this world as they will soon be bought over as well. There are a couple of bars in what I would call the middle of the street and there something fascinating has developed over the past year. A thriving ladyboy scene seems to be developing on the street with throngs of them walking up and down the street nightly. They mainly operate out of two bars in the aforementioned middle area of the street and my friends and I had occasion to have a drink in one of them the other night. There seems to be a segment of the Chinese population here that is really into this whole scene and it's fairly open and done without shame. In fact throughout town I have seen Chinese go back to their hotel rooms arms locked with ladyboys and their peers think nothing of it. And even in the poker room from time to time they will walk in with such a companion and have them rail while they play. It is easy to conclude that the Chinese are just really progressive, but I do not think that is what is going on. The Chinese in this town must be pumping some serious cash into this community because a lot of these girls have gone to Thailand to get significant plastic surgery done. And in the process they get their skin whitened and end up not looking very Cambodian at all. Whether they are biological girls are not, these ladyboys actually end up looking more like the type of girls that appeal to the Chinese.
Back when the ladyboys still looked like boys, they mostly hung around the beach bars late at night or in the early hours of the morning. But those bars are all gone now and all of the beaches have dramatically changed as well in the last couple of years. Those of us who have lived in Sihanoukville for a while know not to go swimming in Serendipity Beach and Ocheuteal as their waters are right where the sewage line is. But we could always drive down to Otres or up to Queenco and swim in the waters there. But we cannot really do that anymore as the great number of building projects is causing an incredible amount of waste by product and that is all ending up in the beaches. Wherever the source, the waste and sewage have traveled as far down as Otres 2 and all the way up to Queen co as well. And while it can still be nice and relaxing to eat in a restaurant that is on the beach, there is hardly a spot that any of us would feel safe about actually swimming in the water. It is a real shame too, as I used to ride down to Otres 2 all the time in years past to go swimming. Now I have to settle for just watching the water as it becomes more brown by the day.
So given all this, why am I still here? Why do I drive through dangerous streets daily, fend off ladyboys in the night and merely watch as the beaches I once loved become more polluted by the day? The answer is simple, it's the poker and really nothing else. Just about every aspect of the game is better here in Sihanoukville than anywhere else in Cambodia. I know those that play in Phnom Penh to collect on $20 every day. Here in Sihanoukville bonuses and rakeback can be as high as $2,000 every month for regulars who are able to secure them. All this would not mean anything if the games were not good, but they are good and far better than any other city. I won't go over the reasons why again as I have already spoken ad nauseum as to why the action is so great here. But it is the only thing keeping me in town. I'll be able to buy my wife a new phone this week, pay some people back and eventually get a more permanent place to live here. Once you get over the hurdles and challenges of living in Sihanoukville, the poker really does make all this more than worth it.
The following tale was told to me years ago as a true story. But who can be sure?
A few years back a man from England came to Phnom Penh for a visit and enjoyed his visit so much that he decided to retire there. So he went back to England, wrapped up all his affairs and moved his entire life to Cambodia. He wanted his life to resemble as close as possible to what he knew back in England, not necessarily in comforts but rather his daily routine. So every morning he would wake up early and take a walk just like he did back home. On one such morning he noticed a family that would wheel out a food cart to the exact same spot by the river and start selling Khmer sandwiches at 7:00 AM. He would watch them do this every morning with great admiration as they worked very hard; the entire family with husband, wife and their young daughter. He thought to himself that the daughter should be in school but that she was obviously needed to help this poor family make money. So wanting to help he decided to buy a sandwich one morning for its price of $1. He wanted so desperately to like it so that he would be able to buy one each morning on his daily walk. But alas it was not meant to be as he took his first bite and could not continue eating. He was very disappointed but then decided that he did not care and wanted to help the family regardless. So every morning during his walk he approached the cart, placed a single dollar and then walked away without requiring a sandwich. Although the family was perplexed at first, they quickly figured out what he was doing. Every morning as he walked away, the young girl would tuck on his shorts and when he looked upon her smiling face she would simply say "arkun", the word for thank you in Khmer. After having done this for about a week, he woke up one morning and embarked on his daily walk. As he did every morning he approached the sandwich cart, left $1 and simply walked away. After a few steps from the cart he felt a tuck on his shorts. When he turned around to see the smiling girl's face he expected to hear her gratitude one more time. But this morning would be different as when he looked upon her, she smiled and said to the man, "Now $1.50!"
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.