Poker in Manila
What a trip thus far. I am sitting at an empty poker table watching players file out from all night at the game. The Metro Card Club, Manila’s largest poker only room, has just 5 tables going and only small limits… I am waiting to get into the
25-50 peso No Limit Holdem game which is the biggest game spread at the time but it is only 9 AM. I had hoped to find a 100-200 peso game but it's not looking good. The Philippines is a poor country but the poker players seem to have enough
to play in the 10-20 peso games.
So far the trip has had too many difficulties to count. I actually thought I had the trip well planned but, I again over-estimated myself. Just to mention a couple, there is a dental problem which I’ll try to correct later, money changed on the wrong end of the trip, bad hotel choice, etc. I find out on the plane you can only take 10,000 pesos into the country. I have to make a duty free purchase in flight to overcome the money issue. Naturally I breeze through customs and could have simply kept the extra pesos in my pockets. I just did want to be shaken down by customs for all the money I had on me. I had read reports of ATM problems on the Philippine end so I loaded up in Thailand. My advice would be to get a couple of thousand pesos and change your baht in Manila. If you are going somewhere other than Manila, I would get US dollars or a comparable major currency to carry on the plane. The silly law is, you can take any other currency up to $10,000 US worth and no more than 10,000 Philippine pesos. You will sign a customs form acknowledging this law. <It should be noted that in Thailand a similar law exists but the limit is a more reasonable 50,000 baht – Stick>
I do the yellow metered airport taxi per what I had read on the various forums. Yellow metered taxi from the airport into Pasig city. The driver is trying to get me to a different hotel than the one I had arranged on the internet. After I get to my hotel, which looked to be more of a short-time motel arrangement; another speed bump; the rooms were very nice but set up for 3 hours of sex, not a 7-night stay. I regretted not taking the taxi driver’s offer to find another room. I had already paid; so I was determined to stick it out.
Victoria Court has 3 separate buildings, all within 100 meters of each other. A person dressed in a tuxedo walks me around to all 3 before he settles on which room is mine. I have stayed in much worse places over the course of many years of traveling the 3rd world but this one was certainly different. Among the oddities was a shower for two or more arrangement. I am far closer, age wise, to the broken hip from a fall in the shower than having a couple of young ladies in the shower with me. This is going to be inconvenient in so many ways.
Victoria Court Suites
The reports regarding Manila traffic are not an exaggeration. Traffic is snarled for no apparent reason and sitting for an hour happened to me on the first day. I have no idea how to beat this one. I am way too old for motorbike taxis even though the ones they have here are like a side car; I just needed a shopping mall to pick up a couple of items and I was told to go to Robinsons. I am now in the back of a taxi headed for Robinsons… On a positive note, the Robinson Galleria in downtown Manila was a treat for those needing to shop. Many American chains and then some were available. While at the Mall, I find a money changer and turn my dollars into Pesos, the rate is way better than what I got at TMB. I get over 19,000 pesos instead of the 15,500 I got at the Bangkok airport for $460 US. And the shopping experience was great. I will make my way back to the mall at some point. I may wait until Sunday in hopes of beating the traffic. IMO, no mall in Bangkok can compete with this one for the number of shopping options for mid-level imported stuff.
Philippine Motor Bike Taxi
I really haven’t seen all that much of Manila, but so far, I don’t feel threatened in any way. There are rough characters about and plenty of poverty; but nothing I would consider threatening. It is a bit odd to see security guards with pump shotguns everywhere but not that big a deal really.
I play for a couple of hours at the Metro Card Club and get a limited feel for the overall level of play. I never did get into a game bigger than 25-50 but that turned out okay as I lost a few pesos and got my quick look at the playing field. The rake is a killer. For games below 100-200 pesos the rake is 10% capped off at 300 pesos; roughly 5 US dollars. Dealers usually get a 25 peso tip when they push a pot to one of the players. I can’t tell if they share the tips with the house as they drop the chips on the chair behind them and the next dealer collects the tips. At most of the world’s card clubs, the dealer will tap the table with the tip or toke as they are called, then put it in his pocket or apron. At the Metro, dealers sit on a plastic topped bar stool like arrangement dropping their tips behind their back onto the chair. I am sitting at the one seat and do a double take on this one. The one seat is the seat immediately to the left of the dealer. All games are 9 handed. Also, the dealers don’t have a tray of chips as you would find in the west. All chips are handled by chip runners. Making change for the pot is done from the player’s stacks. After spending most of the day at the Metro, there were no games other than No Limit Holdem. An afternoon tournament with a 500 peso buy-in had started just before I left to shop.
I am prepared for a hassle from the taxi drivers but it is just not happening. I enjoyed my ride in a white metered taxi so much I tipped the guy more than the fare. He was a 46-year old Pilipino who spoke very good English and we both enjoyed our conversation. Our ride started out with my asking “How much to the Metro walk” and his response was, “I have a meter”… This could never happen in Bangkok even if my Thai was better than it is. He carefully explained the problems of rush hour and how to deal with it from a taxi driver's point of view. I have taken 5 taxi rides so far and nobody has tried to rip me off. This is contrary to everything I have read however, I am still on high alert. The ride from my hotel to the card room is roughly 72 pesos and I would normally add the balance of 100 pesos as the tip. So if they ask for a hundred, I would simply pay it with no tip. If you settle on a price before hand, you avoid the potential drive around because the driver is on his own time.
There are 3rd world inconveniences at pretty much every turn. The wi-fi in my hotel has no connectivity and after trying to resolve this with the hotel staff, I give up and head to the Starbucks near the Metro Card Club. They use cards from a service called Smart Card and for the second day, they are out of the cards and have no idea when they will get more… At least I get the simple and direct answer in English instead of the usual "No Have" or “Intanet Finnit”. Reminding myself to not fret the small stuff, I order a small cup of coffee and take a seat to relax. After playing at Metro for 3 days, I learn they have wi-fi. I feel a little stupid on this one. You can actually be connected right at your seat at the poker table. I was very careful not to slow the game down in any way while I did my regular web surfing. This turned out to be very convenient and helped me overcome the boredom of playing in only one game instead of 4 or more on the internet.
After a weak morning session at Metro, I decide to check out the Resorts World Casino per advice of one of the Metro regulars. Despite the forever taxi ride, the Resorts World is a first world casino in every respect. I liked the feel and will probably move my business to this new find. There are speed bumps as the poker room inside the Resorts World does not open until 2:00pm. The Casino had a true first world shopping mall connected to it with plenty of places to eat and shop so I will likely head there after rush hour if that is even possible.
I play a few hours at the new place and book enough of a win to get me in the plus column for the trip so I’m feeling better about things in general. Of course my taxi fare will be at least twice as much and the total time on the road will at least triple but I think I can live with it.
After the second day at Resorts World, I give up on the room largely due to what seems to be general mismanagement. Nobody seems to be running the floor as dealers fill in doing the jobs a floorperson normally would do. There was too much confusion; difficulty getting chips and next to impossible to get food. I saw upwards of 100 mistakes made by dealers during my two day’s play. Nothing that affected me directly, but plenty of mistakes such as one dealer exposing a card in 4 consecutive hands making the exposed card the burn card. It happens, but not in 4 consecutive hands. The tables were covered with new felt which will make a card flip when it hits but the dealers should be aware of this.
The female dealers were exceptionally attractive… Resorts made a special effort to find these girls apparently based on looks alone. They simply made so many mistakes; it took the joy out of watching them in action. One interesting aspect of playing Resorts was a ”NO TIPPING” policy which I have never before experienced. The drop however was the same as Metro, 10% capped at 300 pesos. Add another hundred pesos to the cap in games of 100-200 pesos and bigger. Playing No Limit Holdem has lots of all-in situations with side pots to deal with. These girls could not keep the pot straight and had extreme difficulty with multi-side pots. I attempted to ignore it but just couldn’t. After 40 years of playing poker in the various public card rooms around the world, these dealers were certainly among the worst. I gave up on Resorts World and moved my action back to the Metro, which is by comparison, very professionally run.
On the subject of the girls in Philippines, I must say there were some real stunners. Perhaps it was the Spanish influence from several hundreds of years of cross breeding but the nice ones were really nice. There were many with the squatty aboriginal look but not so much in the card rooms and not really in the upscale malls. I really have no intention of mingling with the bar girls, largely due to the absence of a senior citizen discount. I no longer get my money’s worth and that is very humbling. I will leave them to the younger guys. The average woman in the Philippines reminded my of my many travels in Mexico
I am sure nobody was even remotely interested in my tooth problem; there is however a follow on with regard to Philippine dentistry. I found a dentist office in the Robinsons Galleria so I dropped in to have my crown cemented back on. I have no idea how this got screwed up but the crown seems to be on backwards. It is cemented that way and I can’t really chew. The idiot just glued it on after she had dropped in my mouth and apparently picked it up the wrong way. I am biting down on gauze until the cement dries enough. It is immediately obvious, once the gauze is removed, there is a problem but this woman is not going to fix it. I will wait until I get back to Thailand. My eating will be very limited for a couple of days. That cost me 1,400 pesos and I have to live like this for a while. I should have known better. When I first walked in, I was placed in the dental chair by a guy in a white dentist coat who looked in my mouth and started telling me what I needed done. Turns out he is not the dentist. He is giving me the “come in, have a look” routine often attributed to Indian tailors. And all this happened in a very upscale shopping center in the center of the downtown area. Mistakes happen but, I am starting to get my fill. It is not really fair to judge the profession based on one bad experience, but this one is really inconvenient. On top of everything else, they charge me 400 pesos for what I considered to be an unnecessary x-ray which wasn’t even digital. My Chinese dentist in Thailand has taken good care of my dental needs and I should have waited.
I complete the week of play and despite a small loss at the tables, I am glad I made the trip. I am, however, very glad to be heading back to Thailand. The week was a hoot in many ways. I leave more than ever convinced of the opinion found in Wikipedia’s “IQ and wealth of Nations” which lists the Philippines as having an average IQ of 86 and Thailand having a 91 is sound. Even if the difference is the 14 million Chinese in Thailand, that 5 IQ points matters.
On my last day, I get into a discussion on the subject of infrastructure with a Philippine politician at one of the many poker tables. At least he claimed to be some kind of elected public official. I happened to be setting next to him and overhear him explaining that too many cars was the problem regarding Manila traffic. Like an idiot, I just can’t resist and I start suggesting that all cities in the world have to deal with advance planning in such matters. I try to point out that there are professionals who extrapolate growth and plan for things such as traffic flow. I follow up with, cities with the most capable planners have the most stable infrastructure. After suffering though his argument, I agree, there are simply too many cars. I am however, completely convinced that IQ matters.
I was more than happy with Cebu Pacific Air. The flight was similar to Air Asia but with assigned seating. The planes were fairly new Boeing 737s, not the 30-year old versions of the same plane I am used to in the US.
Manila traffic is impossible but the threat I have read so much about did not materialize. From the street people I encountered, I never got hassled for money… I did get a really high quote on my final taxi ride back to the airport but got it down to a reasonable number. It wasn’t enough money to matter at that point; I was ready to be home.
Disclaimer on the photos, I only had my older point and shoot with me.
Nice report and interesting to hear that gambling is legal over that way. That is likely going to appeal to some.