Playing All Night, Part I—Pushing To Midnight


Have you ever played poker throughout an entire night until dawn? If the answer is “Yes,” or “Don’t be ridiculous, of course I have,” then please drop me a note and tell me your best “played all night” story.

Here’s mine…

I’ll start by saying I’m one of the ones who years ago lost track of the number of all-night sessions I’ve played. Most of them involved getting deeply stuck, and violating every known principle of good game selection, bankroll management, and sanity. By and large they ended poorly, with me wandering out into a cold (or hot) dawn, crushed and defeated.

Let’s see if this one would be an exception…

It was 2004 or 2005 and I was in Las Vegas on business. Whatever meetings or events I’d had that day were done and I had the evening to myself. I also had the next day off—one of the prerequisites of a properly executed all-nighter. My first stop was Spring Mountain Road for a bowl of phở. It may have been at the legendary noodle dispensary known to all Las Vegas poker players—Phở Kim Long—it’s been too long ago to remember that detail. But I have a distinct memory of the perfumed chicken broth.

Then down Arville, left on Flamingo and into the north valet at Bellagio; the one much closer to the poker room.

I was quickly seated in a $1/3 no-limit hold’em (NLHE) game, but before the cards are dealt, I need to set the scene. The WPT/Moneymaker Big Bang was still reverberating through the poker community. Limit Hold’em (LHE) still had a strong hold on many poker rooms, the Bellagio included. I very nearly opted for a $15/30 LHE game; it would have been easy, comfortable, and familiar to me. With $30/60 and $100/200 LHE games running in the room, there were no sharks in the $15/30 pool; I would have been one of the predators there.

But hey, the cool kids were all switching over to NLHE, and Rounders references dotted all the conversations. So $1/3 NLHE it was. I didn’t particularly know what I was doing, but I had a lot of years of poker under my belt and felt my theoretical grounding (thank you, David Sklansky) would keep me out of big trouble.

I suppose it was 7:00pm-ish when I was first dealt in. As you know, once you settle into a good cash game, particularly in a casino where the nearest window is a ten-minute walk, time can go quickly. Not much happened for a couple of hours, then I limped behind a bunch of people with AcTc in late position and nobody raised from the blinds because the word “squeeze” hadn’t been invented yet. We got an above-average flop of Kc-Qd-4c, giving me the nut flush draw and a gutshot to Broadway. In my LHE days, I’d be happy to mix that up with as many people wanted in the pot for as many bets as anybody wanted to put in. Then I remembered we were playing the unlimited version of the game.

Somebody bet half the pot, and got two callers in front of me (the games were very good back then) and I called too. I don’t know if I considered raising, but I just called. The turn was a brick. Everybody checked, and I checked too; I wasn’t going to bluff into three opponents.

The river was the exquisite 9c. Everybody checked to me. I knew nothing about bet sizing then (maybe not much more today) so I bet half the pot, just hoping somebody would find a call. The first player folded, and then a young guy in the middle, who had me well covered, check-raised all in. This is where the chess columns put a “(!)” to indicate it was a, um, non-standard move. The guy between us quickly folded, and I paused.

Was the board paired? No.
Was there a straight flush? No.
Had I misread my hand? Nope.

I said, “I call; I have the nuts.” And tabled my hand. Maybe the villain didn’t hear me, but he proudly turned up Qc8c for the second nut flush. Again, this was the early days of the poker boom, and such unforced errors were common. The dealer graciously pointed out that I had the ace-high flush (maybe the other fellow didn’t know the term “nuts”?). I felt sort of bad for the kid, but not so bad that I didn’t delight at near-doubling my stack.

It was 11:00pm. I was up $350 and looking for a way to both celebrate and revive my flagging energy. “What’s that?” I asked a guy a couple of seats over. He had a coffee-colored drink steaming in a Bellagio-themed glass mug. He raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never had a cappuccino at the Bellagio?”
A couple of regulars looked at me. I could hear their thought: “He doesn’t know about the cappuccino here. Ergo he’s a tourist. Ergo we get all his money.”

I took the looks in my stride. “No, I’ve never had a cappuccino here, but I’m about to fix that oversight immediately.” When one of the referee-shirt-clad cocktail waitresses made her way over, I asked for a cappuccino please, as if it were my third one of the day. It arrived with a small wooden stirrer, which turned out to have a lump of crystalized sugar attached to the business end. I wanted to cry with joy, and happily tipped her a $5 chip.

The drink was exquisite, and I probably passed on a couple of marginally playable hands just to get the full joy of sitting in a great cash game, sipping on a delicious coffee drink, knowing the real world would have no demands on me the next day.

Not much else happened until shortly before midnight. I flopped middle set and took a short-ish stack from a woman who couldn’t lay down top-pair-top-kicker. “What am I going to do? Just put the money in, right?” she said to the table. There were the obligatory nods and sorrowful headshakes.

I waited until she’d left the table to count my chips. I had $850 in front of me; a $550 profit from my $300 buy-in. Times have changed, and I’ve won and lost much more than that in many poker sessions since. But this was a meaningful amount of poker money to me at the time. It was a hair into tomorrow and I seriously contemplated calling it a night and putting a healthy “W” into the notebook. But I knew it would be bad form to immediately cash out; I decided to play a couple of more orbits and then pack it in.

I hadn’t played five hands when the announcement came over the P.A.: “We have open seating in the $2/5 No-limit hold’em game.”

To be continued…

Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at