Due to the effects of jet lag on my lovely bride and my general refusal to sleep I found myself with an unexpected opportunity to play poker late one night in Stockholm.Â Based on my general experience with Swedish players and the tendency of brick and mortar play to be even looser than online and some reading I had done, I was able to describe my poker approach for this trip to Suited very succinctly:Â Never bluff, never fold.Â I looked up the address to casino on Google maps using my handy iPhone and, clutching my subway ticket, headed off to the nearest stop.Â Being the astute readers that you all are, you probably already are aware that people in Sweden have a charming tendency to speak in a string of gibberish they call “Swedish” which is completely incomprehensible.Â It is like a normal language, except that they add decorative symbols to every vowel which is a secret code that indicates that the letter “a” could be pronounced (quite literally) as if it were any other vowel.Â As best I follow the rules, the symbol over (or in some cases under) the vowel is combined with the speaker’s astrolgical sign and the day of the week to determine the correct pronunciation for any given word.Â Apparently, they also find this annoying, since literally every single person we met (including drunken mechanics) spoke flawless English.
To add to the confusion, they have a tendency to use street names that are at least 25 letters long and try to use as many of the same letters for each name as possible.Â For instance, the casino was located on Kungsgatan, which was near to Kungstradgardgatan and Kammakargatan and Kungsbron and approximately 100 other streets that started with a “K” and usually ended with “gatan.”Â Although I made it smoothly to my appointed subway stop, when I tried to exit, there were four or five tunnels leading away from the train tracks, with perplexing Swedish ruins indicating random destinations that corresponded to nothing in my notes.Â I know from experience that these tunnels could be several miles in length and might open up in Finland, far from my neat “T” symbol on the map that theoretically indicated the location of the subway stop.Â I emerged from the metro and to my shock and delight, found that the appointed street was only a few blocks away.Â I began to follow the street to number 22, which Google happily supplied to me.Â They have another curios habit in Sweden regarding the numbering of buildings.Â Like most civilized societies, they use odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other side.Â However, unlike most places that reset the numbers on each block to ensure that things are synchronized, the Swedes just keep counting up by two on each side of the street with no regard for cross streets or alignment.Â As a result, one side of the street could be 112 and the other side might be 401.Â This doesn’t seem to bother them.Â So I passed 21 and 23 on the opposite of the street several blocks before I finally arrived at number 20 and 22 on my side.Â I thought that they might be keeping a low profile on gambling because #22 looked quite a bit like an office building.Â After peering intently at the list of businesses, I concluded that something had gone terribly wrong.Â Having made this sort of mistake before, I consulted my map and looked for a nearby street that had a similar name.Â I found one about 10 blocks away.Â I also asked the iPhone to guess at my current location and advise me and both seemed to agree that I was about the same distance from the correct street and location.Â I hiked the long blocks to the other street only to discover that it did not offer a casino either.Â Growing highly annoyed, I brought up the website of the actual casino and determined that Google maps simply lied about the location.Â It was on the street I first tried, but instead of #22, it was actually located at #65.Â Completely defeated at this point, I simply hailed a cab and grunted the name of the casino and was whisked directly there in a few minutes.
Sweden requires you to be entered into some master database of degenerates before you can enter and you actually have to pay an entrance fee before you can lose your money there.Â In exchange for the insult of paying to get in, you also get to pay for your drinks.Â Drinks in Sweden are apparently made by highly compensated elves, because a draft beer is normally about $15 and a mixed drink could be $20 or more.Â However, you don’t have to tip, so for some ITHers it wold work out about the same.Â They don’t seem to play limit hold’em, so I took a seat in the first available game which has a 2,000 buy-in.Â That sounds like the big time, but actually that works out to a bit over $300.Â The play basically the same as in American casinos, except that what they call the “small blind” is actually the same size as the “big blind” at 20 SEK.Â This is probably just as well, since no self-respecting Swede would really ever fold from the blind pre-flop anyhow.Â Typical raises pre-flop were to 120, although I saw raises as high as 340.Â There is really no such thing as blind stealing in Sweden.Â Someone will call.Â Maybe everyone.Â Several people straddled every time they were UTG.Â If enough people limped, someone will usually raise.Â Generally, most everyone would call that too.Â I played about 25% of my hands and was probably the tightest player at the table.Â There were a number of “fit or fold” players who would generally limp behind or call behind with any semi-reasonable starting hand and were usually quite dogged if they caught a draw or any piece.Â People did not c-bet as often as I am used to, which makes sense if you think of the situation they find themselves in.Â You could value bet like a maniac and once you figured out who to avoid (calling stations or fit/fold players that are betting post-flop are usually trouble) and who to call down with anything it was about as profitable a game as you could hope to find.
The rake was fairly brutal, running at 10%.Â There was a cap, but it was very high.Â On the plus side, there was no tipping and they used autoshufflers.Â Table talk was a bit odd.Â Some players used English for “raise” and “call” and the numbers, where others used “Swedish.”Â Many of the dealers used English more often, but not exclusively.Â All of them sprinkled English phrases with their table talk like “2 outer” mixed in with a bunch of Swedish.Â As it turns out, very few Swedes actually look Swedish.Â However, they all think I look very Swedish.Â Most poker stuff doesn’t require talking, so I was very quiet and just played — being very careful to make my bets with mixed chips and respecting their betting line rule.Â People would sometimes say something things to me that I could answer with yes or no (these words being in my Swedish vocabulary).Â I quickly learned the basic action words and numbers, because the dealers announced the amounts every time.Â The dealers were generally fairly competent.Â After a couple of hours, I get finally get exposed as a foreigner, when there was a dispute about what the guy next to me said.Â He claimed to have announced a raise and the dealer didn’t hear him.Â The dealer asked me in Swedish if I heard him and I had to use my pigeon Swedish to ask him if he could speak English.Â The dealer said “Oh, you don’t speak Swedish?” and I admitted that I did not.Â This caused the table to laugh because I was being asked to confirm what the guy said.Â Amusingly enough, I was able to confirm that he said “raise” in Swedish which sounds sort of like her-ja.Â This also made everyone laugh and they quizzed me on the depth of my Swedish knowledge.Â I rattled off a few words that I had picked up, the numbers, call, raise, sorry, thanks, hello and so on.Â Someone asked me if I knew the word for fold, but I said that I hadn’t heard that one.Â This got the biggest laugh of all.
I actually had a bad result that first night.Â I ended up down about a buy-in.Â I lost two big hands where I got it in good.Â The first hand the money went in on the turn when I had top set against a flush draw and a pair.Â He caught the flush on the river.Â The second hand I flopped the flush against a set and we got it in on the flop.Â The board paired.Â Despite the disappointing result, I knew that I was seriously +EV at this table.Â It was late and I was tired, so I called it a night and absorbed my loss.Â I knew that the metro was no longer running, which was just as well since I probably couldn’t find it again anyhow — so I just took a cab back to the tiny hotel room.
The next night, buoyed by my tales of poor play, Suited decided to join me after dinner.Â She got added to the national degenerate database and joined me on the wait list.Â Since I don’t like Suited to see how incompetent I am, we just took a cab from the get-go.Â Unfortunately, arriving earlier meant enduring a long wait list.Â This led to blackjack, which in turn led to Suited starting out in 1,000 SEK hole before even sitting down.Â I gave her the lowdown on the players I recognized and exchanged enough dollars to cover a couple of buy-ins each.Â The casino has a pretty good rate and will sell your own dollars back at the exact same rate at the end of the night, if you have any kronor left.Â Once again I passed for Swedish for a while, but this time the table was very talkative and I stacked a guy in the first couple of orbits, so I had to fess up sooner.Â I was playing well and pretty much in a zone all night and steadily accumulated chips.Â It didn’t hurt that I got pretty lucky.Â I limped the button with KQs behind 6 or so players and the big blind raised fairly big.Â He was actually fairly tightish pre-flop (he called way too much, but didn’t raise that often).Â I might actually have folded, but three other players called him, so I couldn’t fold.Â The flop was King high with one of my suit.Â He led about half his stack and got two callers.Â I had everyone well covered by this time, so I just shoved.Â The BB and one other called joined in.Â The BB had AA and the other guy had middle pair.Â I figured to win the side pot, but when the river paired the King, I won it all.Â That was my biggest suck-out.Â The biggest hand was against the big action player at the table.Â There was a straddle and I called with 55 and the action player raised to 220 (the straddle was 40).Â When the BB called, I decided to take a flyer with my pair.Â The flop was K53 with two hearts.Â Everyone had deep stacks, but I covered.Â We checked to the raiser, who bet.Â The BB check-raised and I smooth called.Â This might have set off alarms against better players, but not so much here.Â The raiser re-raised and the BB and I called again.Â I was pretty sure stacks were going in here and the blank turn proved me right.Â They didn’t want to show first at the river, so I tabled my set of fives, praying that neither of them had Kings.Â As it turns out they both had AK and I was up to 10,000 SEK or so.
I did get some nice poker complements at this table.Â One was overt where the people across the table were talking about a hand where I outplayed the other guy, getting a free card when I needed it and getting a value raise when I caught.Â I knew they were talking about me, but wasn’t concerned.Â They realized I might know their subject, so advised me in English they were discussing me, but it was nothing bad.Â I told them I knew they were talking about me, but I didn’t mind.Â They asked if I knew what they said and I said I didn’t, but assumed they were commenting on how lucky I was getting.Â He said that was not it, that he thought I “played very nice.Â Very elegant.”Â I’m not sure what that means, but I like it.Â The better complement was the guy to my left, who failed to get maximum value from two pair that turned into a boat when I had a worse two pair that turned into a worse boat.Â I knew he was very strong and was extremely pleased to get away so cheaply.Â I didn’t have to show my hand, but several people asked him why he didn’t bet more.Â Out of courtesy to me, they did this in English.Â I was looking at him because I was curious about that too.Â He looked back for a minute and said that he doesn’t like to play with me, because I make him very confused.Â That might be the coolest thing anyone ever said to me at a poker table.
I wound up winning about 15,000 kronor, which was still a very nice profit even after absorbing some minor losses from Suited.Â When I checked up on her during the session, she announced that her goal was to lose more slowly than I won.Â Swedes are very friendly to Americans despite their silly language.Â I got to use the joke about not knowing the Swedish word for fold to good laughs both nights.Â I only made one mistake resulting from the rules, when I didn’t realize there had been two raises and only called the first one.Â Once the money goes over the line, it is lost, so I had to call both raises and folded the flop.Â I saw worse.Â One guy thought his bet on the flop was uncalled and showed his set of Aces in disgust.Â Unfortunately for him, the other player had not yet folded (he was certainly planning to).Â Under the house rules, an exposed hand is dead, so he lost the pot.
If I have to move from the country because the neo-Fascists like Bull wind up running the place forever, I could do far worse than playing poker in Sweden.Â To lay the groundwork for our future immigration, Suited and I met up with Sami the last night of our visit to arrange lodging on his floor should it come to that.Â He was kind enough to take a train into the city and meet us at a place we couldn’t fail to find, our hotel.Â We used our frequent flier pull to get him admitted to the lounge where we knocked down as many free drinks as we could to avoid the potential million kronor bar tab.Â As those of you who were at the ITH convention in Atlantic City know, Sami is a really charming and friendly guy and he was nice enough to help us find a great Indian restaurant near our hotel.Â He handled the astrological sign vowel conversion for us and suggested some really outstanding dishes.Â We capped it off with a few drinks at a local watering hole and split up in time for Sami to catch one of the last trains back out of downtown.Â It was great way to end a great visit, even if we didn’t actually play any poker with him.