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SCENES: Ante Up Dallas 2006 -

There is a place in Dallas called Redmans?or The Redmans or Redmans Lodge or a host of other monikers?that is legendary amongst poker players. It is not terribly hard to find, should you know its general location, which we would not presume to give away here lest Dallas police read this. No, once a year?s quite enough for poker players, about 80 of whom were arrested or cited in June when the cast of A&E?s reality show Dallas SWAT wham-bammed down the door at Aces on Irving Boulevard. They showed up well prepared that night, with full diagrams of the joint?down to the number of tables and the seat positions at each, to better keep track of the players popped for playing Texas Hold ?Em. The raid even received mention from the Cato Institute?s Web site, which referred to the bust and others like it across the country as examples of ?frightening militarism.? All that force used on people playing cards. Bret Maverick would not have approved.

So we will leave Redmans alone, save to say it?s hallowed ground for would-be rounders and wanna-be pros who?ve heard tales of T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, David Williams and other players shoving big stacks across the famous felt. Redmans has been around forever and feels like it?smells like it, actually, its aroma that of a locker room used as an ashtray. It?s as much an essential and vital piece of Dallas? history as any of the city?s few remaining landmarks, yet it can?t be celebrated out in the open because what happens in there?people playing cards for money, just like they do on TV seemingly 24 hours a day?remains illegal in the state.

As Kinky Friedman puts it, ?We invented Texas Hold ?Em, and we can?t play it,? which is true: In Texas, any game in which the house takes a cut of a winning pot?a rake?is considered to be breaking the law, which is why places such as Redmans exist beneath ground, its low rumble audible only to those tuned in to the frequency of the clinking of chips being stacked between flops and folds. Aces got popped because it was too out in the open, advertising its doings on the Internet. Says a friend who once sat at a table there, ?It was asking for it.?

Yet not so long ago, many of Dallas? underground poker rooms played the same loose-aggressive game. By some counts, there were about 200 card rooms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with almost a quarter of those in the 214 or 972, and many of them posted their schedules on the Web, begging you to come buy into their low-stakes games. Now comes word that but a fraction of a fraction of them remain??three or four,? says Dan Michalski, whose Pokerati blog has for several years detailed the rise and fall of poker rooms in the area. (Michalski also now runs PokerBlog.com, and for a long time he ran the Sunday-afternoon free-roll tournaments at The Lodge.)

Which means Dallas has lost some of its best rooms?places such as the Murfield, the Platinum Room and Stagecoach, the latter of which was in northwest Dallas and boasted the big-screen sheen of any decent casino, served up a decent meal, allowed no booze, sent smokers to a private room and boasted stellar players keeping polite company (except for the son of a bitch who called my $10 raise holding nothing more than 9-2 off-suit and hit two pair on the flop). That?s not to say Dallas still doesn?t have a scene; far from it. In fact, in his new book Hunting Fish: A Cross-Country Search for America?s Worst Poker Players, Jay Greenspan writes, ?Dallas is said to have the best underground poker scene in the country,? and he visited a few spots that did little to disabuse him of that notion.

But Michalski, who was Greenspan?s tour guide of Dallas? poker joints and receives copious mentions in the book, says they?ve been replaced by underground games that are well above-ground?which is to say, in apartment complexes and office buildings and other far-outta-the-way places that hold only two or three tables and fewer players than the old-fashioned card rooms populated by rounders up to their asses in cards and other rounders.

?The scene is clearly back,? Michalski says. ?The games still exist, they?ve just gone more underground, and they?ve gone small. You have a lot of three-table rooms where someone?s rented out a loft. I just got an e-mail today that says the Platinum Room is back. It doesn?t say where the location is, and that?s because there?s also a tougher screening process.? Indeed, only a year ago all you needed was to know a place?s location to buy into a game; today, you?re invited by e-mail, given a contact number and usually only if you know somebody connected to the game.

?They?re calling them home games now,? Michalski says. ?The truth is, they?re still taking rakes and making money. But they?re treating them like home games, as opposed to these people who were actively promoting and throwing big tournaments. Trust me, the scene is fine and dandy.?

So, somebody deal me in, already. ?Robert Wilonsky

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