For my next poker trip, I decided to visit Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Once again, I tried to research the poker scene online as much as I possibly could, but just like poker in bogota, what little information I found was pretty old. However, it did seem as though there was a decent amount of poker activity, so I mapped out the Santo Domingo poker rooms I was able to find and booked my flight and hotel. I decided to stay for 9 days to give myself a greater opportunity to pay for the trip (which cost around $1,200 USD).
Day 1 – Arriving in Santo Domingo
The amount of poverty in the country becomes very apparent as you fly over some of the poorer communities in the city. The other thing that becomes rather obvious is the country’s passion for baseball – I saw 8 baseball fields on the landing approach, but not a single soccer pitch.
As soon as I landed, I looked for a spot to change money (since I had taken around $1,500 USD with me). Sure enough, there was a booth immediately outside of immigration, but when I saw their exchange rates, I just stood there staring at the rates unable to believe that anybody would ever pay these rates. They were buying USD for 38 DOP and selling them for 48 DOP - that’s 11.6% commission each way!
I ignored these thieving bastards and went to find an ATM instead. There were plenty of ATMs within the airport, but when I tried to withdraw 25,000 DOP ($573), my transaction was declined without explanation. I tried withdrawing smaller amounts and tried different machines, and every time my transaction was declined. I finally tried to withdraw 2,500 DOP just to see if the machine would work, and sure enough it did. I eventually discovered that most ATMs in Santo Domingo have a maximum withdrawal amount of 10,000 DOP ($229). It would have been so much more convenient if the ATMs would have said that instead of just saying, “Transaction Declined”. This was going to be a problem for me because my bank has some silly restrictions, like a maximum number of withdrawals per week (and I’d just used 2 of them to get a measly $286.
I headed for the exit, looking for a taxi. Along the way, I ignored all of the pests trying to offer me a “taxi”, knowing from experience that these would be overpriced “limo” services. However, after exiting the airport, I did not see a taxi stand, so I went with the next pest to offer me a taxi (figuring that perhaps this was how it worked in Santo Domingo). After getting into the nice air conditioned vehicle and pulling away, I finally spotted the taxi stand. The 15 minute trip to my hotel cost $45, approximately double what a regular taxi would have cost.
I decided to stay at the Jardines Del Teatro Aparta Hotel, which cost $60/night and seemed to be pretty central to the poker rooms I planned to visit. The hotel was satisfactory since all I was looking for was a bed and a shower. The staff were very friendly, and not once did housekeeping bang on my door or barge into the room (a legitimate concern if you plan to play poker until the wee hours of the morning).
Although I had booked the hotel on expedia.com, the hotel was not pre-paid, and I had to set aside $672 of my cash to cover the room. Considering the issues I was having getting money out of ATMs, this put a serious crimp into my bankroll. The good news was that the hotel offered to buy USD for 43 DOP and sell for 43.6, which is the same rate as the banks. However, when I asked if they could change $500 USD, they directed me to a Western Union, which also offered the same rates.
That night I headed to the Barcelo Santo Domingo poker room, because I was fairly certain they had a poker room, and it was the closest to my hotel. I arrived around 5pm and there was already a game in progress. Like many casinos in Santo Domingo, the Barcelo typically starts the game at one limit, and then increase the blinds as the night wears on.
The game being played was 25/50 NL hold'em (approximately $0.57/$1.15). Luckily, shortly after I sat down it became 50/100 ($1.15/$2.29). However, do not be fooled – these games do not play out like your typical $1/$2 game. Between the high rake and short buys, there is barely any money on the table, and a typical contested pot is only around 2,500 DOP ($57), with a really big pot being 10,000 DOP ($229). The game plays more like a turbo sitngo with everyone short-stacked and lots of all-in shoves.
The room was pretty crowded (it’s a cordoned off area with 3 poker tables), and it gets a little warm. Almost every player was a local, although at one point there were three Americans at my table. By 8pm, another table opened, and they had 2 full tables until they closed (which was either at 5am or 6am).
My most notable hand of the evening was when a local called my raise on the flop chasing a gutshot. After he hit his 4-outer on the turn, he went full Hollywood (pretending to think about his “incredibly tough decision”) for 30 seconds before check-raising me all-in. I knew full well that he’d made a straight, but had to call since I’d flopped a set and was getting odds to draw for my boat. Of course I missed, but learned a valuable tell which saved me a big bet later when he hit another gutshot an hour later against my flopped top two pair, and had another Hollywood moment before check-raising.
My luck was pretty awful all night, and at one point I was playing 14,000 DOP ($321), which is pretty ridiculous when you consider that I was buying in for just 2,000 DOP at a time (double to quadruple what most players were buying in for). I ended up down 8,900 DOP ($204) when I cashed out.
On Day 2, I went to play poker at the Hispaniola Hotel & Casino. I arrived around 5pm, but the game doesn’t usually start until 6:00 to 6:30pm. They seem to only ever play 100/200 No Limit Hold’em at the Hispaniola.
Eventually a second table opened up, and they ran it as a separate game instead of using it as a feeder to the main table. After a couple of hours, both tables were combined (but only because the players noticed that both tables were short-handed).
My luck at the tables continued to be abhorrent, and I lost all 3 of my pre-flop all-ins, despite dominating my opponent every single time (AQs vs AJo, KQ vs KJ, and AK vs K7s). I also called a bet with 55 and pushed all-in on a flop of Q22, only to be called by a player holding T9o, who then proceeded to catch runner runner to make a straight! Despite all of this terrible luck, I managed to show a slight profit of 2,100 DOP ($48), and was looking forward to playing poker at the Hispaniola regularly after I’d checked out all of the other casinos. The only downside I noticed on my first trip to the Hispaniola was that the game broke around midnight.
While playing at the Hispaniola, I was told that El Napolitano is closed (or at least they no longer have poker). I was told the same thing by another player later, so I never bothered to confirm. However, I was told of two other casinos that offer poker: Dream and Jaragua.
When the game at the Hispaniola broke, I decided to go and check out the Dream Casino poker room. When I arrived shortly after midnight, there were 6-7 players playing 100/200 No Limit Hold’em, and there was also a game of 200/500 No Limit Omaha going that looked really juicy. I really wanted to get into that game, but was concerned with managing my poker bankroll. Although I am better at Hold’em than Omaha, I have learned that the typical Omaha player is horrible, whereas even a terrible Hold’em player has some clue what they are doing.
When I first sat in the game, there were two other foreigners: one of the Americans I’d played with at the Barcelo, and a player from Paris. About 20 minutes after the player from Paris left the table, he was replaced…by another player from France! Around 2am, a couple from Israel sat and played until around 4 or 5am. When we learned that they were on their honeymoon, we had a good laugh, calling them “degenerates” for spending their honeymoon playing poker. The atmosphere was very jovial, and everyone had a great time. It’s a sad indication of the typical atmosphere for Santo Domingo poker games that the only time where everyone seemed to enjoy themselves was a game with only 2 locals playing.
Some of my more notable hands included losing a pre-flop all-in holding AK against a player who decided to call me with 65o. I also lost holding 44 against 33 when the river spiked a 3. However, I also called an all-in holding 88 against KJo, and even though he flopped a J, I hit running 8s to make quads and win 4,500 DOP ($103) from the jackpot. Overall, I had a great night and eventually cashed out up 16,000 DOP ($367), including the 4,500 jackpot. This erased my losses from the previous night, and combined with my small win from the Hispaniola, put me up 9,200 DOP ($211).
I found the Ramada Princess poker room by random chance and wandered in to check it out. My luck continued to be pretty sour at the Princess. My most notable hand was flopping the nut straight on a rainbow board. I had 76o in the Big Blind and got to see a flop of 4-5-8 for free. I bet out and another player (holding 86o) raised me all-in. Of course I called (since I was holding the nuts), only to watch as the turn paired the 5, and the river paired the 8, giving him a runner runner boat!
Around 8:30pm, a table of 100/200 No Limit Hold’em opened up. Unlike most of the hold’em games in Santo Domingo, there appeared to be a decent amount of money on the table. I really should have changed games, but for some reason I was stubborn and just continued to play at the kiddie table (the average stack in the 100/200 game was probably more than the total amount of chips in play on my table).
At 9pm, a texas holdem tournament started. They run one every night, with buy-ins typically ranging from 500 - 2,300 DOP. However, they never had more than 2 tables for the tournament.
Around 11:30pm, I cashed out (down 400 DOP), and headed to El Embajador.
When I arrived to play poker at El Embajador Casino around midnight, I got the feeling that the game was on its last legs. However, I sat down and called one of the players I’d met the previous night at Dream Casino, and we kept the game alive until 6am.
Unfortunately, my luck at El Embajador wasn’t any better (although I must confess that I didn’t play my best poker either). In one hand, I flopped the under-full with 66 in hand on a board of 886. The player to my right bet 1,000 and I promptly re-raised to 2,500 (since there were still two 8’s out there, and I knew anyone holding one would pay me off). Sure enough, the player to my left cold-called my re-raise holding 85o and spiked his 3-outer on the turn. By the time I left at 6am, I’d lost 12,000 DOP ($275), but thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
However, this meant that I was now back in the hole, down 2,700 DOP ($62 USD), and was still having issues with my bank account. I really needed to either get a big win, or sort out my bank, or I’d be stuck playing this low-limit, murderous rake garbage poker for the rest of my trip.
I went back to Dream Casino the following night, but they have absolutely no activity at the poker tables before 9pm, so I walked over to the Jaragua. I waited around until 6:30pm for the game to start at the Jaragua poker room.
The game started off as 100/200 No Limit Hold’em, but switched to No Limit 3-Card Hold’em after a couple of hours. Since I know how to play Omaha, I felt I would have an advantage in this game. About an hour later (around 9-10pm), a second table opened, which spread 100/200 No Limit Hold’em.
I got involved in one of the many heated discussions that occur in Santo Domingo poker games after a prick slow-rolled me (refusing to turn over his trips for fear of a flush). After the player to my right exposed his two pair, I was left with the option of slow-rolling him with my bigger two pair while waiting on the player who should have exposed his cards first, or exposing my hand. Not wanting to be a jerk, I turned up my top two pair, at which point the first player slammed his trips on the table and celebrated in the most obnoxious manner imaginable.
After he sat back down, I made it known that I didn’t appreciate his antics by simply stating (in Spanish), “you’re supposed to show first”, content to leave it at that. Being a typical dickhead, he was completely unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions and got back out of his seat shouting that it was the dealer’s fault for not asking him to turn over his cards, and the 2nd player’s fault for turning his so early, even though the 2nd player didn’t turn his cards up for at least 30 seconds after the hand was over, and only did so because he was sick of waiting.
Now I was starting to get pissed off, and responded with, “this isn’t your first time playing – you know the fucking rules!” He took offense to my swearing, to which I responded, “I’m pretty sure my swearing is less offensive to most poker players than the actions of a slow-rolling prick”. At this point the managers came over and asked the shouting maniac to sit back down, which is good, because I’m pretty sure he was getting ready to come across the table at me. Since I never left my seat or raised my voice beyond that required for an angry retort, nothing was said to me. This same player was involved in another argument a few days later that got so heated that the manager called for security, although things calmed down before any further action was required.
Eventually, I built my stack up to 24,000 DOP. It then dwindled down to 2,000 DOP over the course of 3 hours without me winning a single hand. I certainly wasn’t playing too tight, but just kept missing flop after flop. I dropped 22,000 DOP, all in chunks of 200 – 1,000 DOP at a time. In one particular hand, I flopped a 4-card flush (9-high), as well as an open-ended straight. I got all-in on the flop against a single opponent (who had a pair of 8s, with only 1 in his hand). The turn was a 5, giving me the nut straight. The river was the 8♥, giving me a flush. Even though I hit both of my draws, my opponent turned up 85…making this the second time in 2 days that I lost to runner runner 8’s full of 5’s!
I left the Jaragua down 6,000 DOP, bringing my total losses for the trip to 8,700 DOP ($200 USD). I had now played 4 days and lost on 3 of them!
Day 5 – Return to Hispaniola
My return trip to the Hispaniola was not nearly as enjoyable. By the time I arrived, the game was already running. I got onto a list, and eventually the number 6 seat became available. I prefer to be seated on the ends (2, 3, 8, or 9 seats) so that I have a better view of my opponents.
Eventually, the number 3 seat opened up and I asked for a seat change. I was a little late asking; the new player was already seated and the dealer was in the process of selling him chips. Regardless, I asked for the seat, but was told that I could not have it. When the number 9 seat opened up, I immediately threw my card protector to the spot while the leaving player was only halfway out of his seat. The new player sat down and promptly threw it back. Bewildered by this unbelievably rude behavior, I informed the dealer that I wanted that seat (which is my right as an existing player in the game). I was informed that seat preference is given to the new player, which is quite possibly the dumbest rule I’ve ever heard (even dumber than the ridiculous showdown order that is used in Santo Domingo).
I spoke to the manager and pointed out that such a stupid rule would mean that I could end up playing all night in a seat I do not want. I was informed that this rule was implemented because in the past the locals would constantly change seats (presumably either to constantly gain position against certain players, or to avoid the blinds). Of course, there are rules in place to stop this sort of abuse, but rather than learning how to run a proper game, the staff at the Hispaniola decided to make up their own rules.
I immediately picked up my chips (including my whopping 300 DOP profit), cashed out and left, never to return. It suddenly became clear why I never saw another tourist playing poker in either of my trips to the Hispaniola.
Day 5 – Dream Casino
After leaving the Hispaniola, I decided to go back to Dream Casino, since so far my session there was the highlight of my trip. Sadly, the jovial atmosphere I experienced during my first poker session at Dream Casino was never replicated. The game struggles to get started, and when it does, there are usually 2-3 house players.
I sat in the game anyway, and got extremely unlucky for a 5-handed poker game (like flopping a J-high flush against a K-high flush and flopping trips with an A-kicker against a boat). I very quickly dropped 6,000 DOP and decided to give the 200/500 No Limit Omaha game a shot. My bankroll was still far too short to play such a game, but by this point in my trip, I was sick of the lowball short-buy poker, and wanted to play a game with some actual money on the table.
In my very first hand I picked up A♥Q♦J♣T♥, which is a monster for Omaha (suited Ace, plus 3 more broadway cards). I was under the gun and raised it to 2,500 (5 big blinds). Since I bought in for the minimum (5,000 DOP), I was happy to either win the blinds or play the hand heads up. Instead, I got called by 4 players! The flop was pretty ugly, but by this point, I was forced to call all-in for my remaining 2,500 DOP after flopping top pair. I lost, and was down $115 after just one hand.
I bought in for another 5,000, and had significantly better luck. I eventually flopped a set of Kings and got all-in on the flop. Although I didn’t fill up, I managed to avoid the obvious flush draw and built my stack to over 20,000. I later flopped another set (J’s), but lost because a player called all-in chasing a flush, holding an 8 and 6 of that suit, and no other draws. I continued to flop big hands and eventually built my stack up to over 40,000 DOP.
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By this point, I wanted to cash out and erase all of my losses up to this point. I don’t normally play hit & run poker, but my luck throughout the entire trip was so awful that I really just wanted to book a big win. However, I hadn’t even been at the table for an hour, so I continued to play. Since I refuse to play scared, I didn’t go into fold mode, which cost me as I missed flop after flop. Finally, with 25,000 DOP, I called a pre-flop under-the-gun raise in the big blind with a double-suited AK, and flopped a decent draw: 4-cards to the A-high flush with a gutshot straight draw (to the wheel). Since 4-5 players had taken the flop, I decided to shove all-in in the hopes of taking down the pot right there (and holding pretty good equity even if I got called). The pre-flop raiser had raised on a pair of K’s, and decided to call (he also had a K-high flush draw, but clearly that was no good). With the additional 3-outs from my Ace, I was slightly favored (52%) to win the hand, but missed all 13 of my outs on both the turn and river, and his pair of Kings held up (felting me for the 2nd and last time).
I was now down 24,400 DOP ($560) and had lost on 4 of my 5 days! Before leaving, I checked the ATM and was able to finally make a withdrawal. This meant that my previous issues with my bank account were finally resolved, and I could stop playing low limit scared money poker.
Day 6 – 3-Card Hold’em & No Limit Omaha
I decided that I would try to turn things around on this awful poker trip by starting off with some 3-card Hold’em at Jaragua, and then later moving over to the 200/500 Omaha game at Dream Casino. Both games were pretty juicy and offered me the best chances of showing profit for the trip.
Unfortunately, the cards continued to kick the crap out of me. In my final hand of the night at Jaragua, I was dealt A♥A♦7♦ and flopped a four-flush to go with my overpair. I got all-in on the flop and got called by two players, each of whom had paired just 1 card on the flop. Both improved to two pair by the river, without any more diamonds or the board pairing (dropping my monster hand to 3rd). As I was leaving the table in disgust, a player exposed the burn cards, all 3 of which were diamonds!
I had now only won once out of 6 nights, with total losses of 32,400 DOP ($743). At this point, I was fuming mad with how bad the cards were running. I couldn’t complete a single draw, but had to watch my opponents hit gutshots and runner runner hand after hand.
Day 7 – Fuck This Shit!
I was so fed up with my horrible luck, and the obnoxious assholes in the various poker rooms that I decided to take the night off. My luck often runs bad, and often runs bad for long stretches, but I almost never go on tilt. I can be fuming mad at the table, but it rarely affects my decisions.
Even though I wasn’t concerned about going on tilt, I was concerned about my mental state – another night like I’d had almost every night thus far and I was likely to murder someone! So I decided to order a pizza, watch a movie, read a book, and get a good night’s sleep. I was also able to make another couple of withdrawals, which meant that my bankroll was in a little better shape for the bigger games (100/200 3-Card Hold’em and 200/500 No Limit Omaha).
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I reviewed my play up to this point, and contemplated how I could have played a few hands better. However, after a review of my play thus far, the biggest reason for my losses was clearly just plain old bad luck (although my short bankroll, the murderous rake, and the short buy-ins were also significant contributors).
Day 8 – 200/500 No Limit Omaha at Dream Casino
I returned to Dream Casino, and went straight for the 200/500 Omaha game. The minimum buy-in was 10,000 DOP, but I had more cash on me this time, so I sat and played. I was flop starved and eventually lost my initial buy-in. I bought in again for 5,000 (since you can always rebuy for half the regular buy-in), and was almost felted again, but got lucky (hitting a set against an overpair).
A couple of hours later, I raised pre-flop with K♠Q♠Q♦T♣. When the flop came A♠J♦T♠, I had the nut straight, with a redraw to the nut flush and got all-in against 3 players (there’s really no need to slow-play in this game). The turn was the J♠, giving me a royal flush. A royal flush pays 50% of the jackpot, but a royal flush in spades pays 100%! In addition to the pot, I received an additional 48,000 DOP ($1,100) from the jackpot.
Sadly, I’m unlucky even when I get lucky! Earlier in the evening, a player flopped the nuts, holding Q9 on a board of Q♦Q♣9♠. Although this hand is the nuts on the flop, it is hardly a lock. If any card T or higher flops, Q9 is no longer the nuts (that’s 16 possible cards). Even worse, without betting the flop, a player holding TT, JJ, KK, or AA will still be in the hand (meaning that you have to be worried about more than just a player with a Q hitting a bigger kicker). Since the typical Santo Domingo player pushes all-in on a draws, but checks when they actually have a hand, this player checked. The turn was the 8♠, meaning that Q9 was still the nuts. The player made a small bet, which got called. 5♠ hit the river, and the player holding Q9 got into a raising war that eventually put him all in, only to find out he had lost to a player holding 7♠6♠, a hand that NEVER would have called ANY bet on the flop. Since a straight flush pays 20% of the jackpot (which was 60,000 DOP), the player who should never have gotten to the river ended up reducing the jackpot (which I later won 100% of) by 12,000 DOP!
Of course, this player then bitched and moaned about his “bad luck” for the next 30 minutes. I did not bother to inform him that his loss was a result of bad play, not bad luck!
When the game broke, I was up 56,000 DOP, and had finally erased my losses for the trip, putting me up 23,600 DOP ($541) overall.
Day 9 – Last Night in Santo Domingo
I returned to the Jaragua Casino the following night. They were running a rebuy satellite tournament, which I played after management promised to buy my seat if I managed to win. Shortly after the rebuy period ended, my all-in shove got called, leaving me as a slight favorite to double up. I lost, and waited for a cash game to open.
The cash game started off as 50/100 No Limit Hold’em, but later changed to 100/200 3-Card Hold’em. I never really got involved in any hands, and cashed out down 1,950 DOP around 10pm because I wanted to go play 200/500 Omaha.
I won another 21,500 DOP playing 200/500 No Limit Omaha at Dream Casino, bringing my total winnings for the trip up to 41,650 DOP ($955). While I’m annoyed that I had to rely on a jackpot to show profit from playing poker, I was certainly due some luck after the horrible beats I had taken throughout the trip. I also failed to achieve my goal of paying for the trip, but after being down $743 after 7 days, I was ecstatic to show ANY profit after 9!
Overall, I did not enjoy my poker trip to Santo Domingo. The city (or at least the parts of it that I saw) wasn’t particularly nice, and the players are loud and obnoxious. Even if you meet one of the many nice players, having a pleasant conversation with them is difficult with all the yelling and banging of chips going on in the background.
If I were to return, I would certainly play 3-card hold’em at the Jaragua, and would want to give the 100/200 game at the Princess a try. However, the biggest draw for me is the 200/500 game of No Limit Omaha at Dream Casino. Even with players buying short, there is plenty of money to be made in that game, and although there were a couple of incredibly annoying players who just would not shut up, the rest of the bunch were a nice group to play poker with.
If you are planning a vacation to the Caribbean (whether for poker or otherwise), check out Timothy O'Keefe's Guide to Caribbean Vacations.
What do you think? Is Santo Domingo worth a visit? If you’ve been there yourself, please tell us of your experience in the comments below!