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New poker rules in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic

Community Conversation: Gary Joerres feels the temperature of the cards and game changes in the poker world.
Gary Joerres poses for a portrait at the Derby Lane Poker Room on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Gary Joerres poses for a portrait at the Derby Lane Poker Room on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jun. 11, 2020

Times Correspondent

Gary Joerres, a retired restaurant owner, missed the Derby Lane Poker Room during the shutdown caused by the coronavirus. The St. Petersburg resident is a regular at the Texas hold ’em tables at the Poker Room, which opened with a limited capacity May 20. Joerres, 69, plays about five days a week and has for 15 years or more. His tip for not going broke, he says, is to limit the amount you’re willing to lose. Joerres said he likes Derby Lane’s measures against the virus, including checking the temperature of everyone, requiring masks and restricting the number of players at tables.

So you’re happy to see the place again.

Exactly … We didn’t think it would be two months. We thought maybe it would be 10 days or two weeks. We knew it was serious, but we never knew it was this serious.

Did you get up any games with friends at home during the shutdown?

Nobody really wanted to get out and about and get together like that. It’s something you’ve got to be very serious about. There’s still a lot of people dying; we definitely don’t want to be one of them. We can always play cards. We don’t want to rush into it.

Is this a hobby, or is this the way you make a living?

Oh, no, I’m not a professional. I just like to have fun.

Gary Joerres plays poker at the Derby Lane Poker Room on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Gary Joerres plays poker at the Derby Lane Poker Room on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

What’s the best hand you’ve ever had?

A royal flush (the highest hand) … How many times? In spades, twice, but I’ve had other royal flushes. I had clubs, hearts – matter-of-fact I’ve had all four of them already ... I just had a straight flush a little while ago, a nine, 10, jack, queen and king of clubs.

What is largest pot you’ve ever had?

The largest one? It was that spade royal thing – about three grand.

How long do you stay?

If I’m having a good time, I’ll play four, five, six hours. If I’m not having a good time, I’ll get up and leave in an hour and a half … Just not my day. Why stay and give money away?

(Interviewed another day.) I stayed almost seven hours today … didn’t have to reach into my pocket once. I was quite happy …

How much did you win?

Almost a thousand.

Your system is to fold hands that you don’t have confidence in.

You could play every hand, but you could, like, just give money away. A bad hand you don’t play. But people do. Believe me, I saw them today.

When you hit something like a $1,000 day, do you go celebrate at Bern’s Steak House?

I go out for a steak, but maybe not to Bern’s. That’s (near) downtown Tampa. I live the opposite way.

Does wearing a mask help with the poker face?

I’d have to say definitely. The poker face would definitely (be helped) with the mask. … Some people walk in with that, and I’ve been playing with them for years, and I go, “Is that you?’’ It really covers everything up but the eyes.

Can you tell by looking at fellow players’ expressions whether they have a good or bad hand?

Sometimes you can’t; sometimes you can. Some people have a little give-away. You’ve just got to watch them a little bit. And some people are really good at it and don’t give anything away.

How are you at it?

I try to be steady. Like I mentioned earlier – that big royal flush, you don’t get up and get excited. You just try to keep that way all the time.

What is your usual game pot?

It could be 20 bucks sometimes. Sometimes it could be 200 bucks (if) you get some aggressive players at the table.

How much does it cost to get in the game?

The $1-$2 (ante) game – $60.

You say you feel comfortable playing now because of Derby Lane’s precautions?

Very much. That’s what I like. Also, they have cashiers that run around and take care of dealers with change and get people stuff. And when they’re not busy, they’ve got a towel and a spray bottle in their hands, wiping things down. Someone gets up from a chair, they wipe down the chair and the table in front of them before the next player sits down. I like that a lot.