03/22/2006 12:00AM

Out of the office, gone fishing, got gaffed

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Like most people these days, I do most of my poker playing online. There is, of course, the occasional home game, and the New York City card rooms are always open. But unless I have a lot of time and a lot of money, most my action takes place while I'm sitting at my desk during the workday.

But I must be special. Apparently unlike just about everybody else who plays online, I do nothing but lose. Even though I am the type who can blow an entire bankroll on a one-way superfecta, my perpetual online losing is at least puzzling since my live-action play is usually good enough to net me bus fare home.

During a recent field trip to Gulftream Park in Florida, for instance, I made my way over to the Hard Rock, the casino in the middle of a swamp. With nothing but video games and poker, the joint can hardly be called a casino, but somebody figured out how to get around the Florida law that caps poker at a $2 limit, and there are $1,000 tournaments everywhere you look.

Unlike an online tournament, where folks are more or less anonymous and may not be embarrassed or afraid of ridicule for poor play, you would think that the level might be on a slightly higher plane. After all, you're sitting at a table with nine other angry grown men and women and a $10,000 pot, so you might not want to expend all your chips on an inside straight draw. But that simply is not the case; bad is universal.

Live and in person or on the Internet, it's that same guy sitting across from you at the poker table, somebody who barely knows the rules and who clearly can't win. In a real card room, I can beat these people all day long. But on the computer, I have no shot.

Down at the Hard Rock, the waiting list for the $1,000 tournament was too long, so I sat in on the first game available. It was a $250 sit 'n go. When 10 people sit down and put up their $250, the game goes. Simple as that, and you have to hit the board to get paid. Winner gets 50 percent of the pot, 30 percent to place and 20 percent for third. They have sit 'n go's for $100, $250, $500, and $1,000, not including juice, which varies with the game. The vig for $100 is 10 percent (better than the track but criminal nonetheless) down to 4 percent for the $1,000.

Now in a nice, fat, live-action game - where I thought I would be running into the usual assortment of fish - who is sitting two seats to my left but Kevin McBride. I doubt that anybody else in the room knew who he was, but I unfortunately had the experience of playing against him at the World Series of Poker a few years back, and this was bad news.

Kevin's claim to fame was his second-place finish to Scotty Nguyen in the 1998 main event, back in the days when if you made it to the final table, it wasn't by accident. This guy can play. Sitting to my right is trainer Dale Romans, even worse news. When you have a world-class player on your left, and a guy on your right who probably has more money than sense, you are in trouble. I was in trouble, and first one out. So much for my skills in a live-action game.

I had to wait all of two minutes until the next game started, this time a $500 sit 'n go. I draw the six-seat, and I'm right back in action. This time, who do I run up against but the original rounder himself, Matt Damon. When they let his six-month pregnant wife sit next to him at the table for good luck, I thought about complaining to the floor boss that it was against the rules, but thought better of it as they were likely to boo me out of the room. Apparently people like this guy.

Everybody else at the table just threw money at Damon, and he ended up with virtually every chip when it was down to three players. I guess everybody wanted to tell the story of how they got knocked out by Matt Damon. Kind of like I'm doing now, as he knocked me out in the first hand when it was down to three players.

But at least I cashed and through two games had a profit. Stuck $250 in the first, I got back $1,000 in the second. It was time to step up in class, and I moved to the $1,000 game. This time, I ran into Romans again. I gave him no credit whatsoever, and then promptly handed all my chips to him when he slow-played a set. Stinking horse trainers, they beat you on and off the track.

I was about to sit right back in another $1,000 game, but I saw Angel Cordero hanging around the table and I couldn't bear the thought of losing back-to-back to a trainer and a jockey. Keep in mind this was around midnight; I thought these guys had to get up in the morning.

After playing into two more $500's, I ended up leaving the place a $300 winner - like I said, just about bus fare.

But since that trip, I've been sitting at my desk, playing instead of working, and making my contribution to the cyber world of poker. Maybe it's why everybody else online is a winner; they're all cutting me up and I just didn't know it. And now that I think about it, maybe Damon and Romans were in cahoots as well.

Kurt Paseka, a former turf writer, is a regular at New York City tracks and has cashed in the main event at the World Series of Poker.