It's Monday night, and regardless of what it looks like he's doing, Larry Goldberg is analyzing data.
He seems relaxed and assured. But there's no mistaking the deliberateness and intensity of his concentration. His study is thorough. His attention focused; left, right, up, down, his eyes stopping for a time on each object and every person around him.
He's in no hurry – after all, he's obviously seeking an answer to an important question. It might be complex financial information he's meticulously planning to organize, or objects from some archaeological dig in Greece he's examining and cataloging – all of which he's done before in his life. He approaches this problem the same way.
Now he reaches a resolution and makes his move. Measuring some chips from the neat stack in front of him, he pushes them to the center of the table. In other words – or more correctly, without words – he signals he's staying in the game.
Because, you see, it's Monday night, and Larry Goldberg is at Sharx Bar and Grill on Atwood Avenue in Cranston, playing Texas Holdem Poker.
This is the second time I've seen Larry play in the last four nights, and my impression of him hasn't altered one bit: Larry is a very analytical kind of guy.
On Thursday, when I first met him, he was in a poker tournament at the Islander Restaurant on West Shore Road in Warwick. He was "knocked out" that night, meaning he ran out of chips early. Some players call this "busting out." Whatever you call it, it happened again this night at Sharx.
But I then learn, over the weekend at the Luxury Box, just over the line in Seekonk, Mass., he won, and won big.
"There were two tournaments on Saturday: One at 1 o'clock and the other at 4. I won the first tournament, and I hung in there on the second – I think I finished eighth on that one," he tells me casually.
Later, when I point out that his first place finish added 137 points to his season total, and 8th place was worth another 82, he laughs and says, "Yeah, it was a pretty good weekend.
"Even when you're knocked out early, though, you still pick up a minimum of 10 points. It all adds up to get into the championship tournament at the end of the season," he says.
There are two seasons each year. The current one ends in October with $36,000 in cash to be won Columbus Day weekend. To get in it, players either have to win one of the nightly tourneys or stay in the top 10 percent point count for the season.
The type of poker Larry and several thousand other people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts play is something relatively new and fairly unique. Texas Holdem tournaments are played all over the country, but here they are organized differently: Typically, five to seven tournaments every week are held at restaurants and sports bars within seven specified regions. Each one lasts not much more than four hours – generally 7 to 11 p.m., but not always – and very, very rarely tournament play can go to 11:30, but almost never past midnight.
These events aren't designed for professional poker player types; they're meant for men and women with day jobs who just happen to like playing Texas Holdem.
Tournaments are put on by Eastern Poker Tour, an 8-year-old company founded in Rhode Island. As EPT's brand of pub-poker caught on and grew in popularity, regions had to be carved out to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of players. Massachusetts wound up with six (Central Mass., Greater Lowell, Southern Mass., Framingham, South Coast and North Shore), but Rhode Island has been maintained as one, discreet region.
By organizing the Tour this way, regular players generally find at least a few familiar faces when they sit down at a table.
At the Islander, there were about 65 players the night I was there, each paying $15 to register and receive their chips (everyone starts playing with the same amount). Roughly the same number started the tournament at Sharx, where registration was $20; according to EPT, that's the fare, either $15 or $20, depending on the food served.
Yes, food! Dinner buffet, and a good one, comes with the deal.
"A lot of people play more frequently than I do under the theory that your point count increases each time whether you bust out early or not," Larry said, smiling. "My wife and I agreed that three times a week works with our schedule. Once in a while I fit in another tournament."