While in Houston last week, I took the opportunity to visit a poker room some friends had suggested I check out because the action is so good.

It’s called Legends, one of many such rooms across Texas that operate in a legal gray area. The state has no casinos, and despite being the place hold ’em first became popular, card rooms are technically illegal if management takes a rake out of every pot. The rooms got around that by instead charging a membership fee (thus making it a “private club”) and making players rent their seats for, say, ten dollars a half hour. Therefore, no rake, no problem, and the cops pretty much left them alone.

However, Legends and other venues have reverted to the old system, eliminating the membership and seat fees in favor of pulling seven bucks out of every pot. So far, the authorities haven’t cracked down. But Legends’ other problem is that it’s in a dicey part of town, and there have been incidents involving gunfire both inside and outside the club — although none recently.

Nonetheless, I wanted to see what all the chatter was about and, even though there were other poker rooms closer to my hotel, I endured an hour-long Lyft ride in afternoon rush hour to get to Legends. Once inside, I spotted two armed officers inside the front door, making sure all new arrivals passed through a metal detector. I have never experienced that any other place I’ve played, but those locations didn’t have Legends’ reputation.

Having put myself on the lists for a couple of pot-limit Omaha games via the Poker Atlas app on the ride over, I got a seat moments after I walked in. As I looked around the room, it was as if we were playing in someone’s very large finished basement, with a plain floor and walls of white sheetrock all around (one of which was being painted as we played). It was as plain could be, with some sports memorabilia from Houston athletes on sale in a glass case up front. The biggest expense for the owners must have been the multiple TVs showing sports everywhere, not to mention the two dozen or so tables and security cameras above. There was also no sound baffling on the walls, so it was a little bit loud. Bottom line: not nearly as nice as poker rooms I’ve frequented in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Florida, or here in St. Louis.

To Legends’ credit, its dealers are quite good at their jobs, which can be measured in a PLO game by their knowledge of the amount in the pot and how big bets and raises can be. Being able to do the math quickly is a prerequisite for the job, but I’ve been plenty of places where the dealers didn’t have that skill set. These did, and they were shuffling manually, too, as there were no automatic shufflers at the tables.

Another odd thing about Legends was that many of the floor personnel, waitresses, and massage therapists were not wearing anything that would identify them as employees, so it was tough to tell who actually worked there. For instance, when I bought into my game, I was instructed to hand my cash to a young woman dressed in street clothes, who would then get chips from the cashier for me. But as she walked away, I wondered whether she was an employee, because I remember some con artists who ripped off players at the World Series Of Poker several years ago by taking players’ cash and never being seen again. I kept my eye on her until she returned with the correct number of chips, just to be sure, then tipped her a buck.

As my friends promised, the action was loose and most of the players had plenty of chips in front of them. The exceptions were two players who had short stacks, and when they lost them, re-bought for the minimum, which quickly went into the middle of the table and then into opponents’ stacks, followed by another rebuy and another and another. Those players were involved in every hand, a strategy that never works in any poker game. But since I was there to both have fun and win some money (which I did), their constant all-in moves didn’t bother me one bit.

Frankly, I was just happy to get out of Legends without getting shot.