I wasn't in it for the free games, but they were good places to network with other players. Most of the cash games I found in town were through this network—everyone seemed to "know a guy."
One of these guys agreed to meet with my friend and I at a local pub to approve us for his weekly game. It seemed a little cloak and dagger, but I suppose he was paranoid could be cops. After a few drinks with him, we were cleared.
The game was out of town and not with our usual opponents—meaning not college students. The one who met with us at the bar was regarded by all the others as the preimere poker player. Apparently, before we started attending, the same guy won all the time. Granted he was good, his style tight and aggressive with a minimum of bluffing and prided himself on his ability to read tells. I could tell all that after the first hour playing with him, which is probably why I usually beat him.
I didn't win that first night. I was down $30 and my buddy about matched. We did leave knowing how we lost and confident that it would last. My major loss that night was a hand were I paired against someone who was betting against me the whole way with a straight draw. After the turn, I decided to raise his bet about three-quarters of the pot. He called and caught on the river. I lost, but my read was correct.
Long story short, we kept returning every week and barely ever left down again. It became the most profitable weekly ring game I was ever a part of and he was no longer the premiere poker player. I was able to invite one other friend to play in a tournament hosted there. After my two friends and I took first, second, and third; we weren't invited back.