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Monday, September 06, 2004

Our Big Trip, Part III: Wednesday and Thursday at the Mirage (and Bit of Bellagio)
Over the past week or so I've received 3 comments, one from good buddy Odogg, one from blogger extraordinaire Pauly, and one from Kevin (who wrote those 4 little words that every blogger wants to hear: "I enjoy your blog" -- thanks Kevin!). Regarding Lucky Chances, Kevin wrote "Your description about fits what it's like all the time," and regarding the Mirage, Pauly wrote "It's my favorite casino to play at. Period." I mention this because I'm glad that I seem to capturing the consensus "vibe" about these places. I blog primarily to amuse myself, but I figure if there's any usefulness to my posts, it's particularly in the trip reports--maybe any cheap thrills-seeking newbies out there who read this stuff will be better prepared for the scene at Lucky Chances or more motivated to brave the Vegas cardrooms.

And believe me, if you like poker you should check out the Mirage!

After reporting on my loss at Lucky Chances and my inebriated water-treading at the Mirage, permit me to, at long last, blog in great detail about winning :)

Wednesday the 18th, 1pm: We had been up pretty darn late the night before, so we were a little slow-moving on Wednesday. For breakfast we hit the Flamingo buffet. Shortly after we were seated the fairly obscure Jimmy Buffet song "Jimmy Dreams" came piping through the buffet area. Also we were seated right by the window, overlooking the Flamingo's real-live Flamingos and the Koi pond. So I kicked my personal rating of the Flamingo back up a couple notches, even though B and I think we will stay at the Mirage next time we're out there.

We moseyed over to the Mirage by 1pm and were seated very quickly, at separate tables.

I didn't like mine. Tight play and dour faces. There was one kid who particularly stuck out as the most unpleasant player I have sat at a casino table with. Which is odd, because this kid looked fairly unremarkable: early 20s, clean-cut, a little pudgy. You'd think that I would say that the player I dubbed Bad Skin Bad Teeth, who raised his voice to me on the first hand I played against him and continually harassed the dealers at Foxwoods, would be worse. But this kid really grated on me. His expression was a mix between pout and frown, which I initially took for nervousness or losing. But the expression would turn to a sneer whenever he was in a hand: I know I it's sounds kooky, but this kid was full of malice. When he'd say "raise" it was like an insult, but more than that: He didn't just want you to fold or think you were a bad player, it was like he disliked you and wished you harm. Usually when a player is angry or upset at a poker table, you can tell that he's at least trying to convince himself he's having a good time or that his luck's about to change. Not so with this kid -- he just embraced the negativity. I've honestly never seen anyone this unpleasant, and it was bringing the whole table down. Lots of glaring, very little conversation.

Once again, despite being consciously on guard against tilt, despite consciously trying to stick to my A-game when I was in a hand against this Pudgy Puke, I lost. To the tune of $120, just about a full buy-in. This was kind of upsetting -- the night before I had been pep-talking myself about how I was "only" down one buy-in, and now it was two.

And then I did something really, really smart. I rebought and switched tables.

I change tables all the freakin' time online, but I'd never done it in a casino before. It's usually not really an option at Foxwoods on a weekend. But this was Vegas on a weekday afternoon. I simply looked around, spotted a seat, and asked the floorwoman if I could take it. No problemo, and at that point I definitely wasn't worried about offending the table I was leaving.

At the new table, I won back my $120, along with $50 more. I wish I could relate some spectacularly great hands, but there weren't any. In fact I think I was playing my same straightforward game at both tables. The second table was just looser and -- I think this was also a big factor -- friendlier. In Zen and the Art of Poker author Larry Phillips talks about how you should never be superstitious or anything, but sometimes you can just feel when a session is going right or wrong, and I followed that teaching. (However, though I tried not to, I was probably violating Phillips's lesson about being truly emotionally detached from the game: I just did not like that kid.) I'm so glad I woke up to the fact that as much as I would have liked to take the Pudgy Puke's money, that was not a good table to do it at.

In general, this was a great lesson for me in how you can get so focused on the playing hand after hand, analyzing the pot odds, the other players, etc., that you can fail to take a step back and notice something as obvious as "wow, this table sucks and I'm not having fun at all." This is a lesson I had already learned online, but I had to re-learn it in the casino.

B and I had to spilt around 4pm, to meet a college buddy who lives in Las Vegas and was getting off work around 4:30 or 5:00, and I cashed out up $50. As it turned out we had a little time to kill, so B played $2 craps at the Casino Royale. Proud of my win, I wasn't about to risk it on the dice. I drank a couple $2.25 rum and Cokes from the bar and watched B play craps for a while, then I ran back to the Flamingo to change before dinner.

We met our friend and she drove us to her house, so we got a little taste of suburban Las Vegas. I wouldn't mind living there at all. Then we headed back to the Strip for dinner at Margaritaville. Not quite in the mood for a cheeseburger in paradise after all the steak I'd eaten the night before, I had a surprisingly good salad and several rum drinks. We hung out there for a while, then bid our friend good night, since she had to be at work the next morning, and headed back to the Mirage.

Wednesday the 18th, 10pm: Still no line for a seat at $3/$6! Evidently a lot of people were waiting for $6/$12 though. (So why not play $3/$6 while you wait? Who knows.) B and I end up at a newly-formed table. It's a fun one. I'm in the 3 seat, B's in the 1, and a rough-around-the-edges-but-smiling guy to my right has his girlfriend sitting behind him and watching him in the 2 seat. A younger guy is to my left, and an older guy to his left is chatting up the whole table.

The waitress comes by and after the walk over in the still-pretty-darn-hot air, I'm dying for another rum drink. I order a rum and Coke and the guy on my right says, "What, you're not gonna specify what kind of rum?" This hadn't occurred to me so I say, "Okay, um, Bacardi." The cocktail waitress leaves, but while I wait for that first drink this guy explains to me the many merits of a Captain and Coke, how it doesn't taste quite as sweet, how it doesn't give him much of a hangover. I'm an easy sell, and thereafter it's Captain and Cokes for me for the rest of the night, in fact, the rest of trip.

Which leads me to a happy, inane statistic: I have something like a 6.6 big-blind-per-hour win rate when playing at the Mirage with 3 or more Captain and Cokes in me. I know that sounds stupid, but these are some of the things that occur to me between hands.

And another fun fact: When this fellow asked where I was from and I told him Providence, he immediately named the Foxy Lady, which due to puritanical laws in Massachusettes is the premiere strip club in southern New England. He was like the 4th guy on the trip to say something like "Providence, huh? I've been to the Foxy Lady." Go Providence!

The rest of the evening the deck hit me over the head. I got both great cards and great flops. It must have seemed like I was playing drunk and loose, but only the first part of that description is accurate. The cards just kept coming and coming. Also there were two players, a man and a woman who were giving their money away. They were big on playing any ace and rebuying and they seemed unable to fold near-bottom pairs, showing down with them again and again.

Meanwhile, the girl watching the guy to my right got pissed at him and left, but he didn't seem to care. Our end of the table made friends. The guy to my left was named Peter and was from a town not too far from my hometown of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Peter didn't get much in the way of cards all night, and started ribbing me about stealing all the luck. The sociable guy to Peter's left was named Art. Art was from Minnesota and spoke very highly of the Canterbury. I felt like asking him if he read Chris Halverson, but I didn't. Art was also a very good player, mixing it up in a lot hands, getting a lot of people to fold, but always seeming to get away when he was beat. And steadily winning.

I should mention the dealers, too. A couple of them were really cool. The standout was Todd, who I'd first met on Tuesday at Texas's table, and who called me simply "Rhode Island." Todd had dealt at the WSOP, and at one point the ESPN coverage was on the TVs in the Mirage poker room, and Todd could point to himself on TV. Todd was also really funny, had a flair with the cards, and could do a couple chip tricks. Two good banterers like Art and Todd are more than enough to keep me entertained between hands.

My beautiful rush continued for the better part of 3 hours -- until my endurance gave out. Lack of sleep and a belly full of rum can do that. I started having trouble seeing the flop and keeping track of the action. I kept saying, "OK, I have to go," with peter eager to take my lucky seat, and then I'd get dealt another good hand. Finally I cashed out, up $207. And I must've tipped away a lot more than that, between the drinks and the taking down tons of pots. I needed 3 racks just to carry my chips to the cashier window. Beauty.

Once again I left the table ahead of B and retired to the bar. B was up $40 but jealous of my huge win. But she was also tired and joined me soon after.

Thursday Morning the 19th: I got up ahead of B and had a hectic morning, running over to the Aladdin to buy a Tommy Bahama palm tree tie I had spotted on Tuesday. I foolishly wore a black Hawaiian shirt on this errand, and was definitely feeling the Vegas heat (and the rum from the night before) on my walk back. I also popped into Margaritaville to buy a themed deck of cards and a t-shirt that says "Landshark, Cardshark -- Can't You Feel 'Em Circling, Honey." Yes it is cheesy, and yes I will be wearing it to my next home poker game.

This was our last day in Vegas. We had an 11:30pm flight. We kinda wanted to head directly over to the Mirage and playing as much poker as possible. On the other hand, we felt a little bad about not doing much of anything else besides playing poker at the Mirage. We still wanted to try to Bellagio buffet, so we decided to do a later lunch there. Beforehand, we figured we'd try the Bellagio poker room.

Oh, on the way over to the Bellagio, we passed through the new courtyard area that Caesar's has on the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road. They've got an outdoor bar there in much the same style as the one between Harrah's and Imperial Palace, but the Caesar's bar doesn't have a bunch of souvenir stands around it, and plays better music. It struck as good place to grab a drink and soak up the Strip atmosphere some night. I just love how there's something new like that every time you go to Las Vegas.

Thursday the 19 at the Bellagio, 1pm: Okay, on to Bellagio. The room was bigger than the Mirage's but nowhere near as big as I'd remembered. Of course, I had never played there on our previous trips to Vegas, instead just walking by like a fool hoping to spot big-shot poker players :)

B sat right down at $4/$8 Hold'em. I waited about 20 minutes for $1-$5 Stud. This was a good tight-passive game, with players betting just $1 and $2 in the early rounds. That's in contrast to my one and only experience with $1-$5 Stud game at Foxwoods, where the typical 3rd street was bet $5, raise $5, and everybody call.

I won a few hands in the first 20 minutes, and then the game got very short-handed. It was only three of us for a good 20 minutes--me, a man of Middle Eastern descent, and an older fellow from Dover, England, who had one hell of a thick accent. Both were very nice, not silent and surly like many low-limit Stud players. Three-handed live play was pretty interesting, but mostly we just pushed small amounts back and forth and all lost to the house. Not thrilling, but neither is roulette, and this was a much less expensive way to spend an quite afternoon hour in a Las Vegas casino.

Finally 2 more people sat down and then I had a big hand go badly. I was dealt rolled up fives. I am still inexperienced enough at Stud to get way too excited about rolled-up anything. I called on 3rd street, then bet on 4th. When one of the new players raised me $5, I raised him back $5. He folded, but Dover read me like a book. With 2 to a flush showing, he called and bet to the river, making his flush along the way. The odds were good for me filling out to a boat but it didn't happen. I left down $34. Oh well, not too bad for someone who would've been basically terrified to play poker in the Bellagio a year and a half ago, and was pretty clueless about Stud until 6 months ago or so. B also fared not so well, losing $74.

We agreed that the Bellagio just seemed to be less our style than the Mirage. It was just too quiet and too serious an atmosphere, matching the overall theme of the hotel. The Mirage is a pioneer of Las Vegas Tack, with a freaking volcano on the Strip and (until last year) Siegfried and Roy. In contrast, while we love the fountains, the Bellagio seems to take itself so seriously, a trait you don't want in your poker opposition.

On our way to the buffet we ran into Peter, who was headed to try the Bellagio poker room for himself. We said we'd see him later at the Mirage, and we did.

The Bellagio buffet was pretty incredible. And at $16 or so for a late lunch, it was a pretty good value. I loaded up on shrimp and mussels. Then we headed over to the Mirage for our last hurrah.

Thursday the 19th at the Mirage, 4:30pm: The deck didn't hit me over the head quite so hard as it had the night before, but I won pretty steadily for the next 4 and half hours. I also feel that although I won less than I did the night before ($130 Thursday night), I played better on this final night. My cards weren't super-great like they were on Wednesday night, but I made more interesting decisions with marginal holdings. I was just completely comfortable and in synch with the table. I was categorizing players, bluffing out rocks, raising loosies, folding to Art, you name it.

B and I were at separate tables the whole time, but we checked in on each other pretty frequently. We were both experiencing that "last night in Vegas/I don't want to leave/better party while we can" feeling. Later she told me this was her night to utilize table selection, as she switched twice from rockish tables until she found a fun one.

I like to think that on this last night I made my table fun. I was definitely playing the part of the "I'm here to drink and play" kind of fish. Ordering five Captain and Cokes in the first hour can give you that kind of image. At one point I had ordered from 2 different waitresses and ended up double-fisted. This got a lot of jokes from the table. I was kinda the butt of them, but it was all in good fun, and besides, I was winning. This type of behavior would get me too many callers at a looser table, but my table had a tendency towards tightness, and I was the one loosening it up. Also, I knew I was leaving at 9pm (back to the hotel, then the airport) and I was determined to laugh and drink til then.

I was in the 1-seat. Art was in the 9, but it was hard to talk to him with the dealer between us. Three interesting players sat down on my left in the course of the evening. The first guy I am calling OJ because he drank Orange Julius, the non-alcoholic orange juice/ice cream concoction. There was some initial confusion (read: me putting my foot in my mouth) because when he first ordered it I assumed it could not be the drink I thought it was, but rather must be a name given to a different, orange juiced-based alcoholic drink. OJ made it clear that he didn't drink alcohol at the table. OJ clearly considered himself a shark, and was telling me how he was in line for the $6/$12 and had been playing $10/$20 the night before. He would make snide comments when someone showed down a weak starting hand. On one hand I was in the big blind and it was folded to us, I had pocket sevens and raised. Rags came on the flop and I bet and he raised/called the whole way. When I showed my hand, he showed his King-high and said, "I thought you were stealing." I said "Well, I normally don't raise with sevens, so you were kind of right." He left a few hands later! Heh heh heh.

I won another big hand when a boyfriend and girlfriend sat down in the 6 and 7 seat and started acting like they were sharks-in-training. The boyfriend was lecturing the table, doing chip tricks, etc. Every time either one of them was in a hand, win or lose, they would confer with each other about strategy, whether they should have bet or raised whatever. I'm betting they are winning poker players online, but this was pretty dumb behavior. They were talking about other people's play right in front of them, and just acting like they were smarter than everybody else, not to mentioned maybe generating concerns about collusion. All it got them was people not respecting their raise, which they didn't seem to like. Don't know what they thought of me, but I flopped a boat with 33 against the both of them and they paid me off.

OJ was replaced by a guy in his late 20s/early 30s I have no nickname for. I only know that he lived in Las Vegas, so I could call him Local Guy, but that would be too lame, hence no nickname. He was really, really tight. At one point he got dealt Aces twice in a row, lost the first time, won the second time. Then he got blinded away over the course of about 2 hours.

While he was getting blinded down, I decided I didn't like the guy across from me. He was saying "nice river" and things like that when players beat him -- not good for the fun level (though nowhere near as bad as that sneering Pudgy Puke). I named him Vitriolic Guy. To my surprise, when local boy left, Vitriolic Guy came and sat down next to me. Not really sure why, but after a bit I decided it was for a better view of the table from the 2-seat. We got along much better after that, with him joking me about how much I was drinking, and us commiserating about the last-night-in-Vegas feeling. I let his "Oh God I can't believe she just played Q6 offsuit" comments pass without comment. Plus he caught on that I was winning and really only playing good cards, and he stayed out of my way when I raised. I love that.

The experience with Vitriolic Guy led me to a new realization about table dynamics: People sitting across form each other tend to be adversrial and people sitting next to each other tend to be more friendly. This is often reflected in the betting. Doesn't apply online, obviously. Look for it next time you're at casino. Mike Caro or somebody probably already made this realization, but if they did I don't remember reading it.

Two "Decisions" We had 2 interesting "decisions" on the evening. As in, there was controversy at a table, and the dealer would yell "Decision on 2!," and the floorman would come over and resolve the dispute.

The first involved B. In a big hand, the guy to the right of her at her table flashed one of his cards to her, then raised. This card was enough to beat B, so she folded. But a guy to her left had the nuts, and so he was angry that the guy to B's right had showed. Meanwhile, the other players were saying "show one, show all," since they could tell from B's reaction that the "show-er" had a good hand. But the guy holding the nuts was yelling a bunch against the "show all," so the floorman was called over. The floorman asked B which card she had seen, and she told him. At this point the angry man on B's left got really, really angry at her, saying that she should not have answered the question. As if B should have thumbed her nose at the floorman or something--it was pretty ridiculous. Happily the whole table came to B's defense. The floorman ruled that the one card B had seen be shown to all, and the hand was resolved. The angry man left shortly after. (I watched all this from afar, as did much of the poker room, it was all so loud.)

We then had a really dumb decision at my table when Lecturing Boyfriend acted a little prematurely. It seems the fellow on his right had a habit of tapping his fingers and such while he was waiting for the action to come to him. In a dumb angle-shooting move, Lecturing Boyfriend would often bet as soon as it was Tappy's turn, saying that Tappy's tapping signified a check. Finally a player disputed Lecturing Boyfriend about this (I told you he wasn't well-liked). The floorman ruled in favor of Lecturing Boyfriend (any up-and-down motion is a check), who left soon after.

Wrap Up: We finally left for the hotel and airport at about 9:15. I was up $130.

So on the trip my totals were:
-$78 at Lucky Chances
+$6 Tuesday afternoon at the Mirage
-$66 Tuesday evening at the Mirage
+$54 Wednesday afternoon at the Mirage
+$207 Wednesday evening at the Mirage
-$34 Thursday afternoon at the Bellagio
+$130 Thursday evening at the Mirage

For a grand total of +$219 on the trip. B ended up about $150 (and I had to drag her away from the table she was at, cause after finally fiding a good table she was running over it). So between us we about paid for our total hotel bills. Plus we must've tipped a ton between us at the poker tables--I definitely have a tendency to tip too much when drunk and happy in Las Vegas.

All in all this was an incredible trip for me. I feel I've reached a new plateau as a poker player, because I finally really enjoyed myself and won at casino poker. I've blogged a lot about why I play poker. For online poker at least, "graduating" to casino play in Las Vegas was always a major goal. Having finally, really accomplished that goal, I've got a new level of confidence about the game. I know there's plenty of players out there who are better than me, but this trip totally confirmed the feeling that there's also a ton of players who are worse than me, and that I can usually tell the difference. Now I just have to successfully transition back to winning online play before . . .

I am headed back to Las Vegas on September 16th for Odogg's bachelor party. Viva Las Vegas!

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