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Monday, September 27, 2004

Trip Report: Odogg's Bachelor Party in Las Vegas, Part II
Click here for Part I of the trip report, in which I muse about bachelor parties, complain about the hassles of arriving in Vegas, and chronicle our drunken Thursday night Downtown and at the Mirage. Part II resumes Friday afternoon the 17th, after I have busted out of the Luxor noon tournament and taken a nap:

For the rest of the afternoon we recuperated in the hotel room. Odogg purchased Internet access and we all did really nerdy things like check our e-mail and set our fantasy football lineups. I was unable to get back to sleep.

Around 4pm I decided to hit the spa. In case you didn't know (I didn't, until last year during our wedding), most of the major hotel-casinos on the Strip have a spa, which you can get a day pass to for about $20. On our wedding trip, I had discovered the wonders of the sauna and the steam room. In combination with a cool shower, I find the spa to be the perfect cure for the dehydration that usually afflicts those newly-arrived in Las Vegas. In this case, I was also hoping the rejuvenating effect of the spa would substitute for sleep. Plus I love that the Rat Pack used to visit the steam room almost daily when they would do their summits, so now I associate the spa with old school Vegas in a roundabout way. Derek joined me. I had hoped O would too, but he was too smart and opted for real sleep instead.

A funny thing is that in the spa you can shower, they give you mint-smelling soap and shampoo and such, and you can shave, use mouthwash, and brush and dry your hair. You can almost do everything you need to prepare for an evening out. Except apply deodorant: You end up having to walk all the way back to your room just to apply deodorant. So Individually wrapped one-time use deodorants are clearly the next challenge for modern toiletry science.

Based on the tip from the friendly poker-playing drunkard the night before, I placed a $40 bet on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. They ended up winning 34-16 on a 4-point spread. For the rest of the weekend I bragged about how my Minnesota State Gophers had kicked butt. Unfortunately, while there is a small school called Minnesota State University Mankato, and also the bigger Southwest Minnesota State, none of them have Gophers, and football-wise "Minnesota State" is widely known as the fictional college from the TV show "Coach," starring Craig T. Nelson. Oh well, I know a lock when I smell one, even if I can't quite remember the name of the team 20 minutes after I make the bet.

We then headed out for dinner. We all really wanted a steak, but we had reservations for dinner at Craftsteak for Saturday night. So we headed over to ESPNZone instead. It was not really a disappointment, but it was about 1/5 the size I had imagined. I don't know why I thought it would be enormous -- maybe I had seen the interior of a different ESPNZone on TV or something. I got a chicken and avocado wrap, which I thought would be a solid meal but ended up being a lot of lettuce and not all that much chicken. Which basically set me up to get really drunk later. Let that be a lesson: When in doubt, get a steak!

The Luxor Poker Room

The 3 other members of our party arrived Friday night at 6:30, 8:30, and 10:30. What to do for all those hours? Hmmm . . . How about that game I've been seeing so much of on TV?

I'm not going to try and recap 5+ hours of poker. Instead, some brief thoughts on the Luxor poker room.

First, I am now a Mirage snob. The Luxor room is very nice but just can't compare to the Mirage.

Second, the Luxor poker room has a jackpot. High hand bonus of $100 for 4 of a kind or a straight flush -- only $20 if you only use one hole card. So the rake is slightly higher, as they take quarters out at roughly $10 pot increments. The annoying thing is that when you win a pot, you win a bunch of quarters. But this did help with the awkward decision of whether to tip on a small pot, since you could tip .50.

Third, the Luxor room is a little disorganized. For example, they don't have a whiteboard for waiting lists; instead, it's one brush with a clipboard, and he never seemed to know exactly which games had seats and which didn't. It was also unclear to the newbies entering the room that they were supposed to sign in with the brush; they kept wanting to go to the cashier desk, which begs the question of why the clipboard or the brush couldn't stay at the cashier desk, which is nice and stationary. That's a pretty minor complaint, but it was something I noticed. A bigger problem was that they had a hard time keeping the $4/$8 game full. It would get short-handed a lot, then break up, then reform, etc. What bugged me about this is that while there lines for $2/$4, not once did they make the simple announcement over the microphone, "open seating at $4/$8." Players and dealers at the $4/$8 table were literally shouting, "hey, we've got seats over here," and then someone waiting for $2/$4 would come over and take the seat, and then the brush would get annoyed that the new player hadn't signed in with him for $4/$8. There were also discrepancies in how different little things were handled depending on which floorman was on, but you get the idea.

Fourth, I was surprised by the number of poker room personnel playing in the games. There was an average of about 6-8 tables going at any time, and most of the time 3-4 of these tables would have at least one dealer or floorman playing. This was fine by me, since they were all very polite to play with, and weak-tight. At one point one of the players remarked on how many casino personnel were playing, and one of the floormen made a weird revelation, explaining that the poker room employees were allowed and even encouraged to play, but -- here's the surprising part -- they were not allowed to check-raise. The whole table was baffled by this, and when asked the reason for this policy the floorman said simply "It's unethical," and refused to elaborate. Now, I assume that the no check-raise policy is in place because some players, used to home games, do get upset at the check-raise. But that's not what this floorman said: He said, "It's unethical," in a kinda solemn way, and pointedly refused to answer furhter questions on the matter. Weird.

Poker with Alan Schoonmaker

There was one very interesting highlight during all this. I was playing $4/$8, and I'm in the 9 seat when an older fellow sits down in the 5 seat, kind of across from me. He's got a RoyalVegasPoker.com hat on, which strikes me as unusual. What's more, he's got another older fellow (60+) sitting behind him, I guess sweating his play. Now, I have seen girlfriends/wives sweat their men, and I have seen men sweat the girfriends/wives, but I have never seen a guy sweat another guy. And these guys were not particularly fit, well-dressed, or sporting stylish hair, so I'm assuming it's not a couple thing. RoyalVegas proceeds to play like an absolute rock for the next half hour or so, sometimes turning to confer with the guy behind him after he folds. After a while the 7 seat opens up, and RoyaVegas moves there.

A tall, bald, youngish guy takes the 5 seat. He makes a couple remarks about playing for a couple hours until he meets some friends who are seeing Blue Man Group. Him being tall and bald, someone makes the obvious joke, and the bald guy runs with it, and as new people sit down we're telling them this guy's in Blue Man Group, and people are buying it. Funny stuff. But I digress.

RoyalVegas is joined by another older guy, who sits behind him and watches his play. Blue Man asks me if I know who RoyalVegas is; I say I've been wondering that myself. Blue Man takes the initiative and asks him who he is. It is Alan Schoonmaker, the author of The Psychology of Poker and regular contributor to Card Player. I haven't read his book myself, but I'm wondering what the heck this guy is doing playing $4/$8, and whether these guys behind him are here for lessons or something. Meanwhile, Blue Man has read Schoonmaker's book, and he goes into gush mode. The next hour is Blue Man asking Schoonmaker all kinds of questions, from strategy stuff to psychology stuff to questions about Sklansky and the 2+2 bunch. I'm trying to listen in and play poker at the same time, and I'm doing neither very well.

Meanwhile, the whole table has tightened up, I guess on their best behavior in front of a poker semi-professional. The irony is that in September 10th issue of Card Player, Schoonmaker has an article in which he talks about tourney poker and says, "Some pros have . . . complained bitterly about the weak players. . . . Berating the people who provide all of your profits is very foolish. Sane business people don't insult their customers." In effect, the usual wisdom of "Don't tap the glass (or you'll scare the fish)." But the glass was being tapped, not by Schoonmaker berating people but rather by he and Blue Man making it so clear that they were very serious about their poker.

I knew the table conditions weren't good, but they were at least interesting, and I didn't want to move down to $2/$4. I rode out the evening, and one by one our friends arrived. I left down $70.

I was downing beers during all these hours, and they caught up to me. The rest of the evening was a lot of fun. We hopped in a cab and headed out to [deleted]

I stayed up far too late, and at 4:30am (!) 2 of the newly arrived bachelor partiers convinced me to sit down at $10 blackjack. I had all of $90 on me, but surprisingly, did not go broke over more than an hour of play, and instead won $35.

F*** You, Thomas

I slept til 4pm on Saturday. Yowza. Finally got up, went down to the casino cafe, got some chicken soup. Then hit the spa again, and by 6pm I felt somewhat human.

Came back up to the hotel room to put on deodorant, found O, and what do we do but hit the poker room. It seems we've got reservations for 9pm at Craftsteak at the MGM, so why not play poker til then.

O got to the poker room before me. I walked in and saw that the table he was at had an empty seat. Now, I have *never* asked to sit with my wife B or a friend at a poker table. But I was kinda tired, and playing mostly to kill time with O, so I asked the brush if I could sit at that table. I'll try to be brief on the details, but this guy was an asshole. "No," he says, "you have to sit over here," pointing to a short-handed table. Okay, I think to myself, that's understandable. "Okay," I say, "can I get on a waiting list or something for the that table?" "No," he says, "you have to play over here." A little annoyed, I take the seat he directs me to.

Then I start thinking about it. Shouldn't I be able to get the seat change button for a new table? Shouldn't I be able to practice table selection, and not sit at this short-handed table if I don't want to? (Upon later reflection, I think the answers are "yes" and "no," respectively.) This just goes back to how disorganized the room is; people have basically been sitting wherever they want on other brush's shifts, but this guy wants to be a stickler.

Okay, so I explain to O, hey, I'm here, but the brush wants me to sit at the other table because it's short-handed. No problemo. Then after a while my table gets really short-handed, down to 5 players, while O's has 8. So I say to O, hey, you can probably come over to my table if you want. O does, but he doesn't check with the brush first. Big mistake. The brush--his name was Thomas, I noted it--comes over and starts scolding us like we're schoolkids. "You can't do that! You have to check with me!" I *apologize* and try to explain that hey, we're just playing for a couple of hours waiting for our friends, this table was really short-handed, is it OK if he sits here? Thomas is a complete asshole about it. Just no, no, no, go where I tell you, in a really petulant manner. Not "I'll see what I can do," not "I've got to enforce the room policy, hope you understand." Just "do what I say."

Now, maybe O and I really screwed up. Maybe Thomas likes to make sure all the rules are followed. I can accept that, and I *did* apologize for O's move. But Thomas is being a dick. In Foxwoods, in Atlantic City, I would shrug it off. But this is Las Vegas. I've flown across the country, I'm throwing money around like candy, and I'm loving it, in large part because I'm being treated so well. I don't demand that the customer is always right, but I do demand that the customer be treated with respect.

So I say pretty pointedly to O, "Maybe we should play somewhere else." This was a pretty empty threat since we were waiting on our other friends, but I hope it let Thomas know what I thought of the situation. I'll never play at the Luxor again, because of Thomas the Asshole.

My table broke up shortly afterwards, and I took a break from playing to try and calm down.

Okay, end rant.

Being Policed

Between the two unpleasant encounters with Thomas, I was playing too aggressively, but having fun. The guy to my right was a hoot, he had on a shirt that said "I'm a Winner," and I think the guy 2 to my left was his dad. The Card Room Manager was also at our table, I know because his nametag said "Card Room Manager."

"I'm a Winner" was running the table, socially at least. Nonstop talking, a lot of it about strategy, but it wasn't very sound strategy so it was amusing. Often when it was his decision he would say things like, "Well, I have 6 outs. Wait, 8 outs. Well, 7 outs. Hmmm . . . I fold." He would usually say things like that when his dad was in the hand, but his dad was usually in the had. Winner was very big on announcing how many outs he had (sometimes I would ask him, heh heh), and didn't seem to realize or care that announcing you are on a draw is not usually a good idea. But he was a nice guy.

I was basically playing raise or fold. I wasn't playing junk, but I was raising with marginal stuff, or if I caught any piece. "I'm a Winner" would almost always get out of my way or call me down, but never raise. At one point he called me down with a flush when it was 6-handed, and explained that he didn't want to raise because the board had paired. I told him he shouldn't look for monsters under the bed at $2/$4, which is a line I stole from something I read recently, can't remember that, but I like the line. We were shorthanded much of the time, and I didn't think I was playing all that maniacally, but it must've appeared that way, especially to players who only usually play full-handed games. After a while Dad and the Card Room Manager started policing me, big time. It was pretty evident that one of them was going to call me down, no matter what. At least usually one of them would fold if it was clear the other one was going to keep me honest.

This was very much not my normal style of play, but it was fun. I lost a lot of small pots and won some big ones. In retrospect, with the high rake, I wanted to be winning fewer big pots and not be involved in so many small ones. But then, it was shorthanded. Anyway, it was fun.

One hand sticks out. 6-handed, I have A5s from UTG, and I raise. Dad calls, all else fold. The flop comes K75. I bet, Dad calls. The turn is another King. I bet, Dad raises. I think for a minute, decide Dad is full of it and would've raised on the flop if he had a King, and I call. River is another overcard (to my fives), I check, Dad bets, I figure I may be rivered but I call. I show, and my pair is good. Dad had something like Q9. "I'm a Winner" can't believe it. "You're awful lucky to take down a pot with bottom pair," he says. "How can you call all those bets with a pair of fives?" he says. "I guess I just thought he didn't have anything," I say. Heh heh heh, plays like that aren't profitable long term, but they sure are fun :-)

Saturday Night

We finally get the boys together and head to Craftsteak. We ate at 9pm because the Hopkins-De La Hoya fight started then, so that's when we could get reservations. Very swank place, I definitely recommend it. I had a Kobe beef steak (in case you didn't know, Kobe beef is really rare and comes from cows raised in Japan that are massaged, and both fed and rubbed down daily with beer. The meat is marbled with fat, which is supposed to make it taste really rich). They described the Kobe beef as "buttery," and that's a good word for it. At $50 for t steak I may never get it again, but I'm sure glad I tried it.

We left the MGM Grand around 10:30. It was a little crazy with all the outpouring of people from the fight. We would've had to wait in quite a line for a cab, and the damn monorail wasn't working, so we decided to walk. A couple of the BPers hadn't been to Las Vegas before, and they wanted to see the Bellagio fountains.

So we walked from the MGM Grand to Bellagio. I hadn't made that trek since 1998 or so, and I remembered why: Crazy traffic, a hot, desiccating wind that's just killing O, who was wearing contacts, and a rather scary crowd--at one point, a group of drunken wannabe gangstas hurled a half-full bottle of tequila into traffic; it crashed againt a bus and then it was all high-fives among the riff-raff. At least our two Vegas newbies got to see the nitty gritty side of the Strip. But like I said, taking a cab seemed like a lousy option. The lesson: When in Las Vegas, be content where you are, or at least don't wait til 11pm Saturday night to try and get a cab.

We made it to the fountains, but didn't see a show. Instead we grabbed a couple drinks at the new outdoor bar at Caesar's, then hopped into cab at Caesar's, where the lines were not so bad. We headed down to the Sahara for the promise of cheap blackjack. I was disappointed to find out that the Sahara did away with their famous (?) $1 blackjack tables almost a year ago--especially since we had come to the Sahara partly because I had said it had some of the cheapest blackjack on the Strip. In retrospect we probably could've played $5 blackjack at mid-Strip. Oh well, we had a great time. We had a table to ourselves, at least one hilarious dealer, and we made excellent use of the cocktail service. Also, I won $125. Heh heh.

And the other reason we were at the Sahara is because it's near the Olympic Garden Strip Club. We headed over there around 2 am and [deleted]

Poker in the Morning

We left the strip club around 5am, squinting our eyes in the face of God's flashlight, aka the sun. We hopped a cab back to the Luxor. The non-poker players among us slept, like the weaklings they are. O, Derek, and I headed to the poker room. (My flight was leaving at 11:50am, so I reasoned (use of that word in this context is very light) that I would have to leave for the airport at 10am, and what good was 3-4 hours of sleep going to do me? O and Derek felt the same.

I was so drunk and tired at this point that I just don't remember all that much. I wish I did because I know it was a hilarious several hours . . . or maybe everyone in the room was just really, really giddy from lack of sleep. Either way, it was a hell of a time. At first O did indeed head off, either to eat or sleep or shower I don't recall. It was Derek and I together at a table with 5 others for a bit. I went about 2 hours without winning a pot, largely because I didn't get good hands. I tried to steal a couple times -- no luck -- could it be that I didn't have a very intimidating image, drunk and playing poker at 6am? But I know I had at least 2 hurtful second-bests, one a Queen-high flush against a King-high flush. Ugh, but I got no one to blame but myself.

Around 7am I got up for that most humiliating of tasks -- the trip to the ATM. When I came back, the fellow sitting to my left had passed out. Head on the felt, not responding to our shaking him, trying to get him to wake up. Security had to come and escort him out of the casino! (Since he wasn't staying at the Luxor.)

Our table broke up shortly afterwards and we joined O's (not sure exactly when he arrived). I fared much better at this table, and my drunken raising was getting some respect. O informs me that I was going on some hot streaks, although I left a loser overall on the morning. I made friends with a black guy on my left -- wish I could remember his name. He had quite a stack of chips, very neatly arranged, and I made all my usual dumb jokes, many stolen from other blogs -- "Dude, I can't hear you behind that wall!" etc. He was cracking up, though, what can I say, I love a captive audience.

Sometime between 7am and 8am they brought us donuts. Now there's a perk to playing poker at insane hours, and they didn't taste that bad with my Captain and Coke. (I am lying about the second part.)

Only one hand really sticks out during this time. I had QQ, and it turns out my friend to my left had JJ. He got a Jack on the flop, bet the hell out of it, and I got a Queen on the river. He lamented his bad beat for a couple minutes, and rather than quibble about the definition of "bad beat" I just tried to sympathize with him, then I got in my best line of the morning: "Well, let's try not to dwell on the negative -- let's be happy for me!" Which may not seem that funny now but at the time it just cracked everyone up (very high punchy factor), especially my left-hand buddy, who insisted "You crazy, man!"

I cashed out down at least $60.

And Then the Frantic Effort to Make My Plane

Did I mention this was my first time in Las Vegas without my wife B? Well, it was, and usually she manages the Sunday morning details -- such as making sure we get to the airport on time. I played poker right up until 9:55am, then cashed out, sped up to the room with O, we hurriedly packed our bags, and I made hurried goodbyes and a mad dash to the cab.

I passed out in the cab. I didn't allow myself to sit during the wait for my plane, figuring I would pass out. The plane ride home was a very hazy back-and-forth between half-sleep and wondering where the hell I was. And then there were 2 and a half days of pain as my body gave me a good scolding. Did I mention that I'm getting too old for this shit?

All in all, I feel like we lived up to our duty as bachelor partiers to push ourselves to the limits. I have more thoughts about the poker I played, but this post is so long I should save it for another post. In short: I don't remember a lot of it, but I know that I played the maniac for the first time in my life, not counting nickel-dime home stuff. The problem: It's fun to play the maniac, but expensive! I am currently breaking the habit.

Thanks O for deciding to go all-out on the BP. I crossed into the realm of "Moderately Expensive Thrills," but it was so worth it.


A few weeks later, at the rehearsal for Odogg's wedding, I found a washed $100 bill in the back pocket of the khaki pants I wore on that last crazy night in Vegas. So I lost a bit less than I thought!

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