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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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Trip Report: Odogg's Bachelor Party in Las Vegas, Part I
Last Thursday I left for Las Vegas, for the second time in 2 months. The occasion: My good buddy Odogg's bachelor party. What follows is a long, rambling write-up of our escapades. I wasn't going to break this post into multiple parts, as I did with my previous Vegas trip report, but w.bloggar is giving me a stack overflow error, presumably because this post is causing it memory issues (?), so two parts it is. Also, while I played a lot of poker last weekend, this post also covers a lot of drinking and non-poker gambling. Make use of the nifty subheads to jump from a part that doesn't interest you to one that hopefully does.

I got back last Sunday night at 10pm, feeling the effects of far too much alcohol and far too little sleep. Danny Glover was very much on my mind -- "I'm getting too old for this shit." I was a zombie til about Wednesday morning, and on top of that B had an awful cough. So the Cheap Thrills household was kind of a mess this week. Fortunately we both started feeling better about Wednesday night, and Thursday night we actually hosted a home poker game, which I hope will become a weekly thing. But that's a topic for another post. On to the bachelor party.

On Bachelor Parties

Well, actually, before that, a word on bachelor parties. They're kind of a funny tradition. The idea is "one last night of bachelorhood," but it's unclear exactly what this means or how it should be achieved. At none of the bachelor parties I have been to has there actually been any sex for the bachelor in question, so (for my circle of friends, anyway) the bachelor party is certainly not "one last night of non-monogamy." There have been strip clubs, to be sure, but the entire strip club culture seems designed to make men feel like they're doing something really wild and naughty, when really you're just sitting there watching naked women dance, which in the grand scheme of things is a little naughty but just not that wild. No, the bachelor parties I've been to have been more like "one last night of drunken rowdiness," which is fine by me, but I just don't see drunken rowdiness and marriage as being mutually exclusive. As I say, a funny tradition.

My own bachelor party, held almost exactly a year ago, was: A poker tournament at Foxwoods in the morning, followed by beer, BBQ, and low-stakes poker all day, and then a trip the Foxy Lady, which by longstanding southern New England tradition is where all Rhode Island bachelor parties must end up. All in all it was a great day of excess, and just about as much fun as I can imagine having with the guys on a Saturday in September in Providence. On the dreaded morning after, however, I couldn't help but ask myself: Was that the wildest night I've had, or ever will have, in my life? And if not, had we failed in our duty as bachelor partiers?

My point is that there's quite an aura, quite a bit of cultural baggage and expectation surrounding the bachelor party tradition. No one wants to look back as say "That was a pretty tame bachelor party." Every red-blooded American male wants to have the craziest bachelor party ever for himself (short of cheating on his fiance, which to be honest, is a big short), and to throw the craziest bachelor party ever for his friends. What's more, Odogg, myself, and our 4 comrades-in-arms went in to the weekend knowing that were not embarking on the average, hometown night of debauchery, but were instead going for the ultimate BP experience: The Bachelor Party in Las Vegas. One of my comrades has already written (while stuck in Pittsburgh Sunday night on the way back home) about the feeling that this was Big:

Vegas doesn't conform to restrictions and doesn't lend itself to logical definition. Its decadent and rank, wholesome and raunchy, uplifting and degrading, straight and double dealing all at the same time. The result? Unmitigated fun. Consequently, any man in the world - well, any sane, honest man would like nothing better than to get together with some buds and take Sin City head on. We did just that. . . . Can I get a Boo Yah??
Flight and Check In (Kinda boring stuff, feel free to skip. I did win $50 at poker before checking in, though :-)

First off, the flight out. I suffer from a common malady, which is that I love traveling but hate flying. I know most people don't like flying, but a long flight just really drains the heck out of me. On top of this, I love Las Vegas but live on the east coast. Well, most of the bachelor party (6 of us total) was arriving Friday night and leaving Sunday. This didn't seem like nearly enough time in Las Vegas to justify all that time in the air, so I decided to head out early, on Thursday. On top of that, I took a really early flight that arrived in Las Vegas at 11:30am. Perfect, I thought, I'll have a whole day to recover from the flight, and play some poker, before everyone arrives and the craziness begins. As it turned out, O and a third member of our group, Derek, decided to join me on Thursday night. But that still left me Thursday afternoon for a little recovery time. Cool.

Anyway, I got up at 4:15am last Thursday morning to catch a 6:20am flight. The flight was uneventful (which is the best you can hope for).

Side note: I read Bob Ciaffone's Improve Your Poker on the plane. A fine book, though not nearly as "game-improving" as his Middle Limit Holdem Poker. Improve Your Poker is really just a compilation of Ciaffone's magazine articles, so it was kind of like having a lot of back issues of Card Player with me on the plane. /end side note

However, I am not a morning person. When the plane landed I felt not so good. Normally the adrenalin starts flowing when I walk though McCarran airport, but instead I was feeling a bit shaky and nauseous. So, note to self: Early morning flights perhaps not the best idea.

I got to the hotel--the Luxor--by noon. However, they wouldn't let anybody check in til 1:30. This irked me a bit--since the front desk was relatively empty, I figured why not just let me give my name and credit card, get the paperwork out of the way, and then they could give me an estimate of when my room might be ready. But no, they have a policy. OK, so I check my bags in with the bell desk, grab a bit to eat, and head over to the poker room. They had $2/$4 and $4/$8. Feeling better for the food but still kinda weak, I opt for $2/$4 -- and happily pick up $50 in the next hour or so.

1:30 rolls around, so I leave the table and head to the front desk--which is now a freakin' mob scene. Lines a dozen people deep, and none of them are moving. Now, last month when B and I were at the Flamingo, we waited about 45 minutes at the front desk. I glossed over that in my blog post on that trip because I didn't want to dwell on the worst part of the trip, but here it was happening again.

Think about it: You're psyched as hell for your trip to Las Vegas. You get through the 8 hours of flight/airport time, and begin to feel good once you hear the ringing of the slots in McCarran. You get your bags and wait in line for a cab at the airport--not the most fun thing to do, but at the cab lines are well-organized, and the cabbies are almost always polite, and usually downright friendly. Then you arrive at your airport, thrilled to be finally at your destination. And then you wait in line for almost an hour at the front desk, while Vegas beckons all around you. And really the worst part is how much the front desk experience stands in contrast to everything else in Las Vegas. Everything, I mean everything on the Strip--from bell desk to the cocktail service to the buffets and more--runs like a well-oiled machine. But for some reason the check-in process moves at a crawl and everyone involved with it seems just miserable. I don't get it, but it's starting to really bother me.

The only reason my check-in process didn't take more than an hour was because two couples in front of me left. I totally admire these people. They seemed like very average people in their 50s, not particularly high-rolling or glamorous or anything. But the one guy was just disgusted at the check-in lines and so he just says "This is why I hate the Strip," then pulls out a cell phone, books two rooms at the Golden Nugget, and they leave. Nice.

Arrived, Finally

Okay, moving on. I finally get my room. I do the Die Hard (making fists with my toes in the carpet), I shower, I iron my Hawaiian shirts (this has become a pleasant arrived-in-Vegas ritual for me), and I even manage an hour nap. Then I head back down to the poker room.

$4/$8 this time. It's about 5pm at this point, and O's arriving at 7pm, so I'm just kinda hanging out, trying to get a feel for the higher-limit game. There's one great drunk at my table, very friendly. He's been up for something like 24 hours, and his friends keep dropping by, telling him to at least get his bags from the bell desk and put them in the room! He's from Minnesota, and he insists that I must bet the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers against Colorado State University. I assure him that I will. He speaks highly of the Canterbury, as, evidently, do all poker-playing Minnesotans. Then he insists I look just like Hannity from Hannity & Colmes. Hmmmm. Then he brings up Iraq, and despite protests from the entire table, led by yours truly, that politics and poker don't mix, he babbles on about weapons of mass destruction for another 20 minutes. Finally O arrives to save me. I was up $80 at one point, but left up only $11. Dang.

Shortly after that, Derek arrives. We grab dinner at La Salsa, and discuss our plans for the evening. I had suggested showing O Downtown, as he had been to Las Vega twice before but had never been Downtown. It was Derek's first time in Las Vegas, though -- I was worried that he would be drawn to the bright lights of the Strip, and that I was in for a foot-aching night of walking the Strip and paying $6 a drink. To my happy surprise, Derek was all over the Downtown idea, so off we went.

Hammered on Fremont Street, Winning at the Mirage

I do love Downtown. I hadn't been there since about 2001. We toured Binion's and the Plaza. At the Plaza O and I played about 8 hands of $5 mini-baccarat, simply because it is one of the dumbest games I know of besides Casino War, and was trying to get into that wild and crazy spirit :-) I won $35, O broke even. We came out in time to catch a Fremont Experience Show, which is now at a higher resolution. Immediately after it was over, a band that was already set up in the middle of the "experience" struck up "Sweet Child O' Mine," which appealed to O's Jersey, hair-band rocker roots.

And then we headed in to the "The Girls of Glitter Gulch" strip club. I'll spare you the details and just say that it was like every strip club you've seen on TV since Beverly Hills Cop and Miami Vice made the "strip club scene" such a staple of crime shows and action movies. The really notable thing, though, is that there is no cover, but there is a 2-drink minimum. I ordered 2 Captain and Cokes and my ogling, momentarily-unable-to-think-for-themselves friends ordered the same. The Captain and Cokes came in tall glasses, with very little Coke. We left Glitter Gulch quite hammered, and this is where the night starts to get fuzzy.

I was unsure of how much poker we would get to play before the rest of our party arrived on Friday night. I had told O all about how much I loved the Mirage poker room, so we decided to hop a cab there. We played $3/$6 and were all seated at the same table. I don't remember much, but I do know that I ran over this table more than I have ever have in any game, online or in the casino. I caught a string of hot cards early and from there on when I raised, people got out of my way. The player to my left, a fellow in a wheelchair who I gather had been dominating the table before I arrived, left, making it pretty obvious that he was leaving because of me. It got to the point where I would raise from early position and everyone would fold. This is pretty unusual at $3/$6, and it happened like 2 or 3 times. Finally I started raising with real crap and then showing once my opponents' folded, just to try and generate future action. This was not such a great idea; I have never tried to establish a loose/maniacal image in that way, and I doubt I ever will again. Of course I lost some money doing it, and from a high of about $150 I ended the evening (at 3am) up only about $65.

Unfortunately O lost. I'm not sure how Derek did, but I do know that he had a good enough time that he was hooked on poker for the rest of the weekend. O and I stopped playing at about 3am, but Derek kept on playing til almost 4, and we had to drag him away.

Pride Goeth Before the Drunken Losses

Okay, so at this point, I have yet to lose at poker--or to lose any money at gambling at all--and I'm even pushing people around at the table a bit. In retrospect, it's easy to see that my game was slipping: I was getting looser and more aggressive than I ever have, thrilled that it was working. I was playing kind of recklessly, but in my defense it fit with the rowdy weekend I had envisioned.

On the cab ride home I notice that I don't have my cell phone. Gone. Only question was whether I dropped it or it was picked out of my pocket. I think the latter, but O and Derek, and my darling B when I talked to her on the phone, all suspect I dropped it, because I was just that drunk. Oh well, I think to myself, I can't let these little mistakes get me down.

We all pass out around 5am. Derek got points in my book for taking the floor; but he lost them for waking us up at 8am. We got breakfast, signed up for the noon tournament, and tried to grab a bit more shuteye.

Walking across the casino floor on the way to the tournament, I put a quarter in one of those Stampede slot machines (I love the noise they make when they cows stampede) and won $31. So I arrived at the tournament with a bucket of quarters. There's an intimidating image :-)

I had read that the Luxor tournaments were more or less crapshoots. Boy is that true. For a $25 buy-in (which is admittedly very cheap) you get $250 in chips; for $3, you can purchase T$50 more before the tournament starts. The initial blind level is $15/$30 -- so you've only got 10 big bets! The blinds doubled every 10 minutes (maybe it was 15, not sure), and the game is limit for the first 10 levels of so, then it goes to no-limit. I knew I'd have to accumulate some chips if I wanted to survive. On the very first hand -- not my first hand, but the very first hand -- I got AQ and flopped top pair Queen. I bet the heck out of it, and lost half my stack to an opponent who had QJ and 2 pair on the flop. So I was beat most of the way, but I don't know how I could get away from that hand given that structure. Then again, I suck at tournaments! I then lost with QJ, and finally busted out with a pair of fives -- the second person to bust out in a field of 30.

This was just as well because at this point I was feeling really hung over -- "I hope I don't puke at the table" hung over. Ugh. I managed to get another hour or so of sleep before O and Derek woke me up.


Here endeth Part I of the Odogg Vegas Bachelor Party Trip Report. Tune into tomorrow for Part 2, in which I play poker with Alan Schoonmaker, win more at blackjack, and continue to eschew sleep.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

WSOP Final Table Thoughts
(posted by B)

Congratulations to Greg Raymer again! When we "watched" on PokerStars we didn't get the benefit of seeing all the table talk and personalities. All I can say is Raymer sure has a lot of class and Arieh seems like a total jerk and a sore loser! I was rooting for Arieh online but now I can barely stand the guy.

The PokerStars broadcast gets a major thumbs up for showing us all of the hands rather than selected ones (and of course for being semi-live). Live coverage is probably to much to hope for but I hope ESPN at least moves to full(er) coverage for the final table.

The WSOP is still way more exciting to watch than any of the WPT events or other tournaments that are on TV.

All in all, still good cheap thrills!

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Monday, September 13, 2004

Looking Back at the WSOP
Way back in May B and I spent a fun Friday night in front of the computer, watching PokerStars's online broadcast of the final table of the World Series of Poker main event. This wasn't a video broadcast, instead it was like watching an online tourney. It was a PokerStars table with Raymer, Harrington, etc., and some PokerStars rep at the WSOP would plug into the virtual table what each player had just done in real life.

It was interesting to watch, and while I drank beer, B took notes and later that night she wrote up a post for the blog. With the WSOP final table airing on ESPN tomorrow, I thought it would be fun to compare B's write-up of the event with ESPN's presentation. Keep in mind that at the time we had no idea who any of the players besides Harrington were. We were mostly struck by Arieh's aggressive play and Raymer's use of his big stack; it'll be interesting to see what "story" ESPN crafts for the other players. And of course it'll be interesting to see which hands ESPN does and doesn't show. Finally, back in May it was still surprising to us to see so many players who qualified online at the final table, and at the time I thought ESPN would make much more of a big deal about the online poker phenomenon than they have. I find it amazing how ESPN never mentions the specific sites that these players qualified through. Here is the link to B's post.

I am off to Las Vegas early on Thursday for my buddy Odogg's bachelor party. Hopefully next week I'll be blogging about another win at the Mirage :)

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

On Blogging Less
So B and I left for San Fran/Vegas trip back on August 12, and didn't really get back to normal life until August 23. I was tired and behind on work when we got back, and it took me almost 3 weeks to get my 3-part trip report up. In that time I didn't read any blogs, figuring I should get my own posts on my poker playing up before I started reading everyone else's. Well, in that roughly 3-week gap, almost 900 posts accumulated in my Bloglines blogroll, and that's just in the "poker" folder!! (I'm finally caught up.)

That got me thinking about how much time I've been spending blogging and reading blogs. It's a lot, and while my enthusiasm for poker and for blogging hasn't diminished, I'm feeliing like I have less and less time in the day. The official start of football season is just hours away, so there go Sundays :) Plus I want to start getting more real work done during the week, and to start exercising more.

So I'll be blogging less in the next few months -- I'm thinking around a post every one or two weeks rather than one or two posts a week. I think this will be a good thing, since fewer posts will hopefully mean higher quality-per-post and help me avoid blogger burnout. Also, I'm going to encourage B to write up some "guest" posts. My only worry is that I'll disappoint any readers who visit the page on a weekly basis, but, bless technology, if I'm in your Bloglines or similar RSS reader it'll let you know when a new post is up.

Interestingly, my last post was my 100th. And as long as I'm taking a look back, I'll note that I started this blog back on April 1 of this year. It was a day for fools, and also spring, so a time for starting new endeavors. Now that fall's around the corner it feels like the right time to slow down a bit on the fun, and buckle a down a bit more in other areas.

And now I'm off to undermine that high-minded goal by squeezing in a couple hours on Party before watching the Pats whoop the Colts :)

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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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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Our Big Trip, Part II: Tuesday at the Mirage
In my last post I wrote up the first part of our week-long trip to San Francisco and Las Vegas. I've been way too busy since we got back from the trip, so I cut that last post short just as I was getting to the really good stuff--the almost 20 hours B and I spent in the Mirage poker room.

One thing B and I had previously been unsure about was whether it's awkward to be sitting at the same table as someone you know. B and I don't mind taking pots of each other, and we play in home games together all the time. It's other people's reactions to us being husband and wife that used to worry me. On the one hand, if B and I raise each other with a 3rd person in the pot, that could seem like collusion. On the other hand, if we both go easy on each other, that could seem like soft-play, which also bugs people. So beforehand we had decided 2 things: 1) We've read plenty of blog posts where people talk about playing with friends at the casino, and they never worry about. Sure, it's a little different with husband and wife (same household income), but we decided we weren't going to worry about it either; 2) You often don't get that much choice in where you sit at the casino--we decided we'd just put ourt names in and sit where the brush told us to, and if that was at the same table, so be it.

As it turned out, we sat at the same table several times, and it was never a problem.

The Mirage poker room is, of course, much smaller than Foxwoods, but bigger than any room I've seen in Las vegas except the Bellagio's ('ve never been to the Orleans, but I've read that it's bigger). I found it to be a pretty damn swanky place, but then I really love the Mirage tropical rain forest theme.

Tuesday the 17th, 5:30 pm. We arrived and gave our names at the front desk for $3/$6 Hold'em. This was the first time B had played $3/$6 and she was a little nervous. I'd had all of 5 or 6 hours experience at $3/$6 from Lucky Chances a few days before, and a few hours I sneaked in when we had been in Las Vegas last October for our wedding.

We waited almost 15 minutes to be seated. That's nothing compared to the 1-2 hours waits we've experienced at Foxwoods. And we must have hit a particularly bad time, because every time we came to the Mirage after that, our wait was 10 minutes or less. This was the middle of the week, though; I've read on RGP that waits on the weekend can get to the 1+ hour range.

B sat down at a table near the poker room entrance, and I was seated at the same table a few minutes later. This table was being dominated--in social, rather than poker terms--by a man we came to know simply as "Texas." Texas was from Texas, duh. He didn't have a cowboy hat on or anything, but he did have one heck of an accent and a Texas Tech polo shirt. He in turn came to identify me as "Rhode Island" and B as "Miss B."

Texas was a ton of fun, chatting up everyone at the table, bantering with the dealers, etc. He was also playing just about every hand. And the thing I loved about Texas--and I do not mean this in a sarcastic, disparaging way--was that when he would lose a hand, he would just smile and say things like "Hey, it's only money" and "I came to play." I honestly don't want to call Texas a fish because that implies things like ignorance of the game, lack of discipline, tendency to tilt, etc. I don't think Texas really had any of those things. I think he knew how to play play a lot better than he did play. I think he just loved Las Vegas, enjoyed poker, and didn't care one whit about the few hundred dollars he gave away at the tables. I totally respect that. But the poker player in me did recognize that this kind of "happy caller" is just about the best bets type of player you can have at your table, as he makes it both more fun and more profitable.

B was on Texas's left, and I was on his right. Upon finding out we were married he insisted on switching with B so that we could sit together. I actually don't like sitting next to B, for reasons I'll explain shortly, so I protested, but I think Texas was better off not being between us.

It's probably because Texas overshadowed everything, but I don't remember a whole lot about the rest of the table. During all our sessions at the Mirage, there was a decent mix of players at every table. Really a good mix of old and young, with an average of maybe 2 women per table. The crowd would generally start older and mostly male, then get younger (and looser), with more women, as the evening went on. It seemed to be me that people came and went at a table more frequently--as opposed to Foxwoods, where since there's no other poker room for hundreds of miles, people generally play for longer sessions at a time.

Texas was the clear loose player at our table. There were a couple other really loose players, a few more somewhat loose players, maybe 1 older rock, and a couple people who seemed to know what they were doing. (By the way, categorizing players like this is one of the skills I feel I really honed a bit on the trip.) A few people were clearly gunning for Texas, and would not fold a hand to him. One of these players was a younger Asian guy (actually originally from Asia and didn't speak great English) whose name I never caught. He was probably the most serious player at the table, so I disliked him at first. So did Texas, and the two of them got into a few raising wars.

For my part, I could tell I was at a great table, but to my frustration I got only mediocre cards. B, on the other hand, was on a rush. She took down a couple pots with the nuts, then exploited her image to steal (or at least get some people out of) others. If she won a hand uncontested, Texas would basically vow to call her down on the next one. In retrospect it was a wonderful thing to watch, although at the time I was mostly just jealous :)

We only played for 2 hours, then left for dinner. (We were determined not to be really out of control on the first day and not do things like forget to eat or stay up all night long.) She cashed out up $178, by far her biggest poker win, online or off. Needless to say she was pretty excited.

Unfortunately a good chunk of that came from me. There were a couple pots where we both got raise-before-the-flop type hands, ones I didn't lay I down when I should have for a variety of dumb reasons including 1) I had been getting lousy cards, so I got too attached to my good ones, 2) B was on my left, and I kept hoping I could push her out, 3) the table was getting a big kick out of seeing us raise each other, so I went to the river on at least one hand just for the fun of it. Despite the so-so cards and the dumb plays against B, I walked away up $6.

We tried to eat the Bellagio buffet but decided the line was too long. We ended up eating at Conrad's, the Flamingo's steakhouse. Rejuvenated by the power of steak, we headed back to the Mirage.

Tuesday the 17th, 10pm. Again we put our names in at the front deask, and again B was seated at the same table by the entryway. Texas was still there! And he'd been drinking the whole time--admittedly, so had I, but he was noticeably drunker and a little less happy. He welcomed B back and I said hello, but I'm seated at another table. I've got some drinks in me at this point and I don't remember much about that first table, except that I lost around $60 in a couple big hands and that the table soon broke up.

I'd never been at a casino poker table that broke up before. The floorwoman came over and had the dealer give us each a card. The person with the highest card got first pick as to which table they wanted to move to. Unfortunately this system didn't work as well as it could have. The cards were all dealt, but then everyone had to ask, well, which $3/$6 tables have seats? The floorwoman pointed to the ones near her, but then order broke down as everyone just wandered off to whatever seat they wanted, the "high card" system forgotten.

I ended up at a table with a distinctly high average age, too many dour faces, and a more rocky feel than I would have liked. But I flopped a boat on my first, forced-blind hand, so I was happy. I got back up to even at this table, before, wouldn'y you know it, my table broke up again. I guess that's Tuesday night for you.

We went through the high-card thing again, and this time I got a Queen, second highest. But again the system kinda broke down and everybody wandered. I had been eyeing B's table because, with Texas leading the festivities, they were laughing it up and clearly having a good time. So I wandered that way. There was an open seat, and an Old Dour Romanian Guy, who definitely had a lower pick than me, also went for it. The floorwoman, who had just overseen the high-card charade, asked him "Did you have a higher pick?" and he said yes! Why didn't she ask him "What card did you have?" and then ask me the same? I don't know, and I don't really hold it against her--she was incredibly nice and seemed more than competent in all other respects. I didn't bother to speak up, but I did silently change Old Dour Romanian Guy's moniker to Lying Romanian Bastard.

I was seated at a newly-formed table just a couple away from B's. I played maybe a couple orbits before a seat opened up at B's table and then I made the switch. Mr. Romania left soon after--just as well cause I wouldn't want my annoyance at him to affect my play. I was seated across from the younger Asian guy I mentioned earlier. He still wasn't particularly sociable, but I had a bunch of drinks in me, so I was and I chatted him up a bit. Turns out the kid was in town for some kind of trade show. In broken English he made it clear that he had just gotten off the plane and had to work the next day, so he planned to play poker all night. B later informed me that he confided to her that he planned to stay at the table for as long as Texas did, since Texas was still giving away money.

I did well at this table for the better part of 2 hours. Then sometime around 2am I got involved in a really crazy hand. Me, younger Asian guy, and Texas went to the river. It was capped preflop and capped on the turn. But the cap at the Mirage is 5 bets, not 4 as at Foxwoods and online, so preflop cost me $15 and the turn cost me $30. Wow. And I had a mediocre hand to boot, QJs. What was I thinking? Well, it just kind of snowballed. For one thing, I hadn't seen a hand capped preflop all damn day, and I thought I'd get in for 1 bet. Then it was 2 bets, then it was 3 bets . . . I knew Texas could have anything. Then I caught a piece of the flop. I don't remember specifics, I think it was something like 689 with 2 of my suits. I kow I had a flush draw and an inside straight draw, neither of them to the nuts. All I could think of was that at a loose table when the pot is large, you can't fold when you have a pieceof the flop. After the flop, I definitely had the pot odds to continue. But I failed to consider the implied odds, and didn't expect it being capped on the turn. Screw the mathematical terms, I failed to play the people at the table, because I failed to remeber the raising-war dynamic between Texas and the Asian kid. Not my finest moment. As it turned out I did made my flush on the river, and it was good enough to beat Texas's middling-high flush. But a second 8 had come on the turn, and the Asian fellow turned over 86o for a full house!

That hand cost me at least $60 bucks, and I don't think I played well for the next half hour or so, despite being consciously on-guard against tilt. I cashed out around 2:30am, down $66.

I wandered around for a bit, and settled at the bar nearest the poker room. I really like that casino.

Meanwhile, B stayed at the table, because she was, ahem, continuing to totally kick ass. She left 40 minutes or so later up $152, and that's on top of her $178 win during the afternoon. In one day she had just about doubled all the money she has made playing .50/$1 online over the past year.

When we compared notes later, she said that she had also been in a couple crazy hands with Texas and the Asian guy, but had come out a winner. She also said that one poor guy lost with AJ 4 times in about 2 orbits, and she benefited from one of them.

I was psyched for B, and not feeling too sorry for myself. At the bar I had done the math. At this point, between Lucky Chances at my earlier huge $6 win, I was down $138, or about one buy-in. (I try to make my buy-in about 23 times the big bet, rounded up to the nearest $20.) I wasn't happy about this but I can honestly say that I wasn't that upset. I knew that it had been a rough table at Lucky Chances and that I was better than most of the players at the $3/$6 tables at the Mirage. Plus we were having a fantastic time! I resolved to get a decent night's sleep and resume the fight on Wednesday.

Damn, I think I am going to have to end this post. It's just so long, and if I continue on to Wednesday it'll be twice as long. But I don't want to end on another loss! So before I go I'll dangle one happy detail: My losing session Tuesday night was the last time I lost at the Mirage :)

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