I’ve been planning a trip to Vegas for a year now. My wife bought us a weekend package for our 10th wedding anniversary to use on our 11th. So with our 11th coming up this weekend, what happens? I get sick. Good and sick. I came home from work at 3pm just to take a nap. I went to bed early Thursday evening hoping to feel better for the trip. My daughter coughing into my mouth earlier in the week had trouble written all over it.
We flew into Vegas Friday morning. I woke up with the bad cold and knew it was going to get worse. Still, we went to the airport with a spring in our steps. Flew funjet, which was ok, but had to fly out of the Berry terminal. For those of you not from Detroit, McNamara is the new, swanky terminal, Then there is the old terminal, then there is the condemned terminal, then there is the Berry terminal hut. 8 gates of mid sized jet non-luxury. Quite possible the worst $3 cup of joe every brewed. Assuming there was any brewing involved.
Even though it was a morning flight, and we gain 3 hours, by the time we checked into the hotel (Paris) it was already the early afternoon. So we went out exploring… the Pool! Just laid around the pool until another couple from the wedding party arrived. Then we headed off to find a meal. (I had not eaten all day.) By the by, The Paris was not really that impressive. First of all, do any Americans have any fascination with the French anymore? Nope. There were a lot of Japanese couples getting married there though. Second, the wife says that carpeting in a swanky hotel is the kiss of death, because it always smells like a hotel. And that comment did not come up because she was reminded of another trip at that very moment. Third, and this is the most annoying gambling thing in the history of gambling annoyances, were the slots. They would not take coins, only bills. And when you won, they printed out your winnings on a slip to take to the cashier. It was like being at Chucky Cheeses. I could not find the $5 no-limit skee-ball, although I did find the $9 cappuccino.
And when did the slot makers just give up on the themes? MASH is not a theme for a slot machine!
After much discussion about dinner that turned into a “Who’s on First” routine, and me vetoing the idea of going to the Rio for Surf and Turf, we went to the Harley Davidson place for BBQ. I don’t recommend the Harley place (wow, that’s saying it nicely). It was like a cheap mall store with second rate food. (Remember Hammond Organs? Ok, scratch out Hammond and write in Harley. Leave the word organ, it helps get a laugh.) Oh, and here is a brilliant Marketing thought. How do you make a name for yourself with BBQ? Answer: Have a sauce that doesn’t taste biker ass. I mean, it has to go on EVERYTHING, so make sure it tastes decent. There are fake 50’s diners with more atmosphere than this tourist trap. And while I am ranting, can you walk anywhere in Vegas without encountering “card slappers”? (Those annoying people that slap the stripper cards on the deck before they hand them out.) I bet they knew better than to eat at the biker’s ass.
I had a couple of beers and after dinner went back to the hotel (l’hotel) room before going to play cards. It would be my last awake moment for 12 hours. At 4am local time, I was burning up. Aspirin (the wonder pill) got my fever under control and I woke up sat morning feeling well enough to venture out. Since someone in our wedding party said that Mandalay Bay had a breakfast buffet, we went there. Note: Every hotel in Vegas has a breakfast buffet and they are all the same. I filled up on croissants (ironically) and was finally ready to play some cards. I felt about 70% healthy.
I had 6 hours before I had to get remarried by Elvis, and I had my poker bankroll ready to go. I must admit that I was a bit weary. I mean, who was I? Some punk (old punk) that never played in Vegas before. Would I get pushed around? Would everyone recognize me as the dead money? Was the Detroit Lions hat a dead give-away? Still, I had to try. After all, I was in Vegas. The Lions hat never failed to gathered comments wherever I went. The funniest by far was running into a Lions fan working at the Harley BBQ. “Keep the faith brother”, I told him.
I was looking for a NL $100 max buy in, but Mandalay was spreading $2/$4 NL $200 max buy in. I thought it might be out of my league. I convinced myself I just would not go all-in on any hand anytime soon… The hostess told us we were going to be the “must move” table (i.e. the second table and the first one must stay filled). With the table at 5 players, they all wanted to start with just 5.
I decide that instead of sitting down right away, I would take a restroom break. Why? I love to do this. Leave when the table sets, then when you return wait for the BB. You can watch the players for a few hands for free and rarely do they even notice that you’re accumulating information on them. This time was no exception. I watched three or four hands and the table added players. There was a lot of pre-flop limping.
First hand in big blind and I get dealt AKo and I raise to12. I get 3 callers! The flop came Q high and I checked to watch action start fast. I folded to a bet and callers. Qs won the hand. I make a mental page of notes. But the next hand I have 85o in the SB and decide to see a flop for ½ price. I flopped a Str8 (467 rainbow) and players started betting! I let a player two to my left in position think I was chasing (by calling). On the flop, he bet 30 and I called. On the turn (which was a 9), he bet another 30 so I re-raised him 30 back and he called. –His bet on the turn when the board now had a 9 worried me because no one should be playing at this point with a single pair. I figure the 9 could only hurt me. The river is a Ten and now I figure I am going to split the pot w/ his freaky A8 play. Still, I no longer had to worry about 8T, just 8J and I can’t believe anyone would call a re-raise looking for a second runner. So when he bets 100, I call and he shows ATo. Ace Ten? Ace Ten? Are you kiddy me? He hit TPTK on the river and thought he was the luckiest guy in the world. Two hands and I am up over $100 bucks. Still, I did not raise on the river. I rarely do that, but really should learn to. I mean, what could beat me here? Only J8. (I’ll do this again later, but with better reason.)
Here is a good time to tell you about my table. To my left, a Vegas local who only played solid starting hands and folded any missed flop (more on him later). To his left, an older guy from the U.P. who just gave me $100 bucks. He would later show people (who were paying attention, namely only me) he would play any mid pair or top pair he stayed with after the flop, to the bitter end. And always believing he had the best hand if he started the betting. Just like in the hand he had minutes ago. I will make him pay for this habit again later on. Left of him was Cowboy guy. Older and a strange gambler. His signature play (every time) was to bluff all-in on any flop with a paired board. To what end? This is a classic prisoner’s dilemma. Win little or lose big. (More on that later.) Next was a simple rock. By the book rock. If he bet the flop and you gave him action, you had better have the nuts. After him was a guy who really thought he was good… At first. The third hand he raised to 5x BB preflop and bet out big post flop, He was gutted (he missed the flop and thought he could push the others out from out of position.) and never really recovered mentally from that hand. The guy on his left was an obvious beginner. The only pots he won were hands where everyone checked to him after a flop and then he bet out. Everyone folds and he takes it. This happened a few times, they were his only winning hands.
Now the guy on his left had a pokerstars.com hat on. (More on him later too.) The guy on his left was “kid lucky” who was dealt AA his first hand at the table. (More on his second AA in an hour later on.) Finally, there was the piano player from one of the clubs. He was tight-bad.
For a good amount of time, I am playing pretty tight. I am amazed at how predictable the players were. The one funny thing is that there were a few funny tells. The guy from the UP would always prepare his bet way in advance. Everyone knew if he was going to fold, call or raise. Cowboy guy just looked for places to bluff. “Kid lucky” would overplay his hands…
So I am in the SB and the UTG kid from Vegas is the BB. The table folds to “kid lucky”. Remember his first hand (AA)? Well, let’s interrupt this hand briefly to explain his nickname. His third hand of the night he is dealt TT. Not only does he flop a set, a player on his right (remember the pokerstars hat?) flopped a set of 7s at the same time. I don’t need to tell you how it ends for the hat. Now, back to our hand. Kid lucky has $500 in front of him already on the strength of 2 hands. He raises it to $20. The button and I fold.
The BB now re-raises to $40. The Vegas mouse (as Hellmuth would say) obviously had a hand. And played here a lot. He knew all the dealers by name and the piano player on my right.
“Kid lucky” says quickly, “I’m all in”. The Vegas rock then folds KK. We were amazed. “Kid Lucky” then felt obligated to show. AA. Again. Now that’s tight. He was going to play for 4 hours and win $5. And get a free deli sandwich.
I get another AK hand in late position. There are like 4 limpers. Instead of raising big, I just limp along. Why? Because I have a drawing hand against 4 hands where someone seems to call every reasonable raise. The proper play here was to raise to $20 or the size of the pot and wait for 3 of them to go away. I improperly shyed away from this play and went along for the ride. Guess what I did after the flop? Fold. But who was the wiser? No one. I was looking for trap opportunities. Why? Because a good number of players at this table would not see them.
Yet another paired flop. Cowboy guy raises and everyone folds. He shows a pocket underpair. Cowboy guy busts out on like bottom pair sometime after this and rebuys for $200. I think he busted out to pokerstars.com hat who had TP.
10 minutes later another paired flop and Coyboy guy is all-in. Everyone folds. I am sure he had nothing.
10 minutes later I limp in late position with T9. The flop is QQT and Cowboy guy is first to act. What does he do? All-in. with his full stack of $200. Well, I am looking for call here with a Ten. But on my left is UP guy and he is waiting to act. I don’t know if I picked up this obvious tell, or I was just not willing to take the chance, but I folded the T knowing Cowboy did not have the Queen. But UP did and he took down Cowboy (who had zip).
Now players are discussing things like comps for sandwiches and things like that. I am in shock. They are not even paying attention to the hands.
I fold for about 30 minutes straight, and limp in late position with 45s. The flop is 44T. UP guy, remember him?, bets out about $20 bucks and everyone folds to me. What do I do? Call, of course. The look on his face. He was sure he was ahead. And I was sure he had a Ten. Did he think I was the cowboy? Did he think at all?
I did not even look at the turn card except to make sure it wasn’t a ten. This time UP guy bets out $40. I stare at him, thinking about raising. But he looks so sure he is ahead and after cleaning out Cowboy guy on this same play, how could anyone be so stupid? So I call. The river is a paint card and UP guy bets out 100. I just look up and say, “ok. Call”. He looks at me and says “Well, if you got a 4, I’m beat”. Well, guess what dufus. What the hell else would I have? Still, he looked shocked that he was beat. Why? Because I never raised him. He was so sure. I make the argument that I was right calling it down and letting him be the aggressor. I also defend my call at the end. I found it easy to believe he played A4s. But I know it could look bad for me, calling there and on the turn. Anyway, I have $525 in front of me. I am way up, but as I look at my play, I need to stop calling when I am ahead and press. There especially.
I’ll lose about $20 of it getting away from AKo. Then after limping in with KQs, I flop top pair. PokerStars.com, who already re-bought once, had not won a hand in a while. I could tell he hit the K like I did and he bet out $30. He only had $100 left, so I put him all in. Without any thought, he called with TPTK. Sure, I lost this hand and $100 bucks, but I knew right then that he would give it all back before he left the table. He was going to leave broke. He just did not think about his decisions. In every other case at the table, the all-in had a set. He just didn’t notice… anything. He busted out 30 minutes later, on TP. He lost a few of these hands and never learned. I just did not see it soon enough and it cost me.
I have about $380 in front of me and I am wondering about trying another card room. In retrospect, Mandalay was great. Soft table, good service, tables had shufflers in them, and no cell phones allowed. I did not know how good I had it though. Well, its getting later in the day and we are no longer a “must move” table. They added a third table so we were good. But then, someone from the first table asks permission to move to table two. My spidey sense starts tingling. I watch as his sits down with about $600 chips. I fold hands, waiting to see if he does what I expect. Sure enough, anytime he comes in a hand, he is coming in big. His typically move was to wait for a raise, then re-raise to $100 (pre-flop). I knew this was going to go badly for the others, and maybe me. I saw this at Greektown in Detroit also. Someone gets to the casino when it opens, builds up a stack, and bullies the others who come in later with a dominant stack. I decided it was time to go. Still, I won $182 bucks. And I did it without flopping a single set (with a pocket pair) or having AA even once. As a matter of fact, my best hand of the night was 99 or AKo. I lost with both.
Let’s recap the Mandalay game: Soft game, winning hands 85o and 54s.
I now had to try the Tropicana. They had a $1/$2, $100 max buy in and that was more what I had been looking for. But it just was not the same. First of all, the table was full of younger guys who knew how to play, but not the bankroll for a bigger game. They were tighter, more by the book, and avoided chasing. They would try to trap also. The dealer shuffled the cards by hand, and shuffled less than the 7 recommended for randomness (a pet peeve of mine). I found that I had to be tricky to pick up pots. I would raise from the button K7s instead of waiting for a hand. If the other players checked to me and I bet out a pot sized bet, they would usually fold. I won two nice hands this way (and ran into a hand on another, but I escaped). I ended up about $20 bucks. Now that is a return of 20%, so don’t knock it. It was a harder game to make money at also. I did it without having a decent hand and making some good lay downs after reading the player and knowing I was beat.
Here is where a recent lesson learned saved me $40 bucks. I lectured my wife on this recently. If you are playing suited connectors and flop two pair, YOU MAY BE IN TROUBLE. There are now 16 scare cards and one of them might even be the 3rd card of the flop. If you flop two pair, someone is going to hit a straight. Be warned. I played 45 and the flop was 458. When I saw the raise come in, I just knew the only old guy at the table finally had made a hand. I saw the disappointment when I folded. But since I was the only other non-kid at the table, he showed me the made straight and we laughed about it. I laughed a bit harder than he did.
The one thing I can say about the younger players though, they are open books. I always thought Mike Cairo stuff was over-rated, but these young guys had tells-a-poppin. My favorite was the kid who talked like he was the table captain, but would get a serious look on his face whenever the flop hit him. And the attempts to look like you know you’re your doing. Man. There was a hand I was bluffing on where after trying to decide what to do, a kid looks up and stares at me, like I am going to have a tell 5 full minutes after I bet. And what a tell by him! I knew if he called (with just a mid or bottom pair) I would push him out on the turn. Still, he did fold and since I had nothing, I can’t complain.
My wife showed up and was cheering me on in her wedding dress. She decided to wear it all afternoon. “Dude, you getting married today and you’re playing cards? That is so cool”. Indeed.
So I doubled my bankroll in Vegas. And I had fun doing it. And I played decent. Maybe I won’t be so weary of the casino in the future. And now… the wedding!
I highly recommend the A Elvis Chapel (sic). It was so much fun. We sang Burning Love and Viva Las Vegas (of course). Afterwards, we headed over to Hofbrauhaus house. The only one outside of Munich. (And I’ve been to that one too!) It was so fun, we stayed for four hours. Highly recommended. We then headed off to Venus club, where I expect to see the tiki décor. Venus was no more, replaced by vivid. The tiki décor was long gone.
Sunday sucked as I was not feeling well, all the restaurants had lines and the House of Blues Gospel show was $80 / couple. Did not see that coming, so we skipped it this time around. I could have played at Mandalay again, but the smell. I did not mention that earlier did I? Mandalay Bay smelled like there was a spice spillage at the yankee candle factory. You could tell they were pumping it into the air because it faded as you walked down the tram walkway and the vents ended. Nasty.
The airline also convinced me to get to the airport very early. It took 5 freaking minutes to check in on Sunday afternoon and we sat in the airport, staring at the strip for another 2 hours before heading home. Next time, I’ll be smarter about that too.
All in all, one of the best weekends for the money I ever had.
Tropicana : Fun poker room for playing with technically adept amateurs.
Mandalay Bay : More upscale digs, softer players.
Elvis : Has left the building.
Paris Hotel: Ok. Hmm, next time a hotel with a marble floor and a pool. Narrows the choices down, doesn’t it. Until you see the price.
Gambling: Since I was in Vegas, I had to gamble at least once. I wanted the biggest longshot I could find. I bet $5 on the Lions to win the 2005 Superbowl. They are 40-1.