Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm back from Vegas!

It always takes me a few days to stop wishing I was still in Vegas. It's like a drug. Real life is so... not Vegas.

My trip reporting skills have declined severely in the past, oh, 6 1/2 years since I started this here blog. My apologies. I don't take notes anymore. I should. There'd be more reasons to actually read this spooge if I did. But I don't.

I was in Vegas for a good friend's wedding, which was on 7-11-11 (pretty sweet, eh?). A friend from my east coast days flew to Vegas via Chicago, and we met up at Midway to trek the remaining miles to the Mecca. Take to the skies, Big Bird! Got to watch the last shuttle launch before we left.

Shuttles go fast.

We figured we'd get to Vegas in about 45 minutes if we were taking a shuttle instead of a jet plane.

Arrived around noon Vegas time on Friday. Checked in at Excalibur (creature of habit? *raises hand*). Started pondering things we wanted to do in Vegas. It was my friend's first time there. Sadly, it's impossible to do every cool thing within the span of 3 days (the fourth being wedding day). But our list looked something like this:

  • Play a lot of poker.
  • Hit a tournament at Aria or Venetian.
  • Eat at Wynn (that was mine - I wanted to try out their vegan menus).
  • Visit the Atomic Testing Museum (that was his - nukes kinda freak me out).
  • See a show.
  • Rent a car and check out the desert, Hoover Dam, or something.
  • Walk the Strip.
  • See downtown/Fremont St.
  • Eat veggie sushi.
Friday afternoon/evening included food (can't remember where the heck we ate) and poker. We hit up MGM, and later popped by Flamingo to greet the wedding party, and ended up fleecing some drunken frat boys at the Flamingo poker tables.

Friends, if you have any desire to hold onto your money, please: do not do shots at the poker table.

Non-friends, keep on slammin' em, because WOW, poker is easy when your opponents are three sheets to the wind!

The one poor guy kept going back to the ATM. He dropped, by my count, $1,200 at our little 1/2 NL table. I'm sure he woke up the next day in a world of hurt, in more ways than one.

Here's the thing: I go to Vegas with the cash I intend to put in play already "out" of my bank accounts. I don't want ANY chance of me getting blitzed or tilted and making repeat trips to the ATM that I might not remember (and will likely regret) the next day. So, my rule is, do not use the ATM in Vegas. No ATM allowed. It's too easy to convince yourself that it's a good idea to throw good money after bad, especially when drunk (or on mega-tilt).

Poor guy.

My friend left the tables with a spectacular win. I was up as well. It was a good night.

Now, Flamingo's poker room.... meh. It was OK. We ended up playing there a couple times over the course of the weekend, and while it's no MGM, the upside to it is that the clientele (at least that we saw) was *weak sauce.* Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The down side (aside from the "it's not posh or fancy" factor) - I'm sad to say, the dealers. Nice enough people, but just not up to the standards I'm used to, I guess. At one table, there were a couple guys that obviously knew each other, and appeared to be violating the "one person per hand" rule. A player to my left pointed that out to two different dealers. One ignored him and let the hushed conversations continue during hands. The other dealer laughed, nodded to the guys in question, and said, "Haha - did you hear this guy? One player per hand, OK?" and then allowed the conversations to continue. They didn't take the rule seriously, and, well, that kinda sucks.

I may be a little too serious when it comes to abiding by the rules of the room, but I believe that sticking to the rules directly relates to the integrity of the game in that room. So I really didn't like the casual attitude the dealers took with the one-player-per-hand rule.

Later, there was an argument between players about what constitutes discussing a hand while it is in play, and instead of halting the argument, the dealer let it go on. A more reasonable way to handle the situation would have been to make the players shut up and stop yelling at each other, and explain the rule! Again, I was not a fan of how the dealer handled the situation. Sure, it's easier to ignore the issue, but that's a really lazy way to go about your job.

My last complaint (and then I'll stop whining) had to do with a private tournament we had there on Sunday. First, the floor did a dealer change with just our table (3 tables total) in the middle of a round - and we literally lost 5 minutes of play because the new dealer didn't realize it was a tournament, then wanted more tournament chips filled, etc etc etc... all while the clock was running and the 2 other tables were playing hands.

Then, we had to keep stopping play (just our table) because the new dealer didn't appear to know how to deal. She couldn't figure out the math of making change.

The last straw was when it came time to color up the green chips. She couldn't figure it out, and with 6 people at the table, it took her over 7 minutes to color up 6 people - again, with the tournament clock running and the other 2 tables playing hands.

It was horrendous. My friend actually got so frustrated that he donk-shoved all in just to get out of the tournament. I busted in 4th (2 places paid).

So, while the clientele in the Flamingo poker room was easy money, the room itself really didn't live up to my standards. It would be my choice to play at when I just want to have a few drinks and play un-serious poker.

We headed back to home base. I knew my friend's game was going to be very successful against the typical Vegas tourists. He's more stylistically aggressive than I am, but otherwise plays a solid base. That works well in the Vegas waters. (I wish he'd pay a little more attention to the math, as that's the only real leak I see in his game, but hey. Variety makes the world go 'round).

So he was on cloud 9, and I could see him adding up all the loot he'd go home with if every day looked like today. I had to pull out the obligatory Mother Hen speech with the whole, "You're up today, but it's only Friday.... enjoy it, but remember it can disappear as quickly as it came." Yeah, I'm a big ol' downer. That's about as close to being a parent as I'll likely ever be - that sensation of knowing there's peril ahead, and being defenseless to protect your loved ones from it. Experience is the only real teacher sometimes.

But enough of the buzzkill.

Saturday started out with a trip to the MGM Grand Buffet.


I was so in love with the MGM buffet that I can only imagine what, say, the Aria or Wynn buffets are like. My head might explode.

So much good food! We were there for brunch, so there was a whole breakfast spread, including custom-made omlettes. Then, there was a Mexican/taco spread complete with wicked good guacamole. Carving station. Sushi bar (no veggie sushi though, boo). Italian spread - nom worthy mushroom ravioli and an awesome veggie lasagna. Some regular ol' American food. Great salad bar. Indian food. And... what I have dubbed... Orgasm pizza.

Yeah. I said it.

They called it "vegetarian pizza" but it was more like pizza of the gods. (Wow, sex and religion, all in one pizza. That's a pretty spectacular pizza. And I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to pizza, the Chicago native that I am).

It was a veggie pizza with pesto sauce. Doesn't sound so spectacular when I put it that way, so let's just go with orgasm pizza of the gods.

So. Good.

It was so good that I went and bought a basil plant at the grocery store yesterday. I will make my own. Yes, yes I will.

Lastly - the dessert table! Gorgeous little bite sized wonderfulness, and ice cream. I fell in love with fruit tarts this weekend.

(As you may have guessed by now, I relaxed my vegan ways and just ate vegetarian all weekend).

Unfortunately, the poker was not as good as the pizza on Saturday.

We set out to MGM, and ended up on the same table. As we approached, I almost called out to my friend to switch spots with me, as my seat was going to be on the end and I have a hard time reading the board from the far ends of the table. But, I hate drawing attention to the fact that we know each other (as it tends to irritate some people re: collusion and such). So I kept my mouth shut and took the far seat.

The very first hand in, things got batshit crazy. Before I even knew what was happening, my friend was all-in with a full buy-in against the Asian guy to my right. If first impressions are anything, the 3 full racks of reds in front of the guy should have made a statement.

My friend had flopped a set, and the Asian was drawing to his flush. Long story short: the rich get richer.

My friend re-bought, and no kidding - very next hand - he's all in again vs. the Asian guy. That bit about experience being the only real teacher sometimes? Yeah. Queue experience. My friend misread his hand. Thought he had the straight, when really, he had 2 pair. No, the Asian guy had the straight, of course.

Down 6 benjamins in the course of about 3 minutes. Needless to say, my friend got up and left the table (as well he should have).

Vegas giveth, and Vegas taketh away.

It hurt my heart to be right on that. But, he was still up more than double what I was - so Mother Hen jumped in with all the little tidbits on perspective and plenty of time left and blah blah blah. He took a break and I kept on playing (hoping to win back some of that loot).

No such luck. I treaded water while the Asian guy went on a run unlike any I had ever seen before. He literally played every single had for at least half an hour - through almost 2 full dealers. And he won. Every. Single. One. Not because he bet people off their hands. The whole table was gunning for this guy, and nearly every hand went to showdown. This guy was hitting the most unbelievable cards. Every hand was a winner.

It was to the point that the second dealer was watching him - and I don't mean, admiring his play. I mean, he appeared to be under orders to scrutinize the guy's play for any signs of cheating/collusion/etc. (He was buddies with the guy to my left). It was almost uncomfortable. The guy had over 2 grand in front of him at one point.

Alas, nothing exciting happened from there on out, and I eventually gave up and cashed out.

Saturday night, we met up with the groom and his contingent for dinner and brews at Hofbrauhaus, a restaurant and beer house with "classic Bavarian flair." It was loud and crazy and quite delicious. I had some sort of glorified German mac n' cheese and a few pear martinis. The groom got his ass smacked by a beer wench with a giant wooden paddle. Yowza! That girl was not messing around. Seriously. I probably would have cried if it were my ass.

Next up, we walked a couple blocks down to the "happiest place on earth" - the Double Down Saloon, home of ass juice (quite fitting after the groom's encounter with the beer wench) and the bacon martini. Ass juice is, for the record, pretty damn tasty. The bacon martini, not so much. But the groom slammed that bacon martini and proved that yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and even if his ass is as red as a maraschino cherry, he can still slam a bacon martini like a man.

It was a pretty cool place. Loved the deco, and we were treated to the musical renderings of an all-girl punk band. Something about a chick with blue hair always makes me lament the passing of my youth.

The night wrapped up at the Sherwood Forest bar at Excal after a ride in an SUV limo. Ha - ya like how I tried to sneak that in there? My WPBT peeps are all like, why the hell did you end up at Sherwood Forest?! Quiet. Easy. And they have Smirnoff Ice. Tradition, my friends! Tradition. I'd have suggested the geisha bar at IP, but we were headed the other direction. The last of us stragglers that were still hanging on enjoyed a nightcap and some good stories. I apologize to those that had to listen to me lament the passing of my youth, though, as the blue haired girl got all in my head.

And I still haven't been able to figure out how I met the groom (Rob). Locals - does anybody remember?!

Sunday started out with another date with the MGM buffet, and a trip to the Atomic Testing Museum. If you're into that sorta thing, it was actually incredibly well done. I was impressed. I expected it to be a cheesy lame Vegas thing, but it was legit. Lots of interesting artifacts, well presented historical tidbits, and some nice interactive displays and movies. I still wonder how much radiation I absorbed while there (am I glowing?!) but all in all, worth the cab ride.

We hoofed it over to Terrible's next door to grab a cab, and headed to Flamingo for a private poker tournament for the wedding group (discussed earlier). We hung out a while longer at the Flamingo cash games (1/2NL), and... well, like I said. Easy money. We both walked out of there with a healthy boost to our bankrolls.

And our egos. I gotta say, while it's probably a more legitimate ego boost to beat players that are actually good, my ego is just fine with inflating over beating players that suck. I'll take it.

After Flamingo, we decided to try out the nightly $125 tournament at Aria. I love Aria - it's so gorgeous and slick and it just feels yummy. I want to stay there so bad (yay for the December WPBT game this year!!). We ended up taking a cab to get over there because it was too late to walk it, but we made it in time for the start of the game.

I was at the same table the entire game. 105 entrants. 12 places paid. I busted in 22nd. Boo. It's actually pretty surprising I lasted that long. I was severely card-dead.

Loved the tournament, though. Top-notch dealers and environment. Comfy chairs, excellent drink service. Tableside dining available (which I wish I took advantage of, because I was starving, and by the time I busted out 5 hours after the tournament started, I was getting sick and dizzy from starvation).

It's a deep-stack tourney, starting with 10K chips (which, from what I can tell, is 2500 more than Venetian starts with). 30 minute levels, very nice and slow blind structure. There's one re-entry opportunity if you bust out in the first 4 levels, and they allow late entrants for the first 4 levels as well - so the prize pool gets mighty juicy.

I would definitely, absolutely play the Aria tournament again, and I'm glad that we'll be there in December for the WPBT game. (Here are the details for the WPBT Winter Classic 2011, in case you live under a rock). It's just an awesome place and a really well run game.

I was in such sad shape after the tourney, though, that I had to leave to go find sustenance instead of playing in the cash games. (Turns out, sustenance is hard to find if you're a vegetarian in Vegas after midnight on a Sunday. That shocked me, actually. I couldn't believe all the food places were shut down). I ended up eating a Clif bar from my suitcase for dinner. Meh.

We were up and at em around 11am Monday - just in time for the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. I was there with April and Maura in December and loooooved it. My friend wasn't all that impressed, but to me, it was just as good as I remembered it. Amazing veggie burger. Awesome burger topping options, and impeccable service. Seriously - I think we had the same waitress I had back in December, and she's damn good at her job. We tipped her very generously, and she deserved it.

I love good service. This has been something I've sort of grown into in my old age, but I am 100% willing to pay for the finer things in life - a nicer room, better food, fantastic service. It's worth it to me. Treat me well. I like it that way. (Are ya taking notes, guys?!)

Monday was our last shot at poker redemption, as the wedding was Monday night and our flight home was on Tuesday. We didn't really need redemption, per se - we were both still up on poker play, just not as much as we'd have liked. We debated: MGM, Flamingo, or Other. We ruled out Other because we wanted to stay close to home base in order to be safely ready for the wedding in time. We ruled out Flamingo due to the short time frame we were on. I also suspected the pickings wouldn't be so easy at noon on a Monday, compared to the drunken frat parties on Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights.

So we went to MGM. Played for 4 hours or so and came out no worse for the wear. Nothing exciting. Pretty tight table. At least at my end, I had some really interesting people to talk to (and one guy that smelled really good). Lots of big hands to break up the monotony - just that I wasn't really in any of them. I do wish I took notes, because there were some notable hand stories - I just don't remember them.

Then came the wedding. First, the cabbie got lost on the way there, and never stopped the clock (flashbacks to Flamingo! Gah!). I had to pull out my GPS and tell him how to get there. We arrived in one piece, and all was right with the world. Open bar? Check. Awesome view of the Strip and jets landing at the airport? Check. Gorgeous bride and men in tuxes and Chucks? Check. Good friends, good times.

I am happy as can be for Rob and Mary! Live long and prosper, my friends. You deserve it.

I realized while chatting with Armando that, as far as either of us can figure, Rob was the last single man in our little group. That does not bode well for me!!! :-D But should I ever succumb to the wrath of marriage, I promise in advance a most excellent party in Vegas. Rob, ya done good.

The big news of the night wasn't the nuptials, though. It was that I finally, after 36 years on this planet, have found a beer that I like. I will forever be indebted to Armando, and to Rob and Mary for so ingeniously including Kasteel Rouge on their beer list. Cherries in beer? Are you for real??! Fan-friggin-tastic. I can't say I hate beer anymore. (If anybody has suggestions for beers that are similar to Kasteel Rouge, I'm game!)

The wedding wrapped up and buses took us over to Bill's casino, where we hit up the craps table. (I don't do karaoke!) I love a loud, happy craps table. Everyone loves everyone, and the cheering and laughing... ahh, fun. Armando's wife got to roll the dice for the first time (yay!!) and all was right with the world. Played for a couple hours before calling it a night.

Tuesday... oh sad. Leaving Las Vegas is always such a bummer. You're either sad because you lost all your money, or you're sad because you still have money but no more time to fleece the frat boys at the poker tables.

But, we had one last thing to do in Vegas: meet up with Joe!! It was like a regular ol' run of deja vu, flanked by two of my east coast boys from the olden days. Joe and his wife were in town for a conference (bummed that I didn't get to meet her - next time!!). I hadn't seen Joe in, I dunno, 13 years? 14 years? By the powers of Facebook, we reunited, and got to meet up in Vegas. The three of us had breakfast at Dick's Last Resort (always a fun place, even for breakfast). We played a little craps before heading to the airport.

And that concludes this edition of the Vegas Trip Report.

  • Poker: about even, a little up. Played about 24 hours or so. I definitely plan to try staying at MGM with their poker room rate one of these trips.
  • Craps: ouch.
  • Video poker: double ouch.
  • Food: fantastic!! Very good eats - though I still want to eat at one of the Wynn restaurants, and maybe try the Wynn or Aria buffets.
  • Didn't get to Fremont St or to a show or to Hoover Dam... gotta leave something for next time! Heck, who am I kidding. I'm fine with just playing poker.
I suppose at this point in my life, Vegas is all about food and poker.

Until next time, keep it real, my friends!

Mother Hen, signing off.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Less than a week from my next invasion of Vegas, I've been getting antsy to play some cards. Saturday night, I was at the casino to celebrate a friend's birthday, and as the group was getting ready to turn in for the night, I got on the waiting list for $1/2 NL at Hollywood Joliet. Played for a couple hours - didn't win, didn't lose. But the poker machine seemed primed for a good holiday weekend.

So I went back last night with a full buy-in to see what sort of damage I could do. Got seated around 7pm as the first person on the list of a new feeder table. That meant I got moved to the main game quickly (which is good, because there's a lot more money on the table at the main games).

It was a good night. I was never down more than $50, and after treading water for a couple hours, I bumped up over my original buy-in and stayed there.

One of my goals was to see more flops than usual. People tend to peg me as a rock pretty quickly, and, well, they tend to be right. Though my playable range is pretty wide, particularly in late position, I'm just not a lucky player. I don't get playable hands all that often! So I wanted to be sure that early on, I saw a few extra flops.

I was gifted with a perfect advertising opportunity in my first hour or so at the main table. I played 5-7o from middle position, flopped top pair 5's. Bet it, one caller. Turn came a Q. I bet, he called. River came a blank. I checked, he checked. He had the Q. I patted myself on the back as I heard one of the regulars at the other end of the table mumbling to the guy next to him about the garbage these TV kids play. I got a lot of action the rest of the night from my opponent in this hand, and never again lost a showdown to him. (And I was pretty happy to be called a "kid" - man, 36 has been a tough year on my ego).

That's the thing with Hollywood Casino Joliet. If it's not a holiday or weekend, the game is made up of primarily regulars. A handful of the regulars are loose maniacs, but most of them are either rock-tight or pretty savvy players - neither of which are easy to extract money from. I'm not good enough to be uber-profitable against the rocks and the savvy tricksters. Being a rock myself, I pretty much break even against good players (which I take as a win! but it doesn't help the bankroll). And the savvy ones can bully me out of pots. They know it, and I know it. So I try to pick my spots and only play when I can sit down against people I can beat.

Hey, I'm no fool.

But last night was a good combination of decent cards and really good timing on my part. I kind of surprised myself with the post-flop aggression I was displaying. I don't know if I was reading people well, or if I was just getting lucky to make the right moves, but in 3 different hands, I got bet into big on the flop or turn, and raised or re-raised to find out which of the gaggle of geese in the pot I was really up against. Sometimes everyone folded. Sometimes "the one" came along for the ride. But in all 3 cases, it was the right move and I won the pots, one way or the other.

I mean, me? Re-raise? It's not like I had the nuts (which is about the only time I typically tend to raise or re-raise). I guess I just felt like I was good, and if I wasn't, I wanted to find out right then and there, instead of calling down to the river and passively bleeding chips.

In one case, I honestly would have folded if I got popped back. I had AA on a 3-heart, K-high unconnected flop. I figured, all these jokers are either drawing to the flush, or already made it - and I was going to find out right then and there what the deal was. Bet was $20, one caller before me, and I popped it to $75. One guy thought long and hard before giving it up. He didn't have the flush. (Whew!)

That was the only hand I raised preflop all night. Yeah, I still suck at raising preflop. Might as well jump up on the table and yell, "I HAVE A TOP TEN HAND!" Hell, I don't even raise 10 hands preflop. More like, oh, 3. Sometimes 4. It's brutal. I suck.

I tell myself every time I sit down that I'm going to raise a few junk hands preflop, or raise a few hands in position preflop. It just never happens.

To be fair, at this peanut-limit, most people aren't taking a preflop raise to mean anything. You still get 4 or 5 or more callers to the flop, even with a raise of 6xBB.

But I still think it would be a good exercise for me. It's a personality flaw. I'm not one to stir the pot, and jumping in raising it up is like stirring the pot. Causing trouble. Disrupting the quiet flow of things. It's against my nature. I've kind of accepted it as part of who I am as a poker player. But that's no reason to just settle. I should at least try to poke my head out of the box every once in a while.

I had a brief stint of success in my aggro game after I read Gus Hansen's book. Maybe I need to read that again. Too bad it is packed away in a box right now.

6 weeks till I move to Virginia. The days of living 15 minutes from a poker room will soon be but a memory. It looks like the closest poker room to me will be at least a 4 hour drive. If anybody is familiar with any casino/poker rooms in Virginia or surrounding, holler! I don't mind driving, but at this point it kind of seems like, if I'm going to drive 4 hours, I might as well drive 5 and go to Atlantic City.... I'll be in the Shenandoah Valley, about 2 hours south of DC.

With that, I am counting the days until I take to the skies westward for a weekend in Vegas. Technically, I'm going there for a wedding, but there will undoubtedly be some poker involved. And now, I have a nice little stash of OPM* to play with.

Any suggestions on tournaments I should hit up (<$250 buy in)? Right now, I'm planning to play tournaments at Aria and Venetian. Looking for a nice structure - slow levels, good starting stack. I do not want to waste my time or money with the push-monkey all-in fests. Suggestions welcomed!

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

* Other People's Money