Author’s note: I carried a small notepad and pen with me throughout my trip to keep track of interesting hands and funny quotes. Some of my notes were more legible and intelligible than others. To the extent my account differs from the recollections of other participants, everyone else is clearly fabricating lies/or was extremely intoxicated and therefore is unreliable and cannot be trusted.
Sunday: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!”
Lured by the siren song of email “special winter offers”, I booked a solo Christmas poker trip in early December. Three ice/snow storms later (including one the day before departure), I could hardly wait to get to sunny Las Vegas (average high of a balmy 50 degrees, dropping to a cozy mid-30s at night). In a Christmas miracle, I somehow dodged all the cold/flu bugs that my coworkers, fiance’ (an elementary school teacher), and airline co-passengers tried to share with me.
My flight arrived on time on Sunday, and in a good omen, my bag was in the first five off the carousel. There was literally no line for a cab, and only a short line at NYNY for check-in (nice rooms for a great price—better quality and cheaper than Mirage and MGM). So, I found myself walking down the Strip looking for a game less than an hour after my flight touched down. My first wacky Vegas moment was not long in coming, as I observed a man with long white beard and a Harley-Davidson hat haranguing a couple of porn slappers on the corner between the Bellagio and Caesars, preaching to them about the sin of fornication, and adding in the sin of blasphemy after one of the pornslappers suggested that Jesus had a middle name and that this whackjob could go do that middle name to himself. Very Old Testament scene, though I think ol’ Habakkuk could’ve used a good dose of anti-psychotics.
In any event, I decided to start the trip by checking out a room I’d never played before, Imperial Palace. This room is semi-open to the slots and near the blackjack “dealertainers”. There were two 2/4 LHE and one 1/2 NLHE games going mid-afternoon, and I got a seat at the NL game after about a five minute wait. The IP does not have auto-shufflers, but the dealers were fast and competent, not to mention friendly. The table had a typical range of players, but most were too loose or too passive, so a pretty juicy game. The table donor was a drunk Irishman (actually from Ireland!) who at one point got confused about where the action was and stated, “Sorry, all you Asians look the same!” Considering that there were two female Asian players (one with hat, one without), and four male Asian players (of significantly different ages and appearances), I have to wonder how drunk this guy was … but everyone laughed and let him continue donating (except for the drunk Englishman sitting across from me who muttered something disparaging).
Despite the soft game, I couldn’t get much traction going early. I had KK four times in four hours, and they got cracked each time, twice by J-rag suited catching two pair on the river. Late in my session I made a nice run, starting with AJ vs. KJ on a J-high board, for about $100 profit. Then I played JTo OTB against a blind straddle who raised to $25 preflop. Four of us went to the flop of 9-8-7 rainbow, and the straddler ended up paying me almost $250 with his two pair. Regrettably, I never got a chance to spin the MegaWheel (a promotion run from 5-8 pm), but I’d definitely go back for the NL game.
I then wandered over to TI to scope out the poker scene. I love the Mirage to TI tram as it lets you off at the staircase next to the poker room—very convenient, unless you happen to arrive between the early and late Cirque du Soleil Mystere shows, in which case you might as well be a salmon swimming upstream to spawn (even for fish, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas). I rub up against 70 or 80 of my newest closest friends (who are all wearing too much cologne/perfume), and wander into the poker room. The 7 pm tourney is still going strong, so I put my name on the 1/3 NLHE list and go enjoy a tasty pastrami and coleslaw sandwich at Canter’s Deli. Upon my return, I get seated within 5-10 minutes at a 1/3 NL game which clearly has been going a while, with a lot of chips spread around the table. I immediately decide to get into the holiday spirit and give away some chips of my own when, on my first hand, I limp in the CO with QcJd. Four of us see a flop of Kc-Ts-9c—yahtzee! Checks to me, I bet $10, get two callers. Turn is a sick 3c. Checks to me, I bet $40, both call. River is an even sicker Td—wonderful, the boat has now arrived with the flush on board. Miraculously, it checks around and I check my pitiful straight, losing to T9o and 6c2c. So that’s how the game is going to play ….
My gift giving continues when I raise to $15 with AQs and get three callers. The flop is Q-J-6, I bet $30, one guy calls. Turn is a J, I bet $75, he calls. River is another freakin’ J, he checks, I check behind … and he has J3s for quads. Aaaiiiiyaahh! Same guy knocks off my AK on a board of Ad-Ks-3d-4s-2d with his Qd4d—seriously, anyone ever heard of pot odds? And why do my opponents always hit the flush that they shouldn’t be able to afford?!? Time for a drink! I almost play the next hand (Q9s) out of frustration when Flushie raises preflop … but I show great discipline and muck, only to watch Flushie and Abercrombie Dude get all their money in on a board of Q-Q-x-Q-x. Hmmm, what the heck was I thinking?!? Where is my Captain & Coke?? Of course, I get a small private chuckle when two loudmouths get into a small argument as they both claim to have folded the case Q.
My luck finally turns around after my third drink, when I play QJo in the CO and flop T-9-8 rainbow (yup, third flopped nut straight of the day). This time I get it all in on the flop against a guy with 7-6, making $310. Parcheesi!! A few orbits later, I’m in the BB, and this LAGgy but talented Asian guy is back at it, raising my BB for what seems like the 15th time in a row. Actually, LAGgy raised a MP player from $12 to $37. I’m annoyed with him picking on my BB (hey, it’s three freakn’ dollars!), so I decide to play back with anything decent. Hmmm, I have 9h6h, that’s good enough for a call! We go heads up to a flop of Th8h7h …. Candyland!! I check, villain bets $60ish, I call. Turn is … oh who cares, but not a heart. I check, villain bets $150, I Hollywood and call (actually, I’m somewhat embarrassed of my acting job on this hand, more Tom Cruise than Tom Hanks). River is another blank, I check, villain goes all-in for ~$260, I call. Villain winces, says, “Nice call” and shows his AhKs for what he thought was the nut flush draw that missed. Only then does villain and the table catch on to my hand (which I flipped up when I called) and realize what an absolutely amazing call I made … sometimes, I play so good! Of course, when villain makes the understandable muttering about my preflop call, I had to give the obligatory Negreanu-esque, “They were soooted!” As a bonus, I also hit one of the bigger straight flush progressive high hand jackpots, collecting a cool $453 in extra cake. Mad props to my new favorite dealer, John (a/k/a Spike) for that hand, bumping Vance (of the flopped straight) into second. Happily for me, Vance would continue to fall in my favorite dealer rankings over the rest of the week (note the oh-so-subtle foreshadowing).
My next BB, I almost play 8h2h, but decide calling a $20 raise is probably pushing my luck. Damn heaters! Flop is 8-8-T, turn is case 8, and river is case T as two drunk yahoos get all their money in with weak Ts (T7 and T9, I think). I watched that pot get chopped with a twinge of regret, but … at least I played the hand “correctly”, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. I finally headed out for a brisk walk back to NYNY around 5:00 a.m., off to a solid start to my trip.
Monday (Christmas Eve): “Bring us a shrubbery!”
I woke up around 10:00 a.m., and immediately get put on national security tilt when I open my suitcase and find a cheerful Festivus greeting from the Transportation Safety Administration. Apparently some TSA agent decided s/he wanted to paw through my obviously stylish poker attire because, as you know, lawyers taking direct flights from Iowa to Vegas are almost as high on the terrorist watch list as Mormon pornslapper grannies. But at least they left a nice note …
My mood lightened considerably when I discovered the complimentary toiletries provided by NYNY ( the face soap said I was devastatingly average looking, and a talented poker luckbox). NYNY provided me with orange-ginger shampoo, lemongrass-something soap, and grapefruit-pomegranate lotion. I scoffed at these offerings for all of 15 seconds before I succumbed to the aromatherapy experience. Very relaxing! In a peppy mood, I grabbed a piece of pizza from Sirrica’s in NYNY and hit the Strip.
My destination was Caesars Palace, another room I had inexplicably never tried. My plan was to play some NLHE until the 5 pm PL Omaha tourney. My first impression was positive. The room is huge, but broken into a tourney area and a cash game area. The décor is quite nice, and the chairs are comfy. There were at least seven 1/2NLHE games going (it might have been 1/3, memory is fuzzy), along with 4 or so 2/4 LHE games. I got on the 1/2 NL list, and waited about five minutes to get a seat. In the meantime, they also opened a 2/5 NL table.
I took my seat and realized I had reduced the average age of players at the table by at least a decade. There was one actual Civil War veteran in seat 8 (where his Coke bottle glasses weren’t strong enough to make the board visible to him),along with four other obvious retirees scattered around the table. Civil War dude really slowed the game down; he never realized when the action was on him, he needed someone to replay all action to him, he needed someone to read the board for him, and then he would think a while before generally folding or calling (not sure I ever saw him raise). There was a nice middle-aged lady to my left, a middle-aged rich dude (at least, he liked to talk about his money), and two entertaining young trust fund punks apparently on winter break from college (based on their constant conversations with 8-10 other guys in the room about who had hooked up the prior night and what bars they were hitting that night … oh to be young and rich!). Speaking of age, I took a chronological bad beat when I lost an age prop bet to dealer Laura, when we tied for year of birth, but she beat my December birthday with her April kicker. On the other hand, she cracked up the entire table when one of the young guys went all-in and his buddy asked for a count. Young guy fumbles his chips and Laura pipes up, “Just lay back and let me do all the work.” Not that it matters, but all-in guy had 5d2d, his buddy had 7s7c, and the flop was Jd-9d-7d. The set never catches up and diamond boy rakes a nice pot. This could be a good table ….
Unfortunately, I never really catch any cards, or when I do, I get no action. One fun hand I had, I’m OTB with 53o, and there is a straddle on. There are 3 or 4 limpers to me, so I decide to see if I can make a play using my undeserved tight image. I make it $20, folds to Laguna Hills boy in the hijack (who has been very aggressive) who repops it to $60. Now, how could this guy have much of a hand if he wanted to limp in four or more way? I immediately push all-in, figuring if he actually has a hand, at least I have live cards. Sure enough, he Hollywoods a bit then folds. One other entertaining moment occurred when one of the young guys is having a chat with a couple of buds who stopped by the table about pro poker players they’ve run into at the Bellagio and Wynn. Meanwhile, a few of us were having a fun chat about the pornslappers and hookers in the nice casino bars. One of the young guy’s buds mistakenly thinks we are also talking about poker players, and asks this nice middle-aged housewife, “Oh, are you a professional?” Of course, we all bust out laughing and he has no clue why his serious question is being mocked (though he had a good chuckle when we explained it to him).
The PL Omaha tourney had three tables, but with only 3500 in starting chips, the structure rewards early chipping up (blinds are low with 30 minute levels, but the nature of PLO makes that starting stack shrink up a bit). I took a couple small pots early, but generally mucked as I was card dead. Eventually, in the third level, I limp along with four other players with JsTs9c9d. The flop comes Kd9s8s, giving me middle set, and an OESFD, not to mention decent straight and flush draws. One of the blinds bets out, guy to my right pots it, I repot it, blind gets us all-in, other guy and I call. Guy to my right has KKxx for top set and no draw, while blind has A-Q-J-T for a big wrap but no flush draw (loose play by him with all the action in front, but hey, that’s Omaha). Turn is an 8 to boat the top set and kill the excitement of the draws, and I miss the case 9 on the river. Eh, such is Omaha. Still a fun tourney and I would recommend it to any Omaha fans.
I wandered on over to TI to see how the action was, and got there in time to play the 7 pm NLHE tourney. I usually don’t play tourneys, but the only 1/3 NL cash game was full. I doubled up in the first level when my AJ beat out KJ on a J-high board (KJ also had a flush draw which missed). I was card dead until the third level when my AJ held up against AT on an A-high board, and I knocked another player out while chipping up nicely. I made it to the final table with ~18,000 in chips. After the short stacks were knocked out, I and two others had ~20,000, while two guys had ~30,000 each. With only four places being paid and the blinds about to go up (to 2000-4000, I think), we agreed to a chop with the two big stacks taking $350 each and the other three of us taking $275ish each. Not bad for three hours and maybe four real hands of play!
Because the cash game was full, I cashed out my comps and went to the TI Steakhouse for dinner. The steak was fantastic, as was the five-cheese mac and cheese I had as a side. You know a place knows its wine when the house pours include a Ridge zin and a Chappellet cab.
After dinner, the TI cash game was still full, so I meandered over to the Venetian, still my favorite room in Vegas (beautiful décor, comfy chairs, decent comps, top shelf booze, plenty of games, big action). A few tables had been added since March, but the room was essentially the same. There were a couple of tourney tables running in the back, and probably 15 or so cash games going, mostly 1/2 NL and 2/4 LHE, with a couple of 2/5 NL. I got into a 1/2 NL game right away, and it was action central; my table (and the room) was full of fairly young players, some quite talented, some quite drunk. I hadn’t flopped a set yet during my trip, while KK was killing me, but within 30 minutes of sitting down I managed to reverse both trends. There are several limpers to me in LP, I bump it to $15, get two callers, one the BB, the other OTB. Flop is K-9-8 rainbow. BB checks, I bet $40, OTB raises to $100, BB goes all-in for ~$250, I go all-in, and OTB calls all-in. BB has 9-9, OTB has JsTs. The turn brings a second spade to add some drama, but the river bricks to bring me a roughly $800 pot.
My luck with sets would not last long. During the next orbit, I find 66 in the BB. There is a small raise, and four of us see the flop of 5-6-8 with two diamonds. I bet out the size of the pot, next guy reraises to $100, original raiser moves all-in for ~$300, I call, other guy calls. Turns out original raiser has 88 and other guy has 55. Turn is case 8 for quads and the drama is killed. Aaiiiyyahhh!!
I do make a nice rally on a pair of mirror image hands against the table big stack, when my AQs beats his KK after I flop trip As, then a bit later my KK holds up against his AQs when the flop is Q-high. My final hand of the night, I am racking up UTG and find AKs. I limp along with five others. Flop is K-9-8, I bet out, get raised, and call. Turn is an A, I check, other guy is all-in, I call, and find he has K-9. So, I get to rack an extra $200 before taking my morning stroll to NYNY.
Part II coming soon to a theater near you ....