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.
Tuesday (Christmas): “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who. This is supposed to be a happy occasion!”
I rolled out of bed around noon Christmas and headed over to the Monte Carlo poker room to try it out for the first time, but there was no NL going so I decided to head back to TI. I got seated in one of the two 1/3 NL games, but really was pretty card dead early. The table was pretty entertaining, though, and I enjoyed a couple of nice Captain and Diet Cokes (even though I ordered only Diet Coke—excellent service, to read my mind like that!). Eventually I find 66 in LP and call a $15 raise from a MP player, and we head to the flop four or five handed. The flop was: Q-6-5 rainbow—Scrabble! Villain bets $40, I smooth call. Turn is a 9, and villain bets $75, I raise him all-in (about $150 more), and he calls. Villain has AQs and I rake a nice pot; villain heads off for his job (foreshadowing alert).
A little later, Rick the dealer rotates into our table. Rick was hilarious, but kept the game moving, solid job all the way around. One guy at the table was clearly new to casino poker, and kept string betting, raising too little, etc. After being corrected (politely) for a string raise for maybe the fourth hand in a row, the player looked a little embarrassed and apologized. Without missing a beat, Rick said, “You’re not playing in your garage, buddy!” Everyone busted up and the player felt a lot better. Nicely handled, sir!
By late afternoon, I was still suffering serious card death, with a steady diet of junk and whiffed flops. Terrence (“the Rake”) was dealing when the gentleman to my left indicated it was his last hand—a kiss of death akin to calling a sports wager a “lead pipe cinch” or having a waitress talk to a hot shooter in craps. Gentleman raises UTG to $15, and got several callers (all thinking, like me, that the raise could be with about any two cards). I look down at black AA in the BB. Given the pot at that point, I raise to $65 to take it down there, but our departing contestant raises all-in to ~$300! Folds to me, I call, and our gentleman shows black KK. My AA holds up, and I save my newest buddy the trouble of cashing out on his way to dinner. Merry Christmas to me!
Early evening rolls around, and some chatty new guy is asking how my day was going. I’m explaining my set of 6s hand when the dealer pipes up and says, “Yeah, that was me you busted.” Sure enough, our dealer (Ryan) is the AQ guy! Thankfully, he had a good sense of humor about that hand! Within a few hands, I find 66 and call a small raise. Flop comes Q-J-6 with two clubs—PacMan! Ryan laughs and says, “Looks familiar, huh?” I laugh and agree that it does. The hand looks even more familiar when I felt the original raiser who is overplaying—you guessed it, AQ!! Hmmm, 666 on Christmas Day …. the irony is delicious (and profitable).
I played at TI until around 9:00 p.m., but really didn’t have many more big or memorable hands. I did hit two sets of Kings. One set I bet and everyone folded, the other I got it all-in against the nut flush draw with gutshot Broadway draw, a hand which is still drawing as we speak—profit of $250 for me!
I decided it was time to change venues as our table was playing tight and I was hungry. I wanted to eat at Social House (an Asian restaurant at TI), but it was closed (the menu looked fantastic, including some kind of spicy octopus dish—maybe next trip!). I headed out of TI looking for a place called Lee Ho Fuk’s (rumor has it they make a mean dish of beef chow mein), but instead ended up at an upscale Mexican restaurant in the Venetian Grande Canal Shoppes. I had a couple of tasty margaritas and a delicious meal including a chile relleno stuffed with duck meat and Mexican cheese covered in a spicy sauce, and an entrée of pork slow-cooked in a banana leaf covered in a spicy tomato sauce. Two thumbs up!
After dinner I headed down to the Venetian poker room, which was again hopping. Things started with a bad omen as I was seated at a new table. One of the floors brought out racks of chips, and I bought in for the max of $300. The dealer would take each player’s cash, then put out stacks of 20 red chips for each hundred, then take back two red chips and put out a stack of 10 white chips. This makes sense for a 1/2NL game … but when the dealer pushed my chips to me, I started cutting them to make sure I had the right number of chips and discovered I was short an entire stack of reds! I brought this to the dealer’s attention, he didn’t believe me, but the floor (who held the cash) recounted the cash and the remaining chips and verified they were 100 heavy. Error corrected, no problem, just a little unsettling.
Our table was clearly amateur hour, with four or five players who clearly had never played live NLHE in a casino. There were a lot of string bets, chips cut out one by one or two by two, calls made with bottom pair, suited junk played and hit, weird two pairs, etc. On back to back hands I saw one guy bet $20 into an $8 pot on the flop, then led out with a $5 bet into a $60 pot which was raised preflop by another player. I decided immediately to play tight “make a hand” style poker. Early on I lost a big pot when my A9s OTB ran into AK in a limped pot and the board came A-A-4-7-2. I also lost a couple pots when my TPTK ran into J-3 and T-5 for two pair (but they were soooted!).
I eventually start making some money by picking on the newbies with big postflop raises, and they eventually donated three or four buy-ins each to the table before heading out to the table games. I bust one of the newbies for nearly $300 when I play 46s OTB for a raise. Five of us see a flop of 3-5-6, and the newbie calls my $50 flop bet. The turn is an A, which I am sure hit newbie when he quick-checked, so I checked behind. River is a beautiful 7. Newbie bets big, I raise him all-in, he calls and shows aces up (A5o). I also win a big pot against a tough old guy when I flop a set of tens against his AK, and he turns top two pair.
Around 3:00 a.m., after a few too many hot green teas, I head to the restroom by the sportsbook. As I walk down the hall, I notice a guy who is easily 6’8”, 250# standing by the phones in between the two restroom entrances. This gent was wearing a lime green plaid sportcoat, holding two glasses of champagne, and keeping an eye on a hideous 3’x5’ painting apparently done by a drunk, myopic, colorblind monkey. At least the guy seemed happy and/or drunk ….
Around 4:00 a.m., a drunk, obnoxious young guy sits down, starts criticizing other players, the dealers, his girlfriend on the phone, random passersby … An hour or so later, I finally have enough when the guy slowrolls AK on a non-flush board with A-K on it. The river was checked around four ways, and everyone else had shown middle pairs or pocket pairs when obnoxious dude says, “Well, I guess this might be good” and flips his cards over. I was tired and said, “Yup, I can see how you might be scared with top two pair.” He muttered something back, but I was already racking up and leaving for a nice nap, after a couple of cocktails at the Big Apple bar in NYNY.
Wednesday (Festivus!): “Are you saying coconuts migrate?”
I rolled out of bed early Wednesday morning, grabbed a couple of Vitamin Waters for my hangover, and strolled down to TI for the 11 a.m. Headhunter Tourney. For the buy-in ($125), the structure of this tourney is amazing. Levels are 30 minutes, blinds start at 25-50, so you can really play some poker. The $50 bounty for knocking players out is a fun twist, adding some interesting strategy decisions. We had ~30 entrants, not sure if that is typical, small, or large. Also got to meet AVPer Mrs. Lederer who played the tourney, though we were at different tables.
Cards were rough early, as I had TT against QQ and 99 against AA in the first level, but I managed to get away from both hands with only a flesh wound. In the third level, I finally caught a break when I limp in the hijack with 55, the CO raises, the BB calls, and I call. The flop is a beautiful 6c-5d-3c. BB bets out, I raise, CO goes all-in, BB goes all-in, and I figure there is no better place to get my money in; if I lose, so be it. BB has 36o, CO has 99, about as good as I could hope, and my hand holds up for my first bounty and a healthy chip stack.
The fourth level is golden, as I catch AA in the CO and take down a nice multi-limp pot preflop, and later catch QQ in the SB and take down another pot with a preflop raise. I pick up my second bounty when I catch KK in the BB against a short stack all-in. The fifth level keeps the heater going when my raise with AA in the SB is misinterpreted by the BB as a steal. BB pushes all-in with QTs, and my AA holds up for my third bounty. The sixth level was a snooze fest, but I was sitting on one of the four big stacks left in the tourney, so who was I to care?
I start the 7th round with 24K in tourney chips, and we consolidated to the final table shortly after the round began. Now, to this point, I’ve been hassling TJ, a TI dealer playing the tourney, for his lack of chips (he claims to have been card dead). During the fourth or fifth round, TJ finally caught a big hand and raked a nice pot, and I jokingly asked the tournament director, Perry, to investigate possible collusion between TJ and the dealer. Perry mentioned that TJ and the dealer (Michael, I think), were rumored to be life partners. TJ took it all in stride and made some cracks back at me; pretty fun table all around. In any event, TJ made the final table with a very short stack, so I started taunting him about busting out on the bubble (which rumor has is his usual habit).
Apparently I pissed off the poker gods with my uncouth taunting, because on the first hand, I raise in UTG+2 with AQs, the SB and BB both go all-in with short stacks, and I call. SB has AKo, BB has JTo, and I end up making the SB healthier while missing the BB’s bounty. I still have a solid stack, though, so no worries. Except for two hands later when I limp UTG with AA, assuming (correctly) there would be a raise somewhere. Sure enough, guy on my left pushes all-in with a short stack, as does the CO. I call, and guy on my left has Tc6c, CO has 88. The board goes J-Q-K-A-3, and my set of As gets snapped (and guy on my left has CO barely covered, so I don’t even get a sidepot or bounty for my trouble). Now I’m an average stack. My SB hits a couple hands later, and there is a raise and an all-in ahead of me, so I push with AKo. The initial raiser insta-calls and flips AA, other player has AJs, and there is no miracle suckout for me. In an ironic twist, I was left with one $500 chip, so I get to go all-in (and I demanded that the dealer put the huge oversized “All-In” button in front of me instead of pushing in my one chip!) the next hand with A5s. I flop a wheel draw and backdoor flush draw, but blank out and get eliminated by one of the other three people still in the hand. Of course, TJ is still sitting there with his short stack, and I find out later that he managed to get to the final two (not sure who won). My deepest apologies to TJ—you are not as big of a donk as you appeared to be. ;)
At this point, it was nearly 3:00 p.m., and I had some time to kill before the Caesars Omaha8 tourney at 6pm. I intended to go shopping to find a gift(s) for the fiance’ (have to pay for that spouse pass!), but I felt the craps table calling to me as I headed to the TI cashier cage to cash out my $150 in bounties from the Headhunter Tourney. I hadn’t played craps in almost a year, and I was up for the trip, soooo …. I decided to let the $150 ride. Good decision! I step up to the table just as some Abercrombie frat dude was talking his cute girlfriend into rolling for her first time. Nothing is a surer bet than a hot female craps newbie! I put $25 on the pass line; she rolls a 10 and I put $75 (max.) odds behind. It takes only three rolls for the rookie to hit another 10, and we are off to a good start. She makes a few more points, and I have some come bets also hit on her rolls, when she 7s out. Of course, I suggest to the table that we let the dice pass back to the hot shooter, but noooo …. Her boyfriend and his buddy choose to defy the poker gods and roll themselves. I drop down to small bets, but still get hammered when those two yahoos set the entire table, then 7 out without paying a single pass line or come bet. Freakin’ idiots!! They then leave (thankfully). I decide to stay only until my roll or I’m broke. My roll comes with me only having ~$75. I then go on a 30 minute hot roll where I make ~$600 for myself, and probably ~$150 for the dealers (I had them rolling the pass line with me and also the occasional yo and hard way). The three best words in the English language: “Off and on”! I decide to take my winnings and run once my roll ends. Final score: Me $525, House $0. Victory is mine!
I then head out for the Caesars Palace Forum Shops, as I know the fiance’ will expect designer label clothes from the after Christmas sales. Although the place is a zoo, I still manage to find several items at Diesel and Armani Exchange that will be more than sufficient to keep peace on the homefront. Final price for spousal poker pass: $450. I consider it a wise investment.
I drop the spousal gifts off at the room, the head back to Caesars for the Omaha8 tourney. If you like Omaha8, this is a great tourney. Buy-in is $100 ($85-$15), you get $4000 in chips, blinds start at 25-50, and levels are 30 minutes long. The blind structure is also very slow, going 25-50, 50-100, 75-150, 100-200, 150-300, 200-400, 250-500, etc. So, if you play tight, you can really play some poker. One complaint is that, at the beginning, the TD made a speech with a variety of rules, including the common rule that using your phone at the table at all results in a dead hand. Sure enough, middle of a big pot in the third level, a guy answers his phone and has a short conversation (one of those, “Hey, I’m in a hand, will call you back” sort of things). The dealer calls the floor, who then proceeds to merely give the guy a warning!! Of course, the guy then ends up scooping a huge pot instead of sitting on a very short stack—I don’t think he was cheating at all, but why have a “no exceptions” rule and then make an exception? It didn’t help appearances that the guy in question is a local whose biz is hosting high rollers. Also, there was a near-fistfight at the table shortly before I busted out. One guy was acting like the Omaha8 deity, critiquing every single hand shown down, usually making a sarcastic comment about how someone was raising with an inferior hand. Deity ends up losing a big pot to this action junkie (who was still a good player), and then proceeds to criticize the guy for even playing the hand (it was a marginal hand, but playable with a big stack and low blinds, something like 2-3-4-4). The floor had to come over and give stern warnings to both players, though I wish the floor had let action guy pop deity in the mouth first. In any event, I ended up going out in the 200-400 level when my nut low-nut straight got rivered when the As made a weak flush and counterfeited my low. Oh well, that’s Omaha! Definitely have to recommend this tourney to Omaha fans.
I wandered back to TI, but the NL games were full; in fact, every table seemed to be in play, between the 7 pm tourney, two or three NL tables, and two or three 2/4 LHE tables. I needed dinner anyway, so I went to check out Social House. Unfortunately, it was closed (again!! no spicy octopus for me), so I went to Isla for some tequila and enchiladas. I had two different silver tequilas I had never tried before (on the rocks with a wedge of lime), and also fired up one of the video poker machines while waiting for my food. I played Deuces Wild and ran up a $40 profit ($0.50, five credits per hand), mostly off a straight flush and a couple of quads; I end up cashing out for a $30 profit. Food was also delicious; I had eaten here over the summer while on a couples’ vacation with the brother and his wife and can definitely recommend the restaurant. The only downside was that the bartenders were rather uninterested in providing service, but the food and tequila made up for that flaw.
I intended to head to the Venetian or the Wynn to play through the night, but decided to check back in at the TI room before heading out. Turns out there was an opening at a 1/3 NL table, so I bought in for the max $500. Within my first three hands, I find JsJh OTB and raise to $15. Guy on my immediate left (SB) raises to $50, folds around to me. Now, with no read on this guy, I should just fold, but I decide to see the flop and I call. Flop is 5c6c7c. SB bets $75, I decide he has to have a big overpair … but with the flush on board, he probably can’t call any bet without a big club. I push all-in, which makes it roughly $150 more for the SB. He thinks, calls, and flips up AcAs! Aaiiiyahhh!! The turn adds drama as the Jc hits to make his flush but give me a bunch of outs to the boat. The river is a blank and I’ve managed to botch a hand I should’ve dumped early, if not lost a lot less. Oh well, a little more tuition to Poker University. I later find out the SB is AVPer Blue who manages to talk himself into playing until 3 am and then driving straight back to work in CA. At least my money went to a good player!
The table initially was ultra-tight, but midnight rolled around and some action players joined the fun, and all heck broke loose. My cold run ended when Jose’ dealt me 66, which I played for a raise. Of course, I flop quad 6s and manage to drag a $300 pot plus the $100 HHJ bonus. I then had KdKc and two callers after a big flop bet with a board of Ts9h6s. Turn is Ks—good, but not ideal, and both players call a ½ pot size bet. River is a blank, and I show it down rather than bet again—I’m up against T9 and 99!
I then have to take a short break to clean gum off my knee. When you are 6’4”, your legs are going to hit the bottom of the table every so often. Apparently some yahoo was too lazy to walk three steps to a garbage bin or even to simply put his gum in a drink glass or napkin and give it to the cocktail waitress to dispose of. Nope, clearly the best solution is stick the gum under the table where it can fester with germs until someone either has to clean it off or it hitches a ride on someone else’s clothes.
Shortly after I return to the table, I find KsTs in LP and call the EP raise of $15 along with a couple of others. Flop is Js9s8c, so I have an OESD (and a Q gives me a sneaky big straight) along with the second nut flush draw. Original bettor fires out, gets two callers. Turn is another J, it checks around (and I probably would have folded to a pot-size bet). River is Qs—Galaga!! Another player bets $75, I raise to $200, he calls with 5s7s. I also collect a $456 HHJ bonus—thank you Kalin!! Sometimes I play so good!
My luck then takes a turn to the dark side. My pocket TT runs into a flopped baby straight for a $200 loss. I flop an OESD, turn the nuts, and lose another $150 when the river 8 makes quads for my opponent (though I sniff that one out and fold to his river bet). I lose another $200 when my QT flops top two pair … but also flops a set of deuces for my opponent. The ice princess of a hand, though, comes when I have AJs in LP. I get a few callers for my raise, and flop A-K-T. Pretty sure I am ahead, I bet the pot, get one caller. Turn is a Q, so unless my opponent has a J for a chop, I am golden. I bet, he raises, I put him all-in, he calls after some thought. I’m certain he can’t have a J, and I’m right—he has QT for two pair … and promptly rivers a T!! Aaaiiiyyahh! That one stung a bit … My cold streak continued when I have 9c9s, raise and get called by a tight player. Flop is 9h7d4d. I bet, he raises, I reraise, he calls. Turn is 8s. He checks. I decide he may have an overpair, possibly a flush draw. I push all-in, he debates for a long time, puts his cards face up, and finally calls with Ad9d. I don’t even need to see the river to know a diamond is going to hit, and it does (6d). Reload!
I manage to make a nice recovery with a few basic preflop raise / c-bet plays. Then, a guy looking to gamble pushes with his last $200 with AK against my QQ. My hand holds up (thank you poker gods!). Then the crazy hand of the night happens. The guy that busted me with his QT earlier raises to $15 from MP. I find KQo OTB. I read raiser for a middle pair or maybe some suited paint, nothing huge. I reraise to $40. Original raiser thinks, then raises to $100. I know I should dump the hand, but I have a read that I may be ahead or in a race here, and I have to admit I am annoyed at having had to laydown some hands in the few orbits prior to this. I decide to make a stand, and if I lose, I can head over to Venetian. I call, and villain flips up KK! Aaaiiiyyyahhh! Flop is terrible, K-J-x, so I am drawing dead to running cards …. which promptly fall A-T!! Donkey Kong!! Poker Santa Claus once again rewards bad play …
Shortly after my Festivus miracle hand, we consolidate down to one full NL table. Regrettably no real hands of interest occurred before I cashed out at 5:30 a.m. to head back for a shower and a cab ride to the airport. I can’t wait to be back in March (twice!).
Quote of the day: “Why am I not surprised you know that song?”—Anonymous TI dealer to player singing along to the Duran Duran song “Ordinary World”.
Note to IRS: All gambling winnings noted in this trip report were exactly offset by gambling losses.