Grind House's attempted assault on the June tournaments


First, a word of background to explain the goals for the trip. I’m in my mid forties and a converted horse gambler. I’ve been playing poker for about three years and in that time I’ve paid less and less attention to the horses and more and more attention to the poker. For one thing, betting horses the right way takes a tremendous amount of homework. Although poker requires study, it doesn’t feel as much like a school assignment -- in other words, more time playing and less time preparing to play. I’ve also seen enough horses get injured and put down on the spot for my entertainment. I’m no PETA member, and I don’t think the sport should be outlawed or anything. I’m just tired of seeing it and having to shrug it off. I have yet to see anyone put down at a poker table!

Anyway, according to my records, I’ve managed to become a marginally profitable tournament player both live and online. I’ve taken down a handful of live tourneys both at Bay 101 and in Las Vegas, but those have all been basic daily tournaments. This trip I wanted to experience playing in bigger events -- longer blind levels, larger fields, more challenging fields, to see if I’m getting to a level where I can justify playing those types of events regularly. I also like to play events other than hold’em but rarely have the chance to do so live. So, I arrived Sunday 6/15 and planned to play at least four events split between the Grand Poker Series, the Binion’s Classic and Caesar’s Mega Stacks. It went a little something like this:

Within a few hours of landing in Las Vegas I was playing in Binions’ Stud event. It was the first time I’d ever played Stud live. The field was around 145 strong which was impressive for Stud, I thought. I started out like a house on fire, finding myself rolled up twice in the first 30 minutes or so. Won a few other decent pots early on, but then lost a ton of chips when my nut flush (on sixth street) got chased down by a boat. After that I went a bit card dead and as the antes and stakes went up it became harder to play. Eventually, I found myself all in with four to a flush that didn’t get there. The field size wasn’t updated regularly, but I believe I finished in the upper 90s. Nothing to write home about, but I’d gotten my feet wet and didn’t feel like I’d embarrassed myself or anything.

That night I decided to play the $125 10pm tourney at the Grand just to kind of get a feel for the room. First I was a bit disappointed with the field, it was 20 players total. The real bad part was that it was the worst run tournament I’ve ever played in. As other people on this board have pointed out, many of the dealers are new and a bit nervous, but that wasn’t the problem. There were two suits in the room, neither of which was really doing much to run the tournament. Time was being kept on a kitchen timer, like they do at the mirage and wsop sit and gos. Unfortunately, no one really seemed to be keeping an eye on it. At least once, the timer which was sitting on a side table went off unnoticed for a couple of minutes. I guess I shouldn’t complain about getting to play longer at a lower level, but . . . c’mon. Then, a bit later, one of the suits had me buy up the $25 chips for a color up. We were done with that and ready to race off the remaining chips before the other suit pointed out that we needed the $25 chips for antes that would be kicking in soon. There was no structure sheet available for this tournament, so as far as any of us, including the dealers knew, the “tournament directors” could have been making it up as they went along. I kind of stopped taking it very seriously and went out around 14th. My main concern was that I had been very much looking forward to playing the Grand’s HORSE event on Tuesday. I was now very skeptical about the Golden Nugget’s ability to pull off such a tournament.

On Monday I had planed to play the Grand’s $235 NLH event, but after the previous night’s experience I opted for the Binion’s Classic event, also NLH and only $160. Well organized tournament, big field, great dealers, lousy cards. A second nut flush loss to a nut flush short stacked me early on and then I fizzled out all together. The field was 230-something strong and I went out around 180 or so. So after two of my “feature” tournaments, I didn’t have much to hang my hat on, other than I didn’t feel like I’d played too badly, just, you know . . . “that’s poker” kind of stuff.

I was done early enough to head out to the Rio with the intention of just standing around and star gazing. Once I got there I couldn’t pass up playing a $175 single table satellite. It was a blast. I knocked out three players, had a huge pile of chips but once the blinds started going up, which didn’t take long, it became a bunch of all-ins. It was at that point that I lost four coin-flips in the space of about eight hands. Went out fourth, but with a couple of heads instead of tails, could easily have won it. Next year, I’ll budget enough to play a few of these. After busting out I watched some of the All-Star PLO final table which was very cool. I thought about staying around just in case Johnny Chan (Phil H. was out by then) won the bracelet, but considering that could take hours, decided I’d rather head back.

Tuesday was HORSE day. Despite the fiasco of Sunday night’s tourney, I decided I just couldn’t pass up the chance to play a live HORSE tournament. Again, a format I’ve done well with on line but had never had the opportunity to play in person. The tournament turned out to be pretty well run. I only had a couple of small complaints: 1)The start was delayed by about 10 or 12 minutes to accommodate the long line waiting to register. I, who always make sure to register early, thought the cards should have been in the air at noon as scheduled. Late comers should have been blinded off until they were able to take their seats. 2) And, as expected, some of the dealers were not very comfortable dealing the non-hold’em games. One dealer needed quite a bit of help from the players in reading the Omaha hands. All of the dealers, though, were friendly and those who were uncomfortable didn’t pretend otherwise and were happy to have the players help out. Overall, the tournament was well run. The Nugget clearly must have the A-team running the Grand’s feature events.

Right before the first break, I went on an amazing card run during Stud, making straights and flushes and boats oh my! Chipped up quite nicely. Then, after the break, during Stud 8ob, a new player sat down at the one stack at the table that had been blinded down during the first 80 minutes. He dabbled around a bit during that game but came out firing during Hold’em. By firing, I mean raising five times the blind – my blind. I politely informed him that this was a limit tournament, which the dealer confirmed. The guy went, as the British would say, spare. He vehemently informed us that that was BS, that he didn’t play that Sh*t and, oh yes, that was total BS. He stood up and stomped off to protest to the TD. Just when we thought he had decided to leave and allow us to keep blinding him off he returned, sat down and started throwing chips into every pot without so much as looking at his cards. When I was once again in the BB, he raised. I woke up w/JJ and re-raised. Long story short, we capped it at every opportunity until I had him all in. The Jacks were good against his two rags. Christmas came early for me. A couple of guys at the table voice their annoyance that he would do this instead of just leaving and being blinded off. I totally agree, it wasn’t the fairest way for the guy to deal with his frustration, but as I was the recipient, I thought it was pretty cool. How someone can sign up for a tournament without a clue of what kind of tournament it is, is beyond me. After that I continued to play well – my chip stack fluctuating between comfortably big and comfortably slightly below average. After the dinner break the levels started getting pretty expensive and I finally went out during Stud after making Aces up on 4th street and losing to a straight. I finished around 35th out of 169 (they were paying through 18). Playing 9 ½ hours and not making the money is tough to take, but it did satisfy one of my original goals which was to see if I could hang in a longer tournament. I had fun, played well, met some fun people – in every non-monetary way, the tournament was a success.

When Wednesday morning came around I was having second thoughts about playing the Mega Stack event that day. After all, I had played three of my four “feature” tournaments without cashing. Maybe I’d be better off just playing the Ti Headhunter – cheaper, better chance of at least getting my money back. But then I decided that the Mega Stack event was exactly what this trip was about. A large field, 50 minute levels, probably a very strong field – I had to give it a go. I’m glad I did. Cards went in the air at noon with 508 players. Fourteen hours later 17 of us were left bagging up our chips for day two. There’s not much to say about Caesar’s Mega Stack that hasn’t already been written about extensively on these boards. Having the chance to really play poker during the long levels is great. The real proof of this is that other than getting pocket Aces early on, I never did get a crazy-good run of cards. I had to really grind and pick my spots, playing position, stealing once in a while, re-stealing once in a while, hitting a flop with a late position call, without having to worry about a failed steal or re-steal putting me in serious trouble.

This was the first time I had ever A) played poker for 14 hours straight (w/dinner break) and B) played a tournament that required me to return for a second day. It was pretty cool.

Coming into day two I wasn’t the shortest stack by any means, but pretty short stacked compared to the blinds and antes. Added to that was the fact that the three or four biggest stacks were all at my table and two or three of the shorter stacks were at the other table. There were 17 of us left and the next pay jump was at 15. My strategy was to play tight for the first orbit or so and see if some of the other table’s short stacks would go out, guaranteeing me 15th place money, then shove with any decent hand and try to get back into contention. Brilliant plan, almost worked like a charm. Playing tight early was easy since I saw nothing but rags. One guy at my table and one at the other completed part one of my plan for me, taking us down to 15 players. The very next hand -- and now I really was getting short stacked relative to the blinds and antes, but big enough that a double up would still be meaningful -- I shoved in with a AJ of spades, got called (as I knew I would by a big stack) w/KJ of hearts. Perfect! Got my money in good to the tune of about 70%. Of course, you know what happened next, King on the flop, no spades, no ace, that’s all she wrote.

Getting paid $887 was a little disappointing at first, considering I had slept with dreams of a shot at $28k! But really this was a great tournament for me. I played very well, and I had a great time. Every table I played with was full of friendly, pleasant people. I had expected a lot of hoodie-wearing, hyper-aggressive, testosterone filled trash-talkers and those were few and far between. I proved to myself that I can hang in this kind of tournament grind atmosphere, especially if you put the HORSE and Mega Stack tourneys back to back.

Bottom line, considering my 10pm tourney at the Grand, my WSOP satellite, and the obligatory $100 contribution to a three-card poker table, the trip ended in the red. But thanks to Caesars, I played my four “feature” events at a small profit. I’m happy with my play and am looking forward to next June when I’ll take on the various series around Vegas with a bit more confidence.

Odds and Ends:

Since I figured I’d be splitting most of my time between the Grand and Binion’s, I decided to stay downtown for the first time. I stayed at the Four Queens for dirt cheap. And I’ve decided that, while I prefer the strip, Fremont isn’t as bad as some say it is. It has its own Vegas charm and food is cheaper. I did find out, however, that when getting back after day 1 of the Mega Stack at 3am, Fremont does get a bit scary in the middle of the night.

Early in the morning and late at night, The Deuce is a great way to get up and down the strip/downtown. During the middle of a 104 degree afternoon, it is a surly, sweaty, sardine can of humanity!

I managed to pop in to the IP for a bit of 2/4 one night. I think all the good write ups they’re getting on AVP are making it less of a “hidden gem” than it used to be. I still had a great time and made about $40 in and hour and a half, but it definitely didn’t have the soft, touristy feel it had last time I was there. Maybe it was just because it was June during the WSOP player glut.

Finally, about Golden Nugget and their Grand Poker Series. It’s a great idea. The room is very nice. Having the snack bar right at the entrance is great for long tournaments. But I just don’t know if they can compete with the likes of Binion’s and Caesars who have the experience and resources for putting on these types of series. For example, Caesars gave us a $10 dinner comp, the Nugget didn’t. Caesars understands that poker players have a lot of choices before them at this time of year and want to reward customers who have chosen to play their events. The dealer situation is another. At a time of year when good dealers have a lot of places demanding their skills it makes it doubly difficult for a poker room like the Nugget which is a small room most of the year, to suddenly pick up enough quality dealers to put on a series like this. Maybe they should consider moving the Grand to a time when it isn’t competing directly with other, more established series’?

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  1. Thanks for a very well written TR!

    "Playing 9 ½ hours and not making the money is tough to take..."

    This, added to the fact that the tournies ALWAYS get the worst of the dealer-pool, is why I will always be a cash game player!

  2. Congratulations and thanks for the detailed trip report. Was this the $235 event on June 18? @Grind House

  3. Really enjoyed your trip report! Makes me look even more forward to playing a deepstack event at Caesar's.

  4. Good read, thanks!

  5. @Grind House

    Grind House, welcome to the club - I'm exaclty like you, a converted horse gambler although I started playing poker around 2002. When I'm actually in the States, I'm around Monmouth and Belmont Parks all the time. But I feel your pain, to bet the horses correctly takes an exhorbant amount of homework and lots of time. There was a stretch between 2000 and 2005 where my "gambling" vacation would be taking a long weekend to hit the Breeders Cup. Now I'll only go to the BC if its local to NY or a destination I havn't been to.

    Anyway, great trip report - too bad you weren't able to cash on that 28K at Ceasars, but you'll get there. Keep on Grinding!

  6. @Nash_equilibria [/quote]

    That's the one. Did you play in it as well?

  7. @Bucabear

    I did most of my betting on the NorCal circuit. For about 8 months in 1995 (right before I met my wife) I could even have referred to myself accurately as a semi-pro. In recent years with the advent of internet Horse betting I started spending lots of time on XPressbet. I found that the New Orleans circuit was pretty lucrative. It was also kind of fun to bet on some of the small bull-ring type tracks around the country.

    I was mostly a pace handicapper -- looking for pace scenarios that favored a particular running style. The little regarded lone speed horse or the race that figured to set up well for the 6-1 closer were the races I made money on. There's something very viscerally rewarding about sitting down with a pile of information, analyzing it and saying "This is how this race is going to unfold and that 4-5 favorite is going to be toast by the time they hit the wire." Backing that analysis with money and then watching it happen. Dang, I may have to look up my Xpressbet account info and spend a day on it . . . for old time's sake!

  8. I also really enjoyed the Mega Stack series. (finished 24/498 in event # 3) It's the perfect design for those on a modest budget to get the feel of a professional poker tourney. The diner comp was appreciated and the food in CP food court is excellent value for the price.