I arrived in Las Vegas around 11:00 AM Wednesday morning. My friends were not expected to arrive until Wednesday night and I rented a car that day so I could use the alone time to drive around to some out of the way parts of the city.
I got in the rental car and drove over to Mandalay Bay where I was staying to rest a bit then head out. I checked in after unsuccessfully trying the $20 trick (the $20 was returned.) The hotel room was nothing special, but, since I was staying by myself it was more than adequate.
I booked the room on the poker rate so I figured I would go down to the poker room, find out what I need to do to track my hours and play a few hands before I go back out.
I approached the desk, asked for a table and handed the manager my MGM Players card and asked him to track my time. He said “we don’t use these cards here” and offered no further explanation. When I inquired how my time would be tracked to get the poker rate he seemed confused. Finally I was introduced to the high tech, state of the art time tracking system which includes the impressive “green sharpie technology.” I was handed an index card and told a manager had to sign me in and out for each session. I was also told that I was responsible for keeping the card and if it was lost there was no way to recover the time.
I found the Mandalay Bay poker room to be nicely decorated with well maintained tables, all with auto shufflers. The sports book is behind the poker room and the 4 seat on the table in the back right has a perfect view of the big screen in the sports book. The poker room has three tv’s on the wall and a very fuzzy big screen in the back which blocks most table’s views of the much clearer sports book. The Dealers were pleasant, friendly and pretty competent. The few problems that came up were all handled satisfactorily.
Mandalay has a plethora of rules. Every time a new player comes into the game the dealer is obligated to explain that verbal declarations are binding and about the high hand jackpots. Every time a new dealer comes into the game he or she gives the same explanation. I understand the policy behind explaining it to the new players but why does a new dealer have to explain it when all of the players at the table have already heard it? Some of the rules make sense, like verbal declarations are binding, others make no sense at all, no chopping of blinds.
Over all, I rate Mandalay as a second tier poker room. Even with the poker rate, it was not much cheaper than the Wynn. Given that and the extreme south of strip location I would not choose to stay there again.
After I get oriented, I sit down at a $1/2 table (that was all they had) and on the very first hand this hand ensued:
I am in middle position with Q-10 of Clubs. Villain is in late position. Villain has about $150, I have him covered. The flop is paired with two clubs. I bet, Villain calls. The turn is a club, completing my flush. I bet Villain calls. The river is a blank, I bet, V raises all in. I can’t believe I could potentially get felted on my first hand in Las Vegas. I call and Villain turns over trips, I scoop the pot.
I leave Mandalay after about two hours and drive downtown. I was particularly interested in seeing the El Cortez which I had never been to. I played a couple of hands at the $1-3 spread limit game (played with a single $1 blind.) No noteworthy hands. I love the El Cortez for its lack of pretension. No gaudy themes, exotic sports cars conspicuously parked out front, or women with fake uh, well parts. Just a place to gamble.
I walk out of the El Cortez and head toward the Fremont Street experience. Before my trip I started a discussion on whether this was a safe walk during the day. The unanimous opinion was that it was safe and I have to agree. The 1-2 blocks between the El Cortez and the Fremont Street experience are clean, well populated and lined with interesting shops, restaurants and bars.
Next I stopped in Fitzgerald’s. Walked around and located the poker room but unfortunately there was no game going on. If you are looking to play poker at Fitz the room is up the escalator.
I crossed the “street” and entered Binion’s. I have played in Binion’s several times in the past but I was interested to see the new poker room. It looked to be a very nice place but I did not get to play because management was not able to figure out how to get me to the open seats. I walked up to the podium and asked if they had any no limit seats open. Simultaneous, the $1-2 dealer called out “three seats open.” I asked if I could take on and the floor asked me to wait a minute. While I was waiting, two other people came up behind me and put there name on the list. When I found there names ahead of mine I left.
Went over to the Golden Nugget which is my favorite downtown poker room and one of my top five favorites in all of Las Vegas. This is the best place to play poker downtown. The tables are a bit cramoed though.
On the way back to Mandalay I stopped at the Flamingo. Heading south, I had trouble finding the entrance to the Flamingo parking lot so I ended up parking at Bills. Walked by the poker “room” at Bill’s. This is obviously not a place for serious poker but Bill’s has a fun sort of downtown vibe on the strip which I found refreshing.
I wasn’t particularly interested in playing at the Flamingo except that my 6 year old daughter loves anything pink and is intrigued by the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. So I decided to check out the gift shop and see if there was a gift worth bringing home (there was not.) While I was there I sat down and played about an hour in the $1-2 no limit game. The room is nice enough all though it is a bit out of the way. I would try to avoid playing there or any Harrah’s property because of the $5 rake.
Finally made it back to Mandalay Bay after an hour of traffic up the strip. Played for about six hours and went to sleep. I had one interesting hand.
I had about $350 V had a little less. I raise on the button with KQ suited to $15. I get two callers. I miss the flop and fire a continuation bet of $30, again two callers. The turn is no help and I bluff for $45 only V calls. Finally, the river is a blank and I bet $75 (I throw out three green chips.) Villain thinks for a brief second then calls. I shrug and say “nice call, I only have a King.” I flip over my cards and Villain shows K-J (no pairs.) I stare at the board for what seemed like an hour trying to figure out if I really won the hand. I smile, look at Villain and say “hey you had the right read, you put me on the bluff.”
I woke up at about 8 am and was surprised to find out it was still dark. Oh crap its only 5 am. Not tired enough to sleep any more, I hop in the rental car and head south down Las Vegas Boulevard. I stop in South Point and introduce myself to Perry. Play with some locals for about an hour when the game breaks up. I don’t know if it is always this way but the action was VERY loose. $20 raises pre-flop were routine and received several callers.
After South Point I continued south toward the new M. I walked around the place a bit until I found the poker room which had no games going at all at 6:00 am on a Thursday so I didn’t get to play there. It looked like a nice room, sort of on par with Planet Hollywood. The M seemed very nice but unless you just really want to get away from the strip for a few hours I don't reccomend it. It is a pretty long drive.
The next morning I woke up and met a friend at MGM. After breakfast played some poker. It took well over an hour and three requests to get a hot chocolate. The poker room manager came over to apologize but did not offer anything in the way of comps. Still, MGM is one of the nicer poker rooms in Las Vegas and the nicest on the south end of the Strip. Especially when the music from the night club next door is not playing. I would play there again.
After MGM I took a walk down to the Venetian. On the way I stopped in IP. First of all, it is almost impossible to find the entrance to IP. Fortunately, I was very determined and found I small walkway with an 8.5" x 11" sign pointing to the entrance. Once inside of IP I did not have as much luck finding the poker room. I never did find it.
Continued north up the Strip to the Venetian. Sat down at a $1-2 table with some good players and some rich tourists. Had a successful session and a very pleasant experience.
The Venetian’s poker room is nicely appointed with comfortable leather chairs. They serve Fiji water and have great hot chocolate. The best part about the Venetian is that it is so spacious. It is much more comfortable to play at the Venetian than the Wynn or Bellagio.
On the way back to Mandalay I stopped in the Bellagio. It was now about 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon. The room was packed. Noone seemed particularly interested in helping me. I finally put my name on the list for $1-2 & $2-5 and I was told it would be quite a while. I walked around the room a couple of times, squeezing between tables, then left without being seated.
Later that evening we headed to Hard Rock for dinner at Nobu. Afterward, I met a friend who was staying there and played some $2-5. The room is nice but this was a friday night and they had only two tables going. Given its out of the way location, Hard Rock is definitely not worth the cab ride over there just for the poker.
Finally, back to Mandalay for a marathon session. I needed to get eight hours in to qualify for the poker rate. I ended up playing ten. Towards the end of the session I had the following very satisfying hands:
Villain had been sitting at the table and was a bit of a jerk. He didn’t say anything much at all but one hand I bluffed the river and he called. I said I missed, all I have is an A high. He refused to show his cards until I did, so I showed him the A. Then he said I had to show him both. After I flipped over the second card, then he showed me that he had a pair. Another time he was all in, he refused to tell me how much the bet was and made the dealer count. The following two hands were very satisfying.
HAND 1: I am on the button with Jh/10h. Villain has about $350, I have him covered. Limped around to me and I call. The flop is J/J/10. Villain bets $15, player in middle position calls and I call. Turn is a Q (not a heart.) Villain bets $45, middle position folds and I raise to $90. Villain re-raises all in. I do my best Phil Hellmuth insta-call. I say I call, I’m full! Villain turns a little green and sheepishly shows a 9/10 for bottom pair and an open ended straight draw which really doesn’t matter because he is drawing dead. The dealer ships the pot. Villain re-buys for $100.
HAND 2: The very next hand, I am still stacking the massive pot I had just won. I look down to find J/9 offsuit. This is a kind of marginal hand but I am in position on a rush and Villain is steaming so I play it. The flop comes J high. I bet $15 and Villain calls. Turn is a 9. Villain bets all in for $83 (this time he told me when I asked.) I call and V turns over a str8. I stand up and as the dealer is turning over the river I say “come on give me a J” which is exactly what he does. I shout and I notice the floors behind me making sure things don’t get out of hand. The dealer ships me the pot and I have felted V twice in a row.
These two pots got me just about even for the trip.
Later that evening I played the $2-4nl game at the Mandalay. I don’t know if that game is always this loose but it was the craziest game I ever played.
There was a $45 raise pre-flop to me. I re-raised all in for $256. The original raiser called me and showed A-j!!! My A-K held up and I doubled up.
There was a hand I did not play in where there was a $120 raise pre-flop and three people called. If anyone has ever played in this game I am curious if it is always this crazy.
I was doing alright in this game, waiting for premium cards and slowly building my stack but getting frustrated because I had to sit out so many hands.
I got felted when V bet $200 on the river and I bluffed with an all in bet for another $175. He called me with middle pair and a weak kicker.
The following day I watched the Terps get smoked by Memphis and then met a friend at the Wynn for 10 hours of poker until I had to leave for the airport. I played $2-5. I hadn’t eaten anything and I was starving. I asked the waitress for a menu and placed my order. When she asked for my players card I told her I doubt there was any points on it because I hadn’t been to Vegas in almost 18 months and then I only played a few hours at Wynn. When she came back with the food she smiled and told me they comped it. Nothing makes me right a positive room review more than free food!!! I was up about $100 bucks when I overplayed AK and ended up losing almost $300 on the hand.
Terrible way to end the trip but to play that much poker and only be down a few hundred bucks is much better than my friends did playing blackjack.