My friend is getting married at the end of the month, so what better way to celebrate the forthcoming event than for seven of us to make the 10 hour flight from London to Las Vegas for four fun days of poker. Five of us (myself, the groom, H, M and O) had played quite a bit before, whilst the other two (S and R) were relative novices but keen to give it a try.
Wednesday 4th: Arrival and poker at the Monte Carlo
We landed at McCarran at 2pm on Wednesday 4th March. It took around an hour to clear immigration, collect our bags and take a taxi to the Excalibur. Check-in to the hotel was really quick (I think the Excal genuinely excels at this and puts some more expensive places to shame), and after a quick shower and change we headed straight off to the Monte Carlo poker room around 4pm.
I had worried a little before we went how long some of us might have to wait for a seat if seven people arrived at a poker room at the same time, but in this case I needn’t have worried as they immediately opened up a new table and sat us together. We opted for 2-4LHE (as we did throughout the trip) – after all we were there for a bit of fun and beers and not for some WSOP main event!
I like the Monte Carlo poker room – it is relatively secluded from the main casino floor and great for a social low-stakes game. The dealers were excellent and very patient and helpful with the inexperienced players. R (who had never played before at all) picked it up very quickly indeed and within an hour was starting to play a pretty sensible game. In fact when we were joined by a novice player after about an hour and a half he was able to offer her assistance in the practicalities of playing the game! S could also put together some decent play, but did also like to put in some loose-aggressive periods which ultimately did his bankroll no good at all. Cocktail service was good and quick (I particularly liked the bloody marys) and the waitresses kept us topped up. I was a little disappointed however that the weekly freeroll tournament had been transformed in to a monthly freeroll for March as this does not give out-of-town visitors any chance of qualifying. We finally left the table somewhere around 10pm (6am London time!) and headed for bed via Manchu Wok in the Excalibur foodcourt. I had hit some nice hands and walked away $80 up.
Thursday 5th: Playing at the TI
The next morning woke stupidly early (around 3am) and could not get back to sleep. Messed around a little until eventually we took advantage of the Excalibur buffet for breakfast (all-day pass for $25) and then arranged to meet at 9am. Six of us sat around waiting until eventually S turned up apologising for being late. He had been playing on a slot machine not really knowing what he was doing and had hit a $1700 jackpot! We set off for a walk up the strip looking in on the casinos on the way. Three of the party took a detour up the Eiffel tower whilst the rest of us stopped for a beer in the pavement café at the bottom ($6 for a beer). S used some of his winnings to buy a $25 snow globe as a gift for folks back home (I didn’t know you could pay so much for one, but I guess it was quite impressive) :-). M had an interesting encounter when he was propositioned by a Canadian gentleman up the Eiffel tower (so to speak!). I blame his white shoes for sending out the wrong sort of message!
After a quick tour round the Venetian and Wynn, we moved on (on AVPers’ recommendations) to try out the TI poker room, arriving shortly before midday. They immediately offered to open us up a 2-4 limit game for us (definitely an advantage of 7 people arriving together) and within 5 minutes I was sitting down ruffling chips with a beer in hand. Dealers and room staff were very friendly and the waitresses kept us topped up with drinks (I can particularly recommend the frozen margaritas). We really liked the room – it is nicely away from the main casino floor and was funkily done out. I did however keep losing my hole cards under the bumper rail. Didn’t hit many hands but didn’t seem to matter and I more than made up for it in drinks. I rolled out around 5pm $90 down. The groom was having a blinder, hitting a $250 straight flush jackpot hand! Twice! Who says you can’t make money at 2-4 limit . Returned to the Excalibur for some more food in the buffet. It is amazing how after a few beers it seems like such a great idea to eat a big spoonful of wasabi . Most of the guys headed back out for a bit more poker at the Monte Carlo but I headed up for around 9pm for an early night.
Fri 6th: Back to the Monte Carlo
We all did our own thing during the day – visiting an outlet mall seemed to be a favourite – and then met up one-by-one late afternoon back in the Monte Carlo poker room. After a bit of juggling we were eventually able to all get back on the same table. I had an absolute shocker - I lost an absolute fortune to S as he was going through a loose-aggressive phase, and he proceeded to lose the chips to the rest of the table! But the drinks kept coming, and there were some real fun guys playing at the table, so it really wasn’t too bad. Played a total of 5 hours and ended up slightly over $200 down (making it my worst 2-4 performance of all time ) but hey had some fun trying. Some moved on to nightclub afterwards, others straight to bed.
Sat 7th: Morning at the Excalibur, evening at the TI
Woke up early on Saturday morning. The guys were still in bed so I thought I would have a go at the 9am tournament in the Excalibur electronic room. I thought the buy-in for the tournament of $18+$2 was very reasonable, and the structure seemed gentle enough to allow some considered play unlike some other low buy-in tournaments I have played.
This would be the second time I had played on the e-tables – I had tried them before when I visited Vegas at New Year and played for an hour on a rare $2-$4 limit game. It was much less hassle to buy in this time – I just showed my players card, signed a form and handed over the cash. I settled down at my designated seat, swiped my card and luckily could remember my id number.
The positioning of the buttons on the interface seemed to make far more sense for a no limit game than they had for the limit, though I still had a little trouble getting the buttons to press first time. Everyone else at my table was using their players card to tap the screen. Whilst I accept this is an effective work-around I would argue that as the sole business of PokerTek is the manufacture of electronic poker tables they should have bothered to get this right in the first place – there should not need to be a work-around for such a fundamental part of the experience.
Otherwise I think the interface was pretty good – I like the way you cover your cards to view them and the central display of the community cards is clear. I felt that players had to concentrate a little more on the game as it was not always obvious when it was your turn to play (there was no dealer to give you a friendly reminder!) and this may have lead to the tables being relatively quiet. Whilst I thought this was fine for a tournament, it probably would not work so well for me for extended play in a cash game.
Speed overall seemed a little faster than a live dealt game (it showed 42 hands per hour on an average 8-seated table). Some things seemed to take a little more time than you might expect – for example it seemed to take an age waiting for everyone to ‘fold’ – ‘confirm’ in turn before doing the same yourself. And at one point all the tables in the tournament froze for about a minute.
Cocktail service was pretty quick. I was genuinely surprised by the quantities of beers, white Russians etc. that were being consumed at 9am but hey this is Vegas! I experienced absolutely no issues relating to bad language, collusion, talking about hands etc. which I know has worried some players. They appeared to have two floor-walkers permanently on hand who I am sure would have quickly sorted out any issues if there had been any.
As to the tournament itself, there were around 50 entrants. A guy on my table busted out on the 2nd hand when his pocket aces were cracked. I didn’t hit many good cards myself but made a little progress with some well-timed bluffs. I finally busted out after about 1hr20min in around 20th place when my AK suited was beaten by QQ. I was pretty happy with the whole experience – it was good entertainment for $20 and I was pleased with the way I’d played.
I guess this tournament is not a big money maker for the casino – they would have only taken 50 x $2 = $100 for the event and they seemed to have had 4 employees on duty throughout, not to mention the cost of all the drinks they’d been supplying! If it is meant to act as a loss-leader to bring players in to the room then it did not seem to have an immediate effect as when I left at 10.30am there was only one cash game going – a three-handed 1-2NL which I guess had been going all night.
My overall verdict? A good solution for a low stakes tournament, but unlikely to be my venue for main play
Met up with the guys round the pool late morning, and we agreed to head off to the Hofbrauhaus german beer hall near the Hard Rock casino for lunch. They have great entertainment Sat and Sun afternoons with oompah music, singing on tables, beer drinking competition, beer holding competition etc. We managed to have a little food and to sink 3 liters each of the german beer. Refreshing!
We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and change, then taxied up to the Treasure Island around 6pm for more poker. Again an advantage of 7 people arriving at the same time was that they immediately opened up a new 2-4LHE table to accommodate us (thank you) and we were in business. One or two of our group drifted off to the blackjack tables as they busted out of their initial buy-in. The final straw for H was winning a pot of only $10 for his straight flush! And as only one card was in his hand there was no high-hand bonus either! A little later R hit a straight flush with two cards in his hand for a $250 bonus which we really enjoyed telling H the next morning. We had a great time – the dealers and other players made it a fun evening. R had had a fantastic few days going from novice to reasonable player in an unfeasibly short time. The table finally broke up around 11pm at which point I was $40 and many drinks up – I headed back for some food and then bed whilst some of the others headed off to a nightclub.
Sunday 8th: The last morning
On Sunday, our last morning, it was a slow start. Everyone had only been getting only about 3 or 4 hours sleep a night, the clocks had gone forward that night, and we had to vacate the rooms by 11am. Breakfast for me was Quizno’s in the Excal foodcourt where I took advantage of the free wifi to check emails and the latest Tony Bigcharles blog entry. Returning to the casino floor to kill a little time I put 5 dollars into a video poker machine playing 25 cents a go and hit a $50 hand on my third spin!
Before leaving for the airport I looked in on the Excalibur poker room just before the start of the 1pm tournament. There were 2 cash tables going – both 0.5-1NL – with 7 players on one table and 8 on the other. With the announcement of the start of the tournament most of the players got up to join it effectively killing the cash action (though one table did carry on 3-handed). The tournament started with around 30 players, but I have no idea what happened as we had a plane to catch ...