Optional music accompaniment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTdvd-tNXu8
This trip was for my daughter’s 21st birthday. She wanted to try some poker, some card counting blackjack, tossing some dice around. So, the family of 4 of us head out to Vegas to see their degenerate Dad’s gambling habits and haunts. Because this is a poker column, I’ll try to keep it to poker though there’ll be 3 intermissions for quick Vegas stories, a meltdown and a rant about a poker strategy.
• Tournament at the Mandalay Bay Saturday night
• 1-2 NL at Monte Carlo Sunday morning
• 1-2 NL at MGM Sunday afternoon
• 1-2 NL at Luxor Monday morning
Up 274 overall, up 250 at 1-2 NL Poker, down 87 at the Tournament and up around 100 in sports, craps and blackjack.
A little perspective on the below. I’m not exactly right in the head in several ways. I see poker as conversations with money, with dollar amounts – people talking with their betting, raising, folding. I see people with chips in front of them as the façade, the reputation. I see stranger’s faces and assume their closest real or imagined doppelganger. So you’ll see some names here which are not real (I don’t think so anyway) and you’ll see conversations that didn’t happen (but sort of did). Just go with it.
The Escalade Hand. So I’m joining this Luxor cash game, 8:00 AM, too hung over from the Craps session you’ll see later. First hand, I easily fold the 7-4 whatever and see the 11 bet raised to 40 by The Guy With All The Chips. He’s got the Cadillac Escalade of chips in front of him – must be about 15 stacks of 100 each. Bodybuilder muscular himself, tattoos. Looks too tough - could probably break a chip in half with his teeth if he wanted. A shaggy surfer looking guy who had bet the 11 then shoves one stack out – 100. He too has quite a chip stack, maybe a Yukon worth. Maybe about 10 x 100s for him. Everyone folds excepts Escalade guy, who now starts looking mad instead of sleepy. He calls.
Flop is an 4 – 8 – 4, with 2 of them clubs. Shaggy checks now. Escalade guy puts out a mere half stack of 100 – 50 or so. Shaggy calls. Shaggy calls. A Queen on the turn, not a club. Shaggy puts out a 100 tower into the 300 pot. Escalade guy is thinking…. I’m going to get me a Yukon - he breaks out not one, but 4 of the 100 chips stacks, like 4 all steel rims. Like trees being set down, he says raise to 400 and starts tipping them over, 100 – tip, crush, slide, turn ‘em up again in the middle. Shaggy calls. The river is an Ace, clubs, making a flush possible. Escalade man goes 400 more. Shaggy, short pause, says call with what is an all-in for him. There’s now about 1800 bucks in the pot. Escalade calls, saying “I’ve got your flush covered, Jack”. But Shaggy has a pair of Queens in the hole for a full house. Escalade slowly peels out the 8 and 8 for the losing full house. 1800 pot goes down and all that’s left of the Escalade is the frame. I just bought in for 200. What am I even doing here?
Shaggy grabs his chips and leaves. Probably not a good move considering what happens next, but he probably felt he could do no better than that major takedown.
The Escalade still has 300 in front. But it’s going to be gone soon. The guy proceeds to go goes into a stupor, morphing into a chip sniffing hound. He is involved in every other hand, begins to raise and then calls usually with a middle pair. He cracks through the remaining hundreds. He slaps out two more Benjamins from his pocket and gets involved with those. He’s finally then down to counting out 5s, 10 and 20s to try for the 60 table minimum. A half hour later after the full house has torched the Escalade, he’s walking around outside the rail with a too weak gin and tonic in his hand and climbing the hill out of the Poker Pit.
I’m used to the flame out – somebody going on tilt, swearing to everyone around him. But this was a torching. A man searching for his luck, his mojo, and everyone else just waiting for their turn to smoke out a few bills for themselves. After the remaining $560 gets spread among the remaining players, the good ones seem to know how to play and there’s a good banter, good times. Many of us have remnants of the 560 in front of us, making for some healthy cash to play with.
Column intermission: Throughout the trip with the 21 year old kid, she was experimenting with different drinks, knowing they’d only cost the amount of a tip. The White Russian (the drink of the Dude, the Cuban Breeze, the Mojito, a lot of sweets. But once at the poker table, she said when the cocktail waitress came around, she kind of freezes and “just can’t get one of those drinks.” The only thing that came to mind was a beer, a dark beer: Guinness, settling for a Heineken when they didn’t have a Guinness. It’s typical around the poker table – there’s no ice cream drinks here, no Momma’s boys, no one showing up drunk is going to win (though some have tried)…. I’ve decided that poker is really all about sorting out human weakness and knocking them around a little bit. Get too arrogant? We’re going to knock you back a bit, son. Get too scared? We’re going to start raising any bet you make and keep you from climbing out of your hole. Get too predictable? We’re going to tell you what you have better than even you can. Lose your discipline because of a bad beat? You’re going to be coughing your chips out chasing and we’re going to collect. Try to get cute with the pocket Aces and make small bets? We’ll stick around and someone’ll nail the trips to slap you down. It’s the harshest form of reality I know to keep a person grounded. But for some odd reason, I win at this game. Just grinding for a couple of hours at a time and looking for people who just don’t play quite right. And for some inexplicable reason, it keeps me grinning inside every time. I think it’s captured in the Blues best. You don’t feel joy by seeking it out, by being as comfortable as you can be or by what you buy. The real joy is the type of joy you feel anyways despite getting bad breaks, despite hanging out with people who’ve gone to seed, hooded characters who look like they haven’t seen sunlight in a week. These aren’t people at their best, but it’s gritty competition over black coffee and dark beer. I guess that’s why the Blues seem like the best backdrop for poker.
Another couple of hands: So, here’s a couple of situations also at the Luxor that I can’t quite explain why I did what I did but it worked. I’m playing Mike Sherman (http://media.cleveland.com/browns_impact/photo/mike-shermanjpg-615a3c8a940be0d7.jpg) along with “Dev” (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1203005/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t17), a good guy Brit. Now Dev’s been up all night because he just got into town and isn’t adjusted to the time yet. Feels like tea time to him. So, here comes a hand where we end up with 5 players at 10 apiece to see the flop – I’m the Big Blind and I’ve got Ace-3 suited. Flop is Ace-Ace-Ten. I don’t like playing Aces with the 2nd lowest kicker, so I check and it goes around. The 3 comes up on the 4th street, giving me the full house. Again I sense that somebody’s going to jump in and bet which gives me the chance to trap, so I start out checking. A blank comes out on the river, it checks around to Dev who bets 10 into the 50 pot. I raise to 30 with the full house. The other 3 fold. Dev thinks a long time and folds.
Ol’ Mike Sherman, a friendly chatty type who comes off as authentic as can be, sidles up and says, “you going to show that Ace now aren’t you? You got to…”. So, contrary to everything I believe in, I show not just the Ace but the whole full house. Oh – jaa-jaa, people seem to take that in and look at my slow play as some kind of revelation. Well, my brain rattles on this a little and I start thinking that both the showing of the hand and the reaction set me up to be cagey. I don’t think this is true, but want to play around with it anyhow.
So, I start raising with Skalnsky group 4 or 5 hands, the hands Doyle Brunson calls “dangerous”. I’m in raising to 15 with an Ace-10 offsuit. Two callers. The flop comes K-Jack and I run a continuation bet of 30. People stare down now. What’s he up to? I watch body language a lot and try to mix mine up. I’ve noticed that Jennifer Harman (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/ff/Jennifer_Harman.jpg/220px-Jennifer_Harman.jpg) keeps her hands under the table which I thought would be a tell for some players (not her) and I now try to sit that way about ¼ of the time just for the heck of it. Kind of the thinker pose but with your head up, looks like you’ve got something down there. So this lady is staring me down. Generally, the staredowns happen when somebody is looking for a reason to fold. Rather than hold still, I think the way to end the staredown is to show a “tell”, so I wriggle my shoulder up by bouncing my knee a few times. Bing-bang, she folds and the second guy folds.
A few hands later, Dev and I are involved in a pot. Mike Sherman has been showing his hand, his wife has been showing her hand. In fact, in one heads up pre-flop moment that I will never see again, Mrs. Sherman leads off with 15. Everyone folds to Mike Sherman who folds his pockets 10s. He says, “no point in losing family chips…”, which I suppose makes sense on account of the house raking up to $4 of what either he or his wife were going to win. No bragging rights in the Sherman house that night.
Back to the hand with Dev though. I’m dealt a Jack-10 offsuit, which is Sklansky group 6 ¾ I think, hardly worth playing. But I raise to 15 because I feel like people will make bad decisions and this hand will give me some outs. Three people call. The flop comes Ace-Ace-King. Dev bets 20, less than 1/3 of the pot. I’m next to act, and thinking there’ll be more callers, I call on the inside straight draw (16 % chance of getting this). Well, the other 2 fold. So I’m stuck. But I remember the last showdown with Dev, where the 3 times raise worked. Sure enough, he generously checks on the turn and the flop interestingly makes 3 clubs on the board. He bets 25 into the 100 pot. I count to 10, and then suddenly raise to 3 times what he does at 75 and wait. He sets back in his chair and wonders. He asks if I’ll show what I had. I nod. He lays down into the muck an Ace for trips. Mike Sherman says, “well, Dev, you sniffed out that flush”. I say, “Sorry, I think I gotcha there,” and turn up the cards.
Mike Sherman says “Oh, a Jack high flush… no wait, that’s…. one club…. not even a pair, that’s just air that he’s got.” Dev says nothing. People on the other side of the table say “cold…”. Newfound respect emerges again.
Effectively wild. This has been said of pitchers from Goose Gossage to Fernando Rodney today, with maybe Nuke LaLoosh tossed in. I think a lot of sports tactics fall into poker and this one especially so. A few hands later, no one trusts me, and I rake in a nice pot with pocket Queens. It hurts sometimes, but the maniac gets pocket pairs at the same rate as everyone else. But this is amateur hour poker, 1-2 No Limit on a Monday morning, nice people for the most part and I’m just a stooge with a stage for a few minutes. Still it’s fun to see people get knocked down a peg or two even if sometimes it’s myself. I’ve had to turn over the air-in-the-hole a couple of times during this trip also.
Column intermission 2: So, my daughter is not your typical 21 year old. Her boyfriend calls her half Vulcan. So she can do pot odds in her head, can card count, all that good stuff. So we go through the rigors of learning the Sklansky groupings, some standard betting styles and take the trip downtown. In 1986, my Dad did the same for my 21 year old party and making the first stop Fremont Street Vegas always seems to set the right perspective for all that Vegas offers. As Obi Wan once said, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Well now, it’s not all that bad. The El Cortez is a classic, Fremont still has the friendliest dealers around that I’ve found, the 4 Queens has its appeal and a pretty good buffet still. We eventually paused at the Binion’s poker room, both the old time area with the kitchen chairs and the original green felt tables where Johnny Moss or Stu Ungar first played and then to the new pit area with the hall of fame photos on the walls. She recognizes the names of Brunson, Nagreanu but ultimately asks, “why are there no women in any of these pictures?”. Moments like these are when I know I’m different because I’m the Dad of two girls. 10-20 years ago, or maybe with a nephew in tow, I would answer differently and tell of the Amarillo Slim threat (look it up sometime) about women winning the WSOP. But it probably is about time for a woman to win the Big Event, I must agree. “There will be soon….”, I answer.
Tournament at the Mandalay Bay: My daughter and I both signed up for this. I like that the Mandalay has such a low house take: 80 for the tournament and just 13 kept out of the prize pool. But only 10 people are entered in a 9 person table. I’m the 10th man out, meaning I’m the first alternate. There’s a guy who takes the 2nd alternate, but later disappears when distracted by the Notre Dame game on TV. But I don’t understand why a tournament needs to have alternates at all. Can’t we just break into two tables of 5 or 6? Anyhow, I’m on the rail during my daughter’s first tournament which totally stunk, so frown face for the otherwise stellar Mandalay crew. And they lose too when 2nd alternate guy’s cash evaporates as he disappears from the room eventually. When I join finally, I look over a kiddo and say, “honey, you made the Final Table.”.
Bad juju moment at the Mandalay (there’s no Bay in Mandalay, India, don’t you know, so what’s with this name), where Han-Solo-at-60 dude (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-XSZZrWNyny0/UVdxUYoc5WI/AAAAAAAABHQ/Gj6y7r2a1_c/s1600/oldsolo.jpg), rambling on about the prize amount, suggests to everyone that we take the grand prize of 670 and slice off 100 for the 2nd place finisher. Well, there’s still 7 of us at the table and to me, talking about how we’re going to split the pot is ridiculous. But 3-4 people are saying, “yeah, yeah, sounds good” and in my mind I think it is weird that only 1 out of 10 people in the tournament actually gets to win. So I want to agree, but the OCD part of my brain says to not mess with the structure, like that will have a domino effect and other rules will soon be broken (4 card flushes allowed, 2 pair beats 3-of-a-kind declared, that sort of thing). So I flatly refuse and everyone has a collective sneer my way. Anyhow, Senior Han Solo seemingly gets ticked off, starts going all-in at 15 times the Big Blind on every third hand, especially where I am the big blind or I limp in. He gets called down once with his having Q-4 suited but he scores the win with a pair of 4s against Ace-King and then he keeps going. I can never get better than Q-10 and can not pull the trigger against Han. The good daughter, hypnotized by obeying Sklansky’s groups 1-3 can not call anything either. Anyhow, we’re both bled dry by the blinds and are out at 7th place and 5th place. I hate the push-all-in-nonsense tactic, where apparently the rogue player just cranks the all-in with any pair or an Ace-whatever. I hate going in with worse than a coin toss (King-10 or Queen-Jack), so I keep waiting for the 60/40 or 80/20 advantage hand. I know for sure that the very second that I would try this the all-in technique, someone WOULD have a pair of Kings or Queens and I’d be out in one hand. But give credit to Senior Han Solo for having it work for him this day and me for jinxing myself out of the game by the bad juju of not agreeing to give the 2nd place winner some money.
Good juju moment at the MGM. It’s halftime of the Packers game. I wear the Packer colors, so decide to take a break to play poker. There is a table where the all too typical is occurring. 3 players are dominating the betting action, while everyone else seems to be on a spin cycle waiting for their Ace-King to come in. One of the big bettors acts fast despite rolling 100s out with every other pot. He’s kind of a Joe Maddon type (http://www.nopactalent.com/speakerphotos/photos/10184joe-maddon.jpg), amiable to the core, raising with freedom. He dons a Sacramento Kings hat, normally laughable, but with newfound street cred thanks to JC Tran (http://www.bluff.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/JC-Tran-2.jpg). He openly announces what people have when he folds heads up. He makes decisions in about 10 seconds or less while chewing gum. In one instance of a Jack-10-5 flop where I hit trip 5s, I call into a 40 bet. The next round, after an Ace hits, I bet 100 and he announces that I have the pair of Aces against his Queens. Well, he’s wrong, but so what? Yet again, I can’t get over how often people put me on a hand and get it wrong – I think they’re baiting me to fork over what I really have. Well, the good juju moment is when he gets involved with this table’s Escalade man, 18 stacks of hard work and Sacramento Joe loses about 600 in an all-in loss of trip Queens to trip Kings. But instead of steaming or asking the dealer more chips, he nods, takes the loss and then offers 3 fresh Benjamins to the guy he just lost to and says, “you got me that time, mind if I try again?”. Asking another player for change after getting busted is a refreshing alternative to steaming and torching the wallet like I saw at the Luxor.
Meltdown at the MGM: Halftime was soon over, I was up 100 and decided to just stand in front of the Packer/Bear game screen within the poker room. As the games all approach the end of the 4th quarter, there’s an interesting situation occurring one screen over, about 20 feet away. A Yosemite Sam Steeler fan and his wife are there rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego because a Charger loss gets the Steelers into the playoffs. Well, he’s there nagging away on the Chiefs to try harder, “start passing you #@&s, don’t just run. Blitz the [SD QB Rivers] son of a %&$(*%& and make him squeal!”: that kind of thing. Then he’s saying to his honey, “We going to the playoffs! We going to the playoffs!” at least until Succup misses the game winning field goal and the overtime misery sends him into a spin. He storms into the back of the poker room “$%&($*&” loony tune style, pouts until he sees maybe a Chief comeback in the OT and gets back to the screen. Most of us are laughing at his misery with each Chief tease of a win snatched away. So, there was some fun here – but c’mon Yosemite Steeler guy cussing and swearing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnDxPG3KrtA), with your 8-8 record that wouldn’t make the playoffs in any other league. Get OFF THE PLAYOFF FIELD, GET OUT OF OUR CASINO and TAKE YOUR CHEATIN / KICKOFF RETURNING OBSTRUCTING COACH OFF THE FIELD WITH YOU. Crying about how the Chiefs/Steelers were robbed in this game is a little disingenuous when this year’s Steelers have been below water all year and have been to the playoffs, what, 27 times since the 1970s? Enjoy sitting out for the 2nd year in a row, Steeler fan! Wait, was that the rant? Oh yeah, here it is…
Rant: While watching Packers/Bears, another Packer fan busted out and joined me in watching the last few minutes and the Aaron Rodgers 50 yard bomb on the ridiculous Bear blitzing (thank you, Bears) of one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. So this Packer fan says, “Yeah got knocked out despite trip 8s. Guy went all-in on his nut flush draw on the flop, which I totally understand and I called anyway. One more club hits and, well, I was looking to watch the game anyhow.” So, I ask myself, why would an all-in on a nut flush DRAW be a good move heads up? I know the book answer is: because 2 things can happen – either the villain folds and you win what’s in the pot already OR the villain calls and you have 1/3 of a chance of winning anyhow! See? But I don’t see. You’re heads up. You’ve got a 1/3 chance of winning. I’m thinking that the 1/3 of a chance (9 outs over two more cards) is not even right because a couple of those cards will make a pair of the non-suited cards. Like this: first 4 cards are K-clubs+5-clubs+3-spades+8-diamonds. Well, the 5th street could still “hit” with a 3-clubs or 8-clubs which also makes a pair on the board. So you leave somebody with a full house that beats your stinking flush. In short, there’s all kinds of situations where you have 1/3 of a chance of winning, but I don’t see why it’s suddenly a good idea to bet the pot or raise somebody’s bet by a factor of 3. But people do this all the time and we all just accept it because Johnny Chan does it… or something. All I know is that I’m calling these dudes with my 2 pair or trips and I usually win when they DON’T hit the nut flush after all.
Column Intermission 3: A newcomer’s perspective is always interesting. When my daughter was 8 years old and went to Vegas for the first time, she wondered out loud after seeing several hundred semi-porn cards and magazines on the streets, “what is it with all the underwear ads in this city?”. Back to the present, before this trip, my daughter has studied the blackjack hit/stand/double charts, knows Sklansky’s 8 groups of starting hands, learns to card count and then she goes ahead and wins 100 overall in about 5 hours of playing games. What’s the key to her success? Well, by cranking back 2 shots and a gin+tonic in a half hour and proceeding to hit about 75 non-7s in a row in a semi hypnotic state at a 1 AM Craps session at the Monte Carlo. Actually, she didn’t hit everything: missing the table on about one out of every 10 rolls with her Dan Quisenberry/Brad Ziegler delivery. My wife and I had taken her to the Minus 5 bar to chill, then gathered around for a craps session and ran into the EPIC roll. My wife made 250, I made 200, and ol’ lucky 21 made another 200 just messing around with pass line and odds bets. A guy tossing black chips around cashed out for 7,500 after this same session. After the studying was put in, after touring the downtown, after playing smart but conservative poker, the winning was just a matter of drunken luck anyhow. And so it goes…Vegas.