I really love Las Vegas. This was my third trip; once by myself just to check out the what all the hoopla was about, once for a bachelor party and this time with a group of friends just to be “guys”. The town is ALWAYS alive, in a way that New York just can’t match. I should say that it’s different, actually. New York has an “underground” feel while Vegas feels like it’s awake 24/7 in the glaring lights. I had a lot of fun on this trip, but, as usual, mostly around the poker table. I enjoyed moments of the other times I wasn’t at the felt, but not all of them and none of them as much as when the cards were in the air.
The trip started out on a very nervous note. My flight was at 6:25 pm from JFK and it had been raining pretty hard all day. I was pretty sure my flight would be delayed but I checked the JFK website just to be sure. Sure enough, almost all of the flight were taking off late except, oddly, the ones traveling West. Only the East Coast traffic has issues. Still, I figured if I left work at 4:15pm, I wouldn’t have a problem making it. From my past experiences, it only takes about 1 hr. to get to the airport using the AirTrain and the subway or LIRR. At 4:15, I went down to Igor’s desk (my supervisor) to apprise him of the state of our work and give my final rundown on the day’s projects. He was in a desk meeting at the time which meant I couldn’t speak to him until 10 minutes later. Not a huge deal but it started to make me nervous. More nervous was when I realized I had forgotten to pack my sunglasses and spinner! I had been up very late the night before (playing poker with the League, of course!) and it was nearly 3AM when I had packed, forgetting my essential tools of the trade. I gambled that I could make it back to my apartment, pick up the items and then hop on the 2/3 to Flatbush Avenue to get me on the LIRR to Jamaica Station to pick up the AirTrain and STILL be able to make the flight. Besides, I thought, the flight information I had gotten might be erroneous and the flight might actually be delayed a bit because of the weather. I took the gamble and made my over to my apartment, walking quickly with baggage in tow. I ran upstairs, got my glasses and spinner and headed down to the train. I had to watch 3 Uptown trains pass me before a Downtown train finally came. I got to Flatbush Avenue at precisely 5:05 and was able to buy a ticket and make it, barely onto the 5:11 train headed to Jamaica. I thought, “Whew”. I would have plenty of time. The train, however, got to Jamaica and then stood there, just outside the station, waiting for 10 minutes while a train in front of us changed tracks! It was now 5:40 and I still had to check my luggage!! I made it onto the Airtain, got to the JetBlue terminal and was in line to check my baggage at 6:10! I looked up at the flight schedules and the flight was not only still on time, but the final boarding call was being called. “Oh shit,” I thought. Not only might my luggage not make it to Vegas, but I might not even be able to make it to the gate. I tried to cut in front of the other people in line but they wouldn’t budge for me. I finally got the counter and quickly explained my predicament. The counter agent said I MIGHT be able to get the luggage on this flight but he wasn’t making any promises. Furthermore, I had to sign an affidavit that stated I knew that my bag might not be there when I arrived and I might not receive it until tomorrow (this being the day’s last JetBlut flight to Vegas). I signed, and ran as fast as I could towards the gate. When I got the gate entrance, the line for the security checkin was at least 50 people long but this time I went directly to the first security agent and explained myself. He brought me to the front of the line and I made it through quickly. I ran onto the plane with only 30 seconds to spare and they literally locked the door right behind me.
I took my designated exit row seat (thank you Jet Blue) and with perspiration still beading on my forehead, we taxied onto the runway. The flight, amazingly enough, was actually an hour shorter than advertised and turned out to be a very quick 4hrs and 55 minutes. I was in the middle seat and the guy on the aisle commented incredulously that neither I nor the guy on the window had gotten up throughout the whole trip. When I got off the plane, I headed to the baggage claim office where I braced myself for the possibility that my baggage would not arrive. In that case, I was informed, I would have to come to the airport the next morning to pick up my bag arriving on the morning flight. On a side note, it turns out there is absolutely no luggage tracking system at all. The office in Las Vegas could not tell me if my bag made it. I would have to watch the luggage carousel until it ran out of bags and if mine didn’t come down, I would wearing the same clothes for two days in a row. L In probably the luckiest thing to happen to me in the entire trip, my bag was the FIRST one off the carousel and I was able to get out to the taxi stand early! Wow! That definitely brought a smile to my face. I hopped in a taxi and headed to the Hard Rock Hotel for the start of what I hoped would be an outstanding vacation.
It was Wed. night and I got into my hotel room at around 10:30pm Vegas time. It was 1:30am according to my body clock but I didn’t feel it at all. The Hard Rock Hotel is very small but very very cool. The casino floor is a big circle around which are all the other parts of the hotel, like the cashier cage, the sports book and the registration desk. Being a Hard Rock Hotel, there is a huge amount of memorabilia all around including signed guitars, costumes used by various rock stars and a huge collection of Beatles stuff right off the casino floor. There were a lot of little touches too, that I liked. The wall sconces were all made out of actual drum symbols, the rooms were huge with big plasma TV’s and Bose Wave radios and the black jack tables had large pictures of guitar picks on them instead of the regular plain betting circles you see in most casinos. The clientele was very young and VERY hot. Eye candy was everywhere and the dress code seemed to be “dress as slutty as possible without regard to height or weight”. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun to be there. On the downside though, there is no poker room there and it is a good distance from the Strip. The first night I got there, I decided to seek out a poker room and find a copy of CardPlyaer magazine which would have a listing of all the daily tournaments in town. The nearest poker room was at the Aladdin and I made the trek by foot which turned out to be nearly 20 minutes. The room itself at the Aladdin was pitiful, the main one still being under construction. This was just 10 or so tables roped off in the middle of the empty area in front the conference center on the mezzanine level. On the plus side, it was away from the main casino floor and therefore quiet and nearly smoke free. The room was nearly empty when I got there with only three 1-2 NL tables going, it being a Wed. night after all. I decided not to play, deciding instead to go back to the Hard Rock (in a cab this time) and play some table games before going to sleep. The next morning, I got up with full intention of getting into a tournament. It turns out, the Luxor has a Noon tournament with a low $30 buyin so I got some breakfast and then headed over (another cab ride). The tourney structure, which is not printed in the magazine, sucked major ass. For $30 + $3, you get 600 in chips with 20 minute rounds and blinds starting at 25/25. It’s obvious, given the low buyin, that the tournament is there strictly to bring players into the room and not to necessarily host good poker. Regardless of the situation, I was able to cash in the tourney, placing 4th out of 39 players. Even with the relatively high placement (the top 6 paid out), I only got $55 for my troubles and the $22 profit didn’t seem worth it. But I was still very happy I was able to cash given the tough circumstances. I played very well against a group of mostly donkeys and I was able to accumulate chips at a steady pace making good bluffs pre-flop on the button and putting obvious amateurs all in when they called the flop and I had caught the top pair. They almost all called when they had either flopped middle pair or had a lower pocket pair. I was sucked out on once, which put a dent in my stack but I was still feeling good about my chances of making the money when I hit the final table as the 5th stack. I emplyed my strategy successfully, doubling through a larger stack and holding tight while the smaller stacks self destructed. I even caught a break when the 2nd stack gave all his chips to the 1st stack to put him out in 6th place. I busted the 5th place finisher with pocket Jacks vs. his pocket 6’s, but I was finally caught when I got Kd6d in the BB and got two limpers into the pot. I reraised all in, trying to steal a pot which would have increased my chip stack by almost 40%. Instead, I was called by a slightly larger stack who had QsTs. I was a favorite to win the hand but the flop was Ks6s7s. I had flopped two pair, which I thought was good initially until I saw his flush. I had some outs to make a boat but it didn’t come and I was out in 4th in a good showing.
After the high of the tourney win, I wanted to relax a bit and I headed over to the Excalibur for some low limit 2-4. The Excalibur is the best place on the strip to play 2-4 because of the low quality of players and also the famous ‘Wheel’. The Wheel is just that, a wheel at the end of the poker room marked with denominations from 20 to 100 and with a bar labeled Double and one labeled Triple. You get to spin the wheel for free if you have 4 of a kind or higher or if you hold pocket Aces that get cracked (like that ever happens! ;-) ). If you hit a Double or Triple, you get to spin again and the resulting item is either doubled or tripled. You could even hit double or triple one more time and then spin again. The maximium payout is $600 for the wheel. A few things, though, make this not nearly as good a deal as it used to be. First of all, they used to give you double the amount that was showing on the wheel and they had discontinued that just a week before. Also, the pocket Aces spin used to require only $10 in the pot to qualify, nearly ensuring it would always happen when your Aces got cracked. Now, the pot must contain $30, which means, in a 2-4 game, that there must be contentious multi-way action for the pot to grow that large. Also, it changes the dynamic of your Aces. Where you used to be able to just check and call down the whole way in the hopes your Aces would get cracked, now with a pot over $30, you might be LOSING money if you don’t win (20 and 25 being the most common spaces on the wheel). So now the Wheel spin is more consolation prize for Aces. Still, I sat at the table and the floor person told me that this table had just completed a class on how to play and they might be a little slow to act. Would I mind this? HA! I graciously sat down and proceeded to run the table. The beginners predictably called all the way down with any part of the flop and gave up lots of chips to me. But, as they busted out, one by one, and as dinner time crept up, the easy fish game broke up and was replaced by folks who at least knew what they were doing. This, plus my very generous tipping to the dealers ($2-$3 a pot) and the rake, pretty much ensured that I wasn’t going to make much of a profit. IN fact, I left after a few hours exactly even, cashing out with the same $100 I started with. I had had pocket Aces twice and they didn’t get cracked either time making this the fourth time I’ve had the opportunity to spin and wasn’t able to! Grrrrr… Still, I consoled myself with those white checks they were pushing toward me. I had sat for about 4 hours, spread a lot of money around in tips and tokes and drank for free. That sounds like a successful day to me!
Scott came in from the airport that night at about 8:30 and I went back to the Hard Rock to meet him. Immediately after he got to the room, he splashed water on his face and we proceeded to hit the casino floor. I joined the group in some blackjack, which I got hosed on, and some Pai-Gow, which I won with. We had some dinner at the 24 hour diner and looked at our watches. It was midnight. Did we want to go and gamble some more. Hell yes! But we stayed at the hotel which meant no more poker for me that night. We hit the room at around 3AM and fell asleep knowing tomorrow would be another beautiful day in the desert.
We got up at around 9AM and had some breakfast. Some of Scott’s friends expressed interest in joining a poker tourney, so I looked up the list and it turned out there was a 11AM tourney at the MGM Grand. If we ate breakfast quickly, we could make it. So we shoveled some food in and got in the taxi line. We made it to the MGM Grand poker room at 10:45 exactly, surely enough time to register. But the MGM has one of the more popular poker rooms and it turns out the registration was full! We could get on the alternate list, but that didn’t seem like the thing to do, so we headed over to the cash 1-2 NL game. We sat down at the table and I proceeded to get killed. Well, not all at once but one big hand put me on a bit of tilt. I bought in for $200 (the maximum) and I was up to about $245 when I looked down in middle position at AA (What else?). The standard raises at the table had been to about $10 and I was hoping would raise in front of me but they all folded. When it got to me, I decided to put in a raise to $7 which I thought would be enough to bring in a mediocre drawing hand but drive out the complete trash. It worked and I got calls from the 9th seat and the button. The flop was relatively innocuous with JhTh3c. I was worried about JT more than anything else but I thought anyone with KQ or AJ would think there hand was excellent here. I checked the action, fully intending to completely lay down the hammer on any bet. The 9th seat, whom I knew to be pretty wild and aggressive bet out 25 and the button called. I sat for a second contemplating. There was now $74 in the pot and taking it down right now would suit me fine. I re-raised $100 more, putting $125 in front of me. My hope, obviously was that the initial bettor would be wild enough to call a straight draw or an AJ and that the button, whom I thought was on a flush draw given his call, would fold. Unfortunately, I had the completely wrong read and I had been trapped with a beauty. The 9th seat folded with a grimace to me and the button moved all in with $33 more. I was obviously pot committed at this point and thought he might still be on a flush draw. Instead, he turned over JJ for the flopped top set and crushed me. I had doubled him up and left myself with about $65. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure how I could have gotten away from those Aces so I’m not too upset about it, just pissed at the circumstances. I busted out soon afterwards and bought in for another $100, going through that in another hour, when I bought in for another $100. By this time, though, I had cooled down and was starting to think clearly again. I proceeded to run my stack back up to $390 (!) before hitting a cold run of draws that pulled me back to $292. Still, I had salvaged the night and I’m sure I could have even gone into the black (I was in SUCH a zone) if we didn’t have to leave for our dinner reservations. This is one of the drawbacks of a poker trip, obviously. When you go with a group, you generally have to do as the group does. To make it worse, no one in the group was really a “poker player” the way I am, so I didn’t have a ‘partner-in-crime’ so to speak.
Dinner was at the Palm Steakhouse in Caesars Palace. The place is a replica of the Palms in Manhattan and the atmosphere is very congenial. The appetizers (Clams Casino and a butter and shrimp concoction) were excellent as was the Silver Oaks bottle of wine we bought. I ordered the Prime Rib, rare, and they came out with an absolutely enormous bone-in hunk of meat that had to have been at least ¾” thick and about 40oz. The outside was completely charred all around and the inside looked very rare, until I cut it open. It was medium, not rare. There was a portion of rare in the very middle but not enough to justify the high price. I had much better prime rib at Excalibur 2 years ago and it was cheaper to boot! So the steak was disappointing but I still had a good time. When we got back to the Hard Rock, the guys went off to the club Body English which is supposed to be really happening but I just wasn’t in the mood to spend another $150 to sit around and ogle women. Plus, all the other guys know each other from high school and I was definitely was the odd man out. So I opted to play Pai-Gow instead and spent the entire night chatting it up with 2 girls from Philadelphia. I broke even at Pai Gow and had a nice night. The guys raved about the club but I could only think about poker the next day.
When the guys finally left the club at 1:30am, an impromptu decision was made to go to a strip club. This time, I didn’t refuse. We climbed into a van and headed off to Sapphire’s, billed as the world’s largest strip club. It certainly is impressively large. After paying the cover charge, we walked in to a mostly empty room. Or it would have been in most clubs. There must have been about 100 customers in there, but because the space was the size of a small convention center, it felt empty inside. We got seats near one of the stages and were immediately attacked by girl after girl after girl. I can’t say it wasn’t pleasant. I got a lap dance from one particularly friendly girl and I loved it (I ain’t gonna lie to ya). It was then that I had the most unpleasant experience of my entire trip. The girl got off of me and tried to sell herself to Alan, one of the guys I had come in with. I told Alan he wouldn’t be disappointed.
Alan said to me, “I don’t know how many strip clubs you’ve been to, but how was it?”.
I said, “a 9”.
He said, “Hey douchebag. Try telling me something else. A 9? What the fuck does that mean?”
That really pissed me off. I have to pause here to mention something about the group dynamic. Scott and I are good friends, which is why he invited me on this trip. The rest of the guys were old friend of Scott’s from high school. I had seen some of them before, but Alan and a few others I had never met. So when I get called a ‘douchebag’ by a guy who’s never met me in a strip club, I tend to get pretty upset. He wasn’t saying it in a mock-friendly way either. It was a straight up insult. He had done this before in the last few days but I had shrugged it off because it was in front of the other guys and I thought it was just the way he was. But this was too personal for me. It put me in a bad mood the rest of the night. Being in a bad mood I a strip club is a pretty awful thing and I left soon afterwards, doubly upset that my trip had now been spoiled.
We got up early on Saturday and Scott and I decided to throw on some clothes and head to the 10AM tourney at the Aladdin. The other guys were still fast asleep so it was just the two of us. The tourney was much the same as the Luxor tourney, except it was a much better structure. $50+$10 got you 2000 chips and blinds starting at 25/50. With 31 entries, and a bunch of late entries, I made it all the way to 12th place. I hade $3400 in chips when I picked up AhQh in the 4th seat. 3400 wasn’t much and the blinds were coming to me at 400/800 so I decided to try to steal the pot right there with an all in, figuring I’d probably be at least a 50/50 to any call. I did get called on the button by a guy with twice my chip stack. He had TT and I couldn’t pair up for the win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You have to win a few coin flips in order to cash in a tourney. That one would have put me in a good position to make the money. Oh well. Scott, on the other had, was monstrous and not only made it to the final table, but managed to go all the way to 2nd place, losing in a heads up battle. He cashed for $251 on his $60 + $60 (he had rebought in when he busted out early on) for a nice $131 profit. Good going! The other guys came to meet us at the Aladdin and most of us signed up for the 1 PM tourney, except Scott who was still playing his final table at this time. I did poorly in this one, never able to play my big blind and finally losing when I pushed all in with 55 and getting 4 callers! The tourney’s big stack, who had Js9s, caught a 9 which amazingly stood up against all that competition. We had a guy from our group go deep, but he busted out in 9th place to just miss the money by 3 places out of 60 buyins.
After the tourney, I sat down at a 3-6 limit game and I didn’t move from that spot for the next 6 hours. I was up $125 at one point and then down $50 but I finally finished up a whopping $4. Again, I had been very generous with my dealer tokes and they loved me. The conversation around the table was a lot of fun and the dealers were great. It was the best time I had at the table the entire trip.
Dinner was going to be at the MGM Grand at Emeril’s but I was still pretty sore from what happened the night before. Scott mentioned the incident just before dinner and I got upset all over again, so much so that I couldn’t bear the thought of having dinner with a group of guys. I opted out and instead ate at one of the other restaraunts by myself (the seafood noodles were excellent). After dinner, I calmed down enough to rejoin Scott and a few others on a walking tour of some of the other hotels. Specifically, we went to the Wynn, which is an incredibly georgeous place with this fantastic waterfall off in one of the rooms. The clientele at this place was way hotter than anything I imagined and our mouths were agape. This is clearly how the rich and famous live, we were just looking. We walked over to the Venetian afterwards and looked around there as well. The Venetian is equally beautiful, but in a different way. We also decided to spend the rest of the night in the card room there. The Venetian’s card room is the newest on the strip and it shows. The chips are not quite smoothed out yet, making them difficult to shuffle and the tables (suede felt!) are incredible. I played 4-8 limit while the other guys plays 1-2NL. I was down early after losing more than half my chip stack in a single pot. I was dealt 88 in the 9th seat and I saw about 7 people limp in front of me. I limped too and saw a beautiful flop. 8h3c5c. I had flopped top set with only a flush draw to worry about. A few people bet in front of me and I raised it up, getting a few callers. The turn was an As. Perfect. Anyone who was looking for an Ace would now have there hand and probably thing they were good to go. A guy in the 5th seat led out and I put him on an Ace. I raised again and he reraised me. Now I thought he might have two pair (A5?). I called and the river was a Jh. Again, he bet, I raised and he re-raised. Now I grew suspicious and just called. He flipped over 2h4h for the wheel straight and I was crushed. You could light a cigarette off my forehead after that but I pulled it together and tried to build back up. The table soon broke up after that and there were 3 players, myself included, who wanted to move to 2 available spots. We drew cards and I drew the low card, which meant I would have to sit and wait. Wonderful. What a way to spend my last night in Vegas. While I was stewing, Scott was cleaning up at the 1-2 table, more than doubling his money by the time we left. A spot soon opened up for me and I was much more successful. The cards started flowing and I was conducting the table like an orchestra. My best hand was when I limped from the buttong with Kd9d and flopped 2d5d7d for the King high flush. I was in position to boot and I played it perfectly except for one detail. A woman in the 3rd seat kept bet out at the pot and I called along with 3 others. The turn was Ah. Perfect! Now I can reraise, pretending I have the Ace and she won’t get suspicious about the flush. In fact, if I’m lucky, she’ll be betting out because she has a set. She did lead out again and I reraised. She called (hoping for a boat?). The river was a black 4 and I was now in the lead with the third nuts. She bet and here’s where I made my mistake. Instead of taking time to act like I only had the Ace, I immediately re-raised. What I should have done was to question, out loud, what she could have. This would make her think I had a weaker hand so when I put in my reraise, she might come over the top. Instead, she just called and showed JdTd for the lower flush! She was very shrewd not to reraise in that situation and I could have induced it if I hadn’t been so anxious.
I ended the session down about $60, which is almost exactly what I lost on that first big pot. We headed back to the hotel exhausted but happy.
The flight back the next day was uneventful except for the fact that Southwest sucks ass. Instead of assigned seating, they split up the entire flight into groups A, B and C depending on how early you checked in. Scott and I had checked in the night before, so we were in group B. You get to board the plane in group order and once you’re on, you can take any seat you want! Because of this inane system, it’s in your best interest to be in line at the gate as early as possible. So instead of wandering the airport and entertaining ourselved before our flight, Scott and I were forced to stand in line for an hour just waiting. Once we were on board, I noticed that the seats did NOT have TV’s (this ain’t JetBlue) and the seats were considerably narrower than what I was used to. Scott took the window seat and promptly fell asleep. I took the aisle seat and watched in horror as a football player sized man sat between us. My knees were together the whole flight. Once we were back in New York (Islip), Scott was going to drive me to the train station to catch a train to Manhattan, but he had a flat tire. So we limped over to a gas station and filled it up with air. I finally got back home at about 1:15am.
The trip had it’s moments but it wasn’t the best that I’ve ever had. Still, I’m thankful to Scott for inviting me. The next time I go, though, I’m going with poker players! J