Arizona trip report - Day 1
The flight to Phoenix airport was completely uneventful. The flight took off ontime, landed 30 minutes early, and I was in my rental car and on the road within 45 minutes of landing. It was approx. 11PM local time when I landed, which means 1AM on my body clock. But I couldn't fall asleep anytime soon because it was a one hour drive to my hotel in Eloy, AZ, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. I reached Eloy, a small little desert town off the highway, with no problems and checked into my room. The nice gentleman who was manning the desk suggested I eat a late supper (I was starving) at the truck reststop diner a few hundred yards down the road. It was cold, about 40 degrees and I drove the distance. The diner was made specifically for truck drivers and I got a few uninterested looks when I walked in. The Bob Seger song, "Turn The Page", flashed through my head (~you can feel the eyes upon you, as you're shaking off the cold~). My late dinner was a few pieces of rye toast and some scrambled eggs and I went back to my room and drifted off to sleep.
My body clock woke me up, rudely, at 6:45am local time. The sun had not yet come out, but it was close, and the thought of sunrise photography flashed through my mind. Immediately, I raced to put my clothes on, grabbed my camera gear, and ran out the door. The sun was actually up, but still hidden behind the mountain range in the distance and I waited patiently in the morning cold for the moment when the sun would make it's grand entrance to the visible sky. I was in the empty and desolate parking lot of a Mexican restaurant across the street. Beyond the parking lot lay a vast emptiness of desert, shrubs and strange looking vegetation of all sorts. Finally, the sun came out and though it was shrouded in clouds and mist, it was a glorious sight and a perfect start to the trip.
My first casino stop was in Tucson at a place called Casino Del Sol. It was a very quick 45 minute trip and when I arrived, I was happy to see a local fair of some sort taking place in the parking lot. There were tamale stands set up and I found out from the locals that it was a tamale festival; sort of the general equivalent to a chili cook-off. About a dozen local restaurants had set up booths and were cooking homemade tamales for the public to try. I feasted, naturally. I had a green corn tamale stuffed with pork (outstanding and very spicy) and a yellow corn tamale stuffed with chicken. Both were excellent and made a great southwestern breakfast. The parking lot also had a stage set up where about 18 children, aged 7 to 17, all dressed in Mexican mariachi regalia, were playing mariachi music with gusto. And they were excellent musicians. When the 11 year old with the trumpet started belting out his jazz flavored solo, I was mightily impressed.
I watched for a few minutes, getting a few shots in, and then headed into the casino for my first taste of Arizona poker!
The room at Casino Del Sol is smallish, at around 8 or 9 tables, and there was a single game of 2-250 spread limit going on at the moment with 3 people on the waiting list. Some explanation is in order. Arizona, like California, doesn't have *true* No Limit poker. By state law in Arizona the maximum a person can wager in a single bet is $500. What this means is that anytime the action is to you, you can bet or raise up to $500. If you have a stack of $1000 in front of you, and you'd like to go all in, you can't. You can, however, get raised and then re-raise in $500 increments. What this means is that this is essentially a limit game. Howerver, unlike in fixed limit where the wager amounts are the same all the time, this is a *spread* limit game where the wager amounts are determined by each player within a certain range. In this case, the range was $2-250. So it acts like a limit game (3 raise maximum, etc...) but the bets are variable up to a cap. Got that?
In essence, and with only a few exceptions, the game acts like no limit poker. The 2-250 game has $1/$2 blinds and betting is similar to 1-2 NLHE in all aspects. But it occurred to me a few days later when discussing the peculiarities of spread limit poker with another player that there is one situation in which this form of poker can be gamed in such a way as to completely change how the game functions. This has to do with the cap on the number of raises. Remember, this is a limit game at the end of the day so there is a bet+3 raise limit to betting. So, let's say you're in a situation where the betting is something like this:
You hold JT suited on the button. UTG+1 raises to $6. It folds around to seat 8 who re-raises to $15. At this point, in a normal NLHE game, you might feel adverse to flat calling the re-raise to $15 because you would fear the large re-raise of UTG+1 who, after all, opened up the betting. But you can avoid that situation in this spread limit format by min-raising the re-raise! The raise from $6 to $15 constitutes a $13 raise, so by re-re-raising to $28 ($15+$13), you've capped the betting on that round. UTG+1 will be forced to either call or fold, as well as the re-raiser. What you've done, in effect, is limit the amount you have to put in to see the flop and can now snap off any AA or KK with your suited connectors for a relatively cheap price. This defeats the purpose of No Limit, where a player can make it too expensive to see a flop. Here, the implied odds of cracking a deep stacked player's large pocket pair might justify capping the betting with a min-raise to take a flop!
Luckily, this situation is pretty rare. The game acts like a normal 1-2 nlhe game in all respects when I saw it in action. So there I was, looking at this full 2-250 spread limit game and a bunch of players started congragating for what looked like a tourney about to start. I inquired and found out that a $15 Omaha Hi-Lo tourney was about to go off with 30 players. I jumped at the chance, ponied up my money and started playing. The structure of the tourney was completely awful. The 12 minute blinds actually dropped to 8 minutes after the fourth level whent he rebuy period stopped. With the 2 rebuys allowed and the add-on, a player could bust out at the end of the third level and do BOTH his rebuys and addon and have a bigger stack than someone who's been winning consistently through the tourney thus far. It was impossible to know what a *normal* chipstack should be and combined with the huge blinds, it was hard to classify this tourney as anything but bingo poker. I actually made it to the final table, but busted out 8th. Top 3 paid and cest la vie.
I collected my chip and headed over to the Desert Diamond casino, also in Tucson. The room was smaller than Casino Del Sol (and no tamales!) with a 4-8 lhe game the only action. I played for 30 minutes, collected my souvenier dollar chip and hit the road for Globe, AZ. I had plenty of time to hang out in Tucson if I'd wanted since the drive to Globe was only about 2 hours, and I should have stayed to see the city. But my poker wanderlust told me to hit the road. It was a mistake, as it turns out, since the casino in Globe, the Apache Gold, was awful. The poker room had no games going on at 4:30p on a Saturday evening! The poker officially opened at 6pm and I was supposed to stay the night there but I was so jazzed with adrenaline that the thought of staying at this dumpy casino and playing 3-6 (maybe) was depressing. The drive up to the casino was beautiful mountain scenery and the next leg of my trip would bring me through even higher mountain ranges.
I decided to ditch my pre-paid hotel room and head up to the Hon-Dah casino in Pinetop, AZ and spend the night there. It was a pleasant drive there and while the light was still out, I saw some particularly beautiful scenery. The light as it catches the redrocks of northern Arizona are a real sight to see. Hon-Dah was also a small place, with only a single 3-6 lhe game going on, but at least it was later in the day when I got there. I played 2.5 hours of limit, losing $200 in the process and finally picked up, frustrated, when I had to go eat. I ate a really good prime rib buffet dinner at the casino and drove out to find a motel for the night. Driving west of the casino, about 15 miles, I stopped in the town of Show Low, a quiet mountain town (like South Park, yes!) and bedded down for the night there at a Days Inn. On the way, I saw most of the town had lined the Main Street on either side, camped out in the darkness in winter jackets, snuggies, blankets and clutching mugs of hot cocoa. I pulled over to ask someone what was going on. I didn't want to miss a fireworks show or a meteor shower (especially in the clear star spangled mountain sky). Turns out it was just the local "lights festival parade" which they do every year leading up to the lighting of the town's Christmas tree. I debated staying to check it out but decided against it. Before I actually went to sleep, though, I did manage to get a few pictures of a house that was very prettily made up for the season. Show Low is a very cute small town.
More to come...