Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Arizona trip report - Part 8 of 8

Arizona Trip Report - Day 8

Viv and I woke up on the late side and groggily got out of bed to get ready for the day. We went down to the hotel restaurant for "brunch", which was really just lunch since it was around noontime. Outside of New York, "brunch", if they have it at all, is strictly a Sunday affair. This whole thing we're used to here of having special breakfast and lunch options available on Saturday or Sunday from 11a-4p is really a Manhattan thing. Too bad too, because the rest of the country could use a few more brunchy type places. I ended up having some crab cake sliders and a side of fruit to start my day and the sliders were excellent! The restaurant, which sits in the resort overlooking the golf course, was a very grand affair, but mostly empty. I suspect the economy has had a big toll on tourism in Arizona, and definitely in the wintertime when it's harder to golf.

After lunch, we headed to Old Town in Scottsdale, which is the main shopping area. This section is done up to look like an old west style town, with two story adobe buildings, wooden store signs and canopys and even a few swinging wooden doors. I think the building actually date from that period, hence the look, but the stores are not sawdust joints at all. There's quite a bit of high end shopping and a ton of art galleries. I was in the market to get a few Christmas gifts for Ali and her family and Viv was nice enough to come along. I wish I could describe in detail here what I found, but Ali reads this blog and I don't want to spill the surprise of her gift! Suffice it to say, it's very beautiful and in excellent taste (Viv helped pick it out, natch). I also got some nice items for her sister and mother. Amazingly enough, everything I got them was purchased from the same store, the Four Winds Jewelry store in Old Town Scottsdale. If you're in the area and looking for tasteful version of southwestern style jewelry (no clunky ugly turquoise here), I highly recommend it.

As we were walking around, it occurred to me that I could probably use something for myself too, as a memento. I decided on getting a money clip, which I've never used (I have a George Costanza wallet), but which my brother has recently convinced me to try. But not just any money clip; I wanted one with an Eagle Dancer on it. In the hotel we were staying at in Scottsdale is a 3 foot sculpture of an Eagle Dancer, which is a spiritual symbol for the Hopi Indians who populate this land. The sculpture was great but a little freaky. It looked like Iron Man, circa 1966, with feathers running along his back and arms and an eagle mask on his head. Viv, Chris and I took a picture in front of it and it intrigued me so much I thought a money clip with that symbol on it would make a great memento of the trip.
(This is not the sculpture, but you'll get the idea)

Alas, there was none to be found. After dragging Viv into more than half a dozen stores, I couldn't find a single example. Too bad. I'll try Ebay or Google next.

Our shopping trip was short and purposeful, and though I really wanted to peruse the galleries, I could tell that Viv was itching to get another crack at the $2-$5 tables. Besides for which, the galleries were showing mostly southwestern art in their windows and I hate southwestern art. Native Americans and wolves make for really bad artwork. I like the works of Frederic Remington, and a few other painters and sculptors of the western genre, but I mostly detest what passes as southwest 'artwork' these days. The test I normally apply here is, "Do they sell this in the mall?". That weeds out a vast majority of the crap sold as art these days. My next test is, "Is this the work of an 'artist', or somebody who paints for money?". That weeds out most of the rest. With few exceptions, the universe of works that remain can be considered 'art' in my mind, though my own taste and preferences lead me in a particular direction. Oh, one more thing on this subject; There is a special place in hell devoted to Thomas Kinkade, the self-styled "Painter of Light". Vermeer, and the rest of the Dutch school, knew how to paint light. This guy is a total hack. If you own a Thomas Kinkade painting, you are a tool and you have zero taste. Here endeth the rant.

So we made our way back to Casino Arizona and went back to our respective tables; Viv to the $2-$5 and me to the $1-$2 table. I don't remember how I did it, but I managed to run $160 into $360 by playing tight and conservative. For the life of me, I can't remember a single hand during this little session, but I was playing well and getting paid off when I had it. After 3 hours, I picked up and Viv and I, and her friend's friend Larry, all went out to dinner at The Mission in Old Town Scottsdale. The place had been recommended to me by more than a few locals and it was great. In addition to having a very young and hip club vibe, the food (Nuevo Latino) was outstanding. We had a great time chowing down on the local cuisines and after graciously stuffing ourselves, at a slow and even pace, we were ready to attack the casino again. I went back to another $1-$2 table that was looser and more aggressive than my previous one. I waited for hands and finally got lucky with pocket Kings. I was in the SB and a few people limped (a rare occurrence). I popped it to $15 and got re-raised by the BB to $45. It folded back to me and I slid out $100 total. He insta-shoved for his stack of $240 and I quick called. He sighed audibly and said, "you got me" and flipped up AQo (?!?!?!). Granted, it was 2:00a when this hand occurred and he was tired, but really? After 3 bets PF you shove with AQo? Man, that's bad. I turned over KK and the flop came K42. A guy said, "Oh man, I folded pocket fours!" before his friend pointed out I had hit my set anyway. A 2 on the turn boated me up and closed the deal. The guy got up and said, "Oh well, I wanted to go home anyway". What a nice gift!

I held on to my profit for the rest of the night, not going up or down. One hand where I could have made an additional $200 bothered me for a bit. I had JJ, again in the SB. Again three people limped in. I raised to $20. This was a very big PF raise for this table, so with just three limpers, I expected to collect the blinds and move to the next hand. But no, two players completed their limps and called. Hmmm... I was first to act on a flop of T52. A seemingly harmless flop. I put out $30 and the first person called! The second player...min-raised to $60! WHAT. THE. HELL?!? So now I was faced with a conundrum here. I was either ahead of two players or way behind. If either have an over pair to me that they're slowplaying, I'm toast. If either have a set, I'm toast. The only way in which I'm good here is if one has a flush draw and one has top pair. If that's the case, I have to basically shove to drive out the flush draw and hope that the guy with top pair likes his hand enough to call! But what if I do that and both players get committed to the hand? In that case, JJ is a dog to stand up to two hands. So I did the prudent thing, and folded. The first caller called the min-raise to $60 and the turn was a brick. First player checks and the min-raiser shoves for $140 more. The first player thinks about it and calls and shows AT (top pair/top kicker), the raiser shows A4 for a useless over and a flush draw! The river bricked and the AT took down the big pot with a pair of Tens. It made me sick to think about it, but I have to think that 8 times out of 10, faced with the same situation, I am well behind there. I posed the question to Viv, "What would you have done?", and the answer was "Raise and find out where you stand". Of course, that's what she always says. My problem was that I'd have to raise to $160 in that scenario and I'd have about $200 left behind. If one of the players then shoves for $400, I'd probably have to fold. But if I call and he shows a set, I'd be the moron who stacked off on an overpair. As a wise man once said, "Don't go broke on one pair". Makes sense to me.

I cashed out at 1:00a +$240, which is perfectly fine for me. For the rest of the night, until 6:30a (nice cracked out session!), I played $3-$6 O/8. They had a Monte Carlo promotion going, which meant that from 3:00a through 9:00a, they had high hand one-time jackpots for any quads, a straight flush and a royal flush. Quad deuces through 9's paid $400. Quad 10's through Aces paid $450, a Straight flush paid $500, and a Royal Flush paid $599. Each hand would be paid only once, so once it was hit the bonus was gone. The best part was that they allowed Omaha tables to participate! Obviously, attendance at the Omaha guy was heavy and the table was full for the entirety of my session. The locals liked this promotion so much that even the straight hold'em players switched to $3-$6 O/8 for that time period. A new O/8 table opened up at 4:00a!!!! While, 4 players at my table did hit a bonus, I wasn't able to capitalize. I flopped sets 6 times but couldn't quad up. I had straight flush draws twice and a Royal draw once. The Royal draw was a sick wrap. I had A2KT in my hand. A great PF Omaha hand, but I didn't raise it. In fact, no one raised. The unwritten rule for this promotion is to come into the hand only with eligible hands and then limp and check the hand all the way down, betting only if the board can't make a bonus. The reason is that if you bet other people out of the pot, the hand might not complete to the river and then a winner won't get paid. So my flop with my big and unbet hand is QJ4. I flopped a wrap Broadway draw, two straight flush draws and the Royal draw. But none of my cards hit. In fact, I didn't even get the low, nor did I make a straight or a flush! The board ran out 24 for an awful hand and I mucked. Yeesh. Still, the promotion was a lot of fun and I only left because I was super tired and Viv and I needed at least a few hours before going to the airport the next morning...errrr, this morning.

We cashed out, drove to the hotel, slept for 3 hours, got up, checked out and drove to the airport, boarded the flight and landed in JFK about 35 minutes late but without any other issues. Oh, as we drove out of the casino, I took this picture:

Viv and I, the night before had actually seen these wild horses a few hundred yards off the road. It was an amazing sight to see them grazing in the desert grasses.

It had been a tremendous trip, both profitable (+$930) and interesting. I really would like to go back to Phoenix and Scottsdale because I feel like I missed a good part of the city and it might be worth seeing. It's no New York, true, but few are. Actually, none are. Still, it looks very pleasant. Maybe I can take a golf outing with someone?

My next trip is already planned for March. I'll be flying into LAX and taking a week to drive up the coast into San Francisco. I can't wait. I'll be in Paris for New Year's with Ali and then a long winter until Los Angeles.

And that's all she wrote for now. Join my dead pool!!!!

Arizona trip report - Part 7 of 8

Arizona Trip Report - Day 7

Chris, Viv and I woke up just in time to shower, dress and check out of the Harrah's hotel. It wasn't the best place I ever stayed, but it wasn't the worst and the price (FREE) couldn't be beat. Rather than going back to Wild Horse Pass, we headed over to Casino Arizona, which is where the best action in the state was. I wanted to play in the $3-$6 O/8 game, which is my achilles heel but I love the game so much! Alas, there wasn't a seat available at the moment so I put my name on the list and sat at an open seat at the $1-$2 table ($2-$250 spread limit hold'em). My second hand at the table, I get 68 in late position. There's a few limps and I come along and the flop is A57. OESD on the flop. There a bet of $10 and 4 people call. I call and the turn is the 3. It checks all around. River is the 4. It checks to the first bettor, who bets $20. One guy calls. Now, I pop it to $60. I have the stone nuts with the straight to the 8 but the board is perfect for me. Any 2 or 6 makes a lower straight and I'm hoping at least one of the mooks who're in the pot has one. Maybe both. If I'm really lucky, one of them will shove! It gets back to the initial bettor who, inexplicably, folds. I'm guessing he had a high Ace since he led out the betting on the flop, or two pair that he wisely gave up. The other caller tanks for a few seconds and then makes a crying call saying, "If you've got 6-8, you've got me". I show him the nuts and he turns over 67. Ouch. But at least he played it disciplined. A lot of weaker players would shove with the second nuts!

I got called for my Omaha table after a few minutes and played there for nearly 3 hours, breaking even, before Chris tapped me on the shoulder. She had to go to the airport to take a bus to Tucson to visit her friend (the real reason she was in Arizona). I had the only car, ergo, I had to drive. Viv graciously picked up from her $2-$5 table too to give me company on the way back. We drove Chris to the airport, a 20 minute drive from the casino, said our goodbyes, and headed straight back. I felt bad for Viv because she came along to keep me company and I ended up on the phone with Ali the whole ride back! Sorry Viv... :-(

Coming back to the casino, I was ready to, FINALLY, crack out for a very long session for the first time in the trip. I parked myself at a $1-$2 table and stayed there for the rest of the night. The table was pretty actioney with a lot of movement of chips around. I didn't get too much traction, losing half of my first $160 buyin in an hour and the rest of the stack when I flopped a pair and a flush draw on a low board and pushed into an overpair which held up. I rebought for another $160 and managed to double up in the next hour with a flopped set of Queens holding up against a flush draw. I was sitting at about even for the session when Viv, who was being brutalized at the $2-$5 table, came to swim with the guppies. I was sitting in the 10 seat and Viv in the 6 seat when I got KK. It limped to me in the SB and I raised to $15, a slightly more than standard raise at the table, getting two callers. The flop was TT5. I was frozen. Most people at this point would bet out to see where they stand, but my feeling is that this hand is vulnerable to a big bluff raise. If I bet out, representing an overpair or a big Ace, and then someone comes over the top of me for half my stack, I'm going to have to make a stone read on the guy to be able to win the pot. A Ten in someone's hand is easily within the range of hands that would call my $15 PF raise, and there were 2 people to worry about! I checked, the second seat checked and the last caller, who was a young kid giving off an 'I'm aggressive' vibe, bet out $65, just over the pot size. It got to me and I mucked my Kings. It hurt to do, believe me, but I was $15 invested and I didn't want to be the idiot who put his stack at risk over $15. It works both ways, I guess. Either I'm the idiot who gives up KK to a bluff, or I'm the idiot who gets married to his overpair against a dangerous board that's been bet out. The second caller, who could have also been slowplaying trips by the way, also mucked. It was a good bluff (he confirmed it was to Viv who was sitting next to him). Viv told me later that she would have "raised to see where you're at", which is her answer to all of the thorny poker problems, coincidentally! (Jus' kidding Viv!). I'm proud of myself for being able to get of overpairs so easily these days. Yes, it sometimes costs me money, but it probably saves me more in the long run. Who has an opinion on this?

I got bet off of that hand and just before Viv sat down, I got bet off of a hand by a woman in the 3 seat. I had 45 on the button and the woman had raised to $6 PF, getting a few callers. I came in and the flop was raggedy. 247. The woman c-bet by holding out her hand and dropping a redbird on the felt. A second later, she dropped another one, not because she was string betting but because the chip had gotten stuck to her hand. Never the less, I thought I could use this to my advantage and immediately called out "string bet". Before the dealer could respond she came out with, "That wasn't a string bet, the chip was stuck." It stuck in my craw that she would make her own ruling and I was pissed that the dealer didn't say a word. I thought I might be good here, but I hadn't seen her play any hands and she had the table outchipped with $750 in front of her. She was an older woman, maybe 55, and those types of players in my experience are rocks. I don't know how she got her stack, but I thought it might have been through an early double up of a big hand. But I really didn't know. So rather than get involved with middle pair on a board I wasn't likely to improve on, I let it go. She half-smiled at me and mucked her cards. I think she thought she was either a) getting away with something or b) happy she won the little verbal argument about the string bet. I vowed to get even with her. I would take her big stack from her if it was the last thing I did.

An hour later, with Viv now at the table, I was dealt 57 in late position. The woman raised to $12 and there were 2 callers. I came along hoping to crack her. The flop was something like K28. I had a flush draw, but nothing else. The woman c-bet again, $25. It folded to me and I called again. The turn brought 3 and this time she checked. I checked behind, intending to bet the river if it was a good scare card. In hindsight, I should have bet the turn, but I thought it would look fishy betting a naked 3. Instead, the A hit the river, completing the flush draw. She checked one more time and I fired out $40. She shuffled her cards (always a good sign of weakness) and mucked. When I tabled the 57, I didn't even look at her, but Viv told me that she gave a grimace and a scowl. Tilt had been achieved! GAME ON!

From that point onward, for the next 2 hours, the woman spewed out half her stack. Viv was the recipient of a large chunk of that. The woman had raised PF to about $11 or so and Viv and a few others came in. The flop was 559 and it checked to the woman who bet out $22. Turn was an Ace. Viv, in first position, checked and the woman bet out around $35. Viv check raised to about $90. The woman hesitated, but called. The river was another 5. With a board of 5559A, Viv put out a bet of $125. The woman hesitated again, tanking for a good 30 seconds before finally making the call. I tapped the table to give Viv props. I knew what she had. The woman had AQ and Viv had 85 for quads. The funny thing was that the river 5 doesn't change anything for the woman. If Viv had the 5, she was drawing dead to an Ace, so why the hesitation on the river, unless you're just figuring out where you stand. Whoops. :-p Viv and I picked up at 4:10a, with the woman's stack at less than half it had been at it's peak. I cashed out +$75, but Viv had run the table for a good score. It was a good night.

Incidentally, since Casino Arizona is *the* place to play in the stats of Arizona, it happens that poker players sometimes bump into each other here, even when they're from other states. Chris, that afternoon, ran into a guy she knew from New York whose wife was in town for a conference. And Viv's friend, who was in Vegas with her, told her that there was someone he knew at the casino that we should hook up with! Poker is a small world indeed.

More to come...

Arizona trip report - Part 6 of 8

Arizone Trip Report - Day 6

I woke up in the morning and shook the sleep out of my eyes. It was about 11a when I was ready to hit the road again. After having been to all of the casinos in the Phoenix area, I decided that playing the afternoon at Wild Horse Pass would be the best choice. It was the best poker room closest to the airport and I had to pick up Viv at around 3:00p. I went over and sat down at a $4-$8 lhe table. As soon as I got a chance, I ordered a Breakfast Burrito from the waitress (big, tasty and cheap!) and got to work. It didn't take long for me to make a huge pot. There had been some action from a Crazian player in the 6 seat (I was in the 2 seat). I had bought in for $100 and chipped up to about $150 at this point when, for the first time in my life, I managed to more than double up in a single hand, in a LIMIT game, in heads up play. You know how they always say that you can raise unlimited times in heads up play? Well, it finally happened to me.

I had 66 UTG and limped in. A few callers and it came to Mr. Crazian who raised to $8. A few more callers, myself included, and the flop came 646. DQB!!!! I can lose to a straight flush (bring on the bad beat jackpot!) or running overcards for higher quads (Mo' bad beat, mo' bad beat!). In other words, I couldn't lose in this pot in any way, shape or form. I was first to act and checked. It checked to Crazian who bet out (overpair much?). I think one person called and I called. Turn was the T. Again, I check, Crazian bets, other person folds. I call. Turn is the most perfect A. If he was on a flush draw, he got there. I lead out, he raises. I re-raise. He says, "Keep going." I re-raise by stacking more chips. He makes a circular motion with his hand saying, "More". OMG! It dawns on me that he's got Aces full! He's not going anywhere and, what's more, he's acting so quickly now that he's not thinking. I stop stacking chips and just say "raise" every time he does. In a few seconds, we both stop stacking and we just keep making verbal declarations back and forth to each other like some demented tennis match. Luckily, no one at the table says a word, which is good because it was obvious by the 5th raise to everyone except the Crazian what I held. After about a dozen back and forth raises I asked the dealer, "Am I all in yet?" The dealer just sighed and said, "yes". Crazian tables AA like he won the Olympic Gold medal. The gold medal of bravado and stupidity maybe. The color drains from his face when I show my quads. I don't say a word but my hands are shaking with adrenaline as I stack my chips to be matched up, in a LIMIT GAME! W00t!

I played for another hour or so, maintaining my stack for the most part before I had to pick up and go to the airport. I got to the airport and ran into Chris, who had landed and gotten off the plane from New York just before Viv. Viv joined us from her separate flight only a few minutes after that and I drove all of us to the Harrah's hotel where we had a comped room waiting for us. I put the poker options out to the girls and we decided that Wild Horse Pass was the best option for the day. I figured if they weren't running a NLHE game for the girls than we could go on to Casino Arizona where they definitely would be. But there was indeed a $1-$2 game running. The girls took their seats and I found another $4-$8 game where I played for two hours, giving back all the winnings I made that afternoon (D'oh!). Terrible session. I switched to $4-$8 O/8 after that but couldn't get any traction going and ended up even. The three of us had a lovely dinner at the asian restaurant inside the casino and Chris was getting tired after having traveled all day so we went back to Harrah's and dropped her off at the room. Viv and I were still jazzed to play but there was only the $3-$6 game going. Viv was game to play in her first limit hold'em session, even for small stakes, and we had a good time playing until 3:00a. We left after the last SplashPot promotion, both of us dropping a little on the game. Freddy, the guy with the girlfriend issue, was there and he was cleaning house. Too bad I couldn't get some of that money.

It had been a nice day with the girls in a new city. Friday would bring more adventure and some bad laydowns on my part.

More to come...

Arizona trip report - Part 5 of 8

Waking up on Wed. morning, I had it in my mind to explore the city of Phoenix. Or at least the downtown area. But poker got in the way, as it usually does on these trips. After having breakfast and finding it was around noontime, I decided to ditch my Phoenix explorations in favor of knocking out the rest of the poker rooms in the state. The remaining 5 poker rooms were all within a 45 minute drive of where I was and I figured I'd rather do them today then wait for the weekend when I'd want to be sitting for extended sessions at one place. I was expecting Viv and Chris to join me in Phoenix Thursday afternoon and I would feel bad dragging them to multiple poker rooms for short sessions of $3-$6 lhe! Besides, this way I could scope out the rooms and take them to the best action in the city.

My first stop was the Wild Horse Pass casino of the Gila River tribe in Chandler, AZ on the south edge of the Phoenix Metropolitan area. At first, I pulled up to the casino that my trusted GPS had led me to and found it to be locked and the parking lot completely empty. But I had called a few days before to ensure it was open and was told it was. How odd! It was a cool looking casino too, with the entire structure made to look like a Native American adobe brick house. But the chains on the front door were bumming me out. I called the number for the Gila River tribes to inquire and the nice woman on the other end told me to look to my left.

"See that big hotel in the distance with the blue wave on top? That's the new hotel and casino. We moved there a few months ago."

Aha! I happily drove over another 5 minutes and walked into the front doors of the prettiest and most modern casino in the entire state of Arizona. It was built to Vegas standards and reminded me quite a bit of the Red Rock casino outside of the Vegas Strip. There was a Fatburger in the food court, a Don Shula's steakhouse and a 30 table poker room that was wonderful. The brush desk didn't have an electronic board (the bugs were still being worked out), but everything was flowing smoothly by paper. There were about 12 games going at the time, including a $4-$8 lhe game which I sat in on. All of the lhe games in Arizona are run full kill and the kill requirements are pretty low, 10 BB's. So if you win a $40 pot in this game, the next hand runs $8-$16. So as you can imagine, the games had a lot more action in them than the stakes would imply. I sat next to a really surly looking young woman in a black denim jacket, a Vanessa Rousso hat and sunglasses. A lot of the serious poker players down here were sunglasses at the table, no matter the stakes. I find it retarded to were shades at a lhe game since bluffing is nearly impossible, but they do it anyhow. She, and another local on my left with shades, were playing loose and aggressive and were very tight lipped. But soon enough, my chatter won them over and we were talking amiably about poker in the state, my trips to L.A. and Vegas and the game were were in. The guy on my left, who looked to be about 35, said he played professionally in Vegas for 2 weeks out of every month. I guess he was just slumming around? I wasn't sure how much to believe him though, because he also claimed to have, at one time, run 3 different underground games on Long Island out of Bohemia. Maybe yes, maybe no. All I know is he was sitting at a $4-$8 table. Whatever. After 4 hours of enjoying myself and the fine room, I cashed out +$140.

The next stop was Vee Quiva, also a Gila River tribe casino. This one was old and dirty and had a smaller poker room with a $3-$6 game going which I joined and broke even on after 2 hours. I didn't want to stay so I picked up and left.

I grabbed a bite to eat on the road and headed to a place called Poker Nation on the north edge of the city in the 'burbs. Poker Nation is a retail storefront which sells poker equipment (cards, tables, card covers, chips, etc...) but becomes a small legal card room after that. There was a game of $1-$2 nlhe going on in the two table room when I got there and it was populated by friendly locals who all knew each other. Unfortunately, after 20 minutes of patiently waiting, not a seat had opened up. One of the guys who worked there asked if I was a member and I said No. He informed me that the club, in order to stay legal, charges a one-time lifetime membership fee of $20. I decided that paying $20 to sit in a tight $1-$2 nlhe game was too much for me and I declined. But as I walked out, I bought a card spinner just so I could throw them some business. I don't want to be a jerk after all. I bought a single dollar chip off of them and was on my way.

The second to last stop was Fort McDowell casino which is just east of Scottsdale. They have a decent room with about 30 tables but only a few low limit games were going on at the time. I got a seat at a $3-$6 game that bored me to death and played for 25 minutes before cashing out with a small profit. The Fort, as it's known locally, is a perfectly adequate room but overshadowed by my last and best destination.

Casino Arizona, at the intersection of Route 101 and Indian Bend Rd., in Scottsdale, is Arizona's best poker room. Period. End of Sentence. It's built to look like two big Tents from the outside and inside it reminds me very much of a California cardroom. There are at least 40 tables inside and the room is very spacious, with a huge ceiling and a looong floor space, giving the feeling you're inside an enormous circus tent. There is action going at all hours of the day or night, including multiple $1-$2 nlhe games (really spread limit, but same thing for the most part), $2-$5 nlhe, limit games up to $8-$16, Omaha Hi-Lo of $3-$6 and $6-$12 and a high roller section with $10-$20 lhe, $20-$40 lhe, $40-$80 lhe and a $75-$150 mixed game in progress. I checked out the $75-$150 game and the table was full with an average stack of $4,000 for each player. Lots of money floating around and there were multiple PF raises in the Omaha Hi-Lo game that I saw. Good stuff.

I sat at a $6-$12 O/8 game, which was a mistake because it was around midnight at the time and I was tired. I managed to lost $72 in 30 minutes before I wisely picked up and left. There was no doubt I would be bringing Viv and/or Chris here when they came.

I drove back to Harrah's and popped my head into the poker room to see what was gonig on. They were running a $3-$6 lhe game with a few of the locals left hanging around. It was late, and I was tired, but they had a SplashPot promotion running and I couldn't resist. The SplashPot is a promotion in which a single table is selected at random every hour or two and a set amount, $50 in this case, is added to the next pot to be played. Since there was only one table running, it was no surprise which table won the SplashPot! The time for the next one was 2:30a and everyone played until that time. When the pot was pushed (not to me) everyone picked up and the game broke. I went to bed and slept soundly.

Arizona trip report - Part 4 of 8

Arizona trip report - Day 4

After my harrowing day yesterday with the chills, spills and thrills that only dangerous weather driving and backroom poker in a strange town can offer, I took it upon myself to sleep late. I woke up around 11am in the Quechan Casino in Winterhaven, CA and puttered around the room getting myself ready until the knock on the door from housekeeping got my butt in gear. I went downstairs to the grill on the casino floor and had a sandwich for lunch before finally hitting the road at around 1PM. Before I did, I made a last loop around to the poker room to see if there was a game going. There was, but it was a $3-$6 lhe game and it was full. Rather than wait an hour to play for an hour, I hit the road for Phoenix. It was going to be a long drive through the desert and I was anxious to end my long driving part of the trip. After making a huge loop around the state, from East to West and North to South, I would finally be back at my starting point. Or at least near it.

It was about a 3 hour drive from Yuma to Phoenix but I was able to get some sightseeing in on the way. My first stop was the only decent thing to see in the town of Yuma, according to a dealer who had grown up in the area. The Yuma Territorial Prison. From 1876 to 1909, the Yuma prison operated as a hellhole stop for prisoners in the area. The cells are located outdoors in the hot desert and there is little protection from the elements as well as no protection from the snakes and scorpions which often got into the cells. Oddly enough, though, this was a very modern facility for it's time. It had electricity, a phone system and flush toilets! Still, some prisoners managed to escape and there was a famous prison riot at one time as well which ended when the superintendant of the prison ordered the guards to shoot the prisoners who had taken him hostage and dragged him to the main gate in an effort to get out. The guards opened fire and the superintendant was injured, but survived. A tough business.

After touring the prison, I went out on the road and it was a pretty uneventful drive. There were plenty of beautiful mountain vistas and sweeping desert views. All along the sides of the road were tall cacti and I desperately wanted to take a picture with me next to one. But the interstates in Arizona have barbed wire along the side to prevent you from wandering too far. Maybe it's private property? Or maybe the state doesn't want you to die on the nearby railroad tracks. Whatever it was, I couldn't get my cacti shot.

About 55 miles outside of Maricopa, which is where Harrah's AK-Chin casino lay near Phoenix, I spotted a sign that said something like 'National Petroglyph Monument, Next Exit'. That isn't exactly what it's called but the idea is the same. Petroglyphs, for the unaware, are symbols carved into rock by prehistoric peoples. The chance to see 10,000+ year old writing was too great for me to pass up. I took the exit and found myself on a long country road. The petroglyphs were ten miles away. As I drove, I noticed there there was no barbed wire along the road! In the distance, I saw a tall Saguaro cactus in the desert (the one with multiple arms) and I stopped the car and took some shots. Finally, a shot of me with a cactus!

I got to the petroglyphs and took a few photos. It was interesting to see the carvings, but after a few minutes you get the general idea. I read the placards placed by the National Park Service and was surprised to find that the symbols are usually archetypes and carry significance and meaning. But that's as far as my attention span would take me. I left the area as the sun was setting and made to to Harrah's in Maricopa, AZ at around 6:00p.

Because I was so far ahead in my schedule (I wasn't supposed to show up to Harrah's for another two days!), I didn't have a place to stay for the night. I was just going to play it by ear and go to a Days Inn somewhere but I took a chance and asked the front desk what they could do for me for a room. They swiped my Harrah's players card and informed me that I could be comped if I wanted a room! Um, sign me up! I checked into my room, which was a long and strange walk along the pool from the casino floor and went to the poker room.

For a Harrah's poker room, it was a little small. There were about 8 tables, of which a single game of, you guessed it, $3-$6 hold'em was going on. However, there was a tourney starting at 7:00p for Omaha Hi-Lo! I signed up quickly and only had to wait a few minutes for the tourney to start. I took my seat for the 3 table tourney and even though I got bad beat on one of the opening hands, I managed to recover and made the final table easily. However, blinds were escalating very very quickly and my holding were crap. Something was going to have to happen. As the table progressed and I managed to stay afloat, I noticed that I was fixing to bubble. 4 places paid and I was the short stack with 5 players left. But luck was on my side when a woman in the 10 seat decided to push with A4KJ and was cracked by the big stack who scooped with Aces full and no low. I thanked him for getting me into the money and promptly scooped the next two hands. With the blinds the way they were and the structure being what it was, that put me near the top of the leaderboard. The big stack proposed a chop and even though the 4th place person had a single BB to her name, I agreed for two reasons. One, I'm not a local and the prize pool was tiny so I was felt like being nice. Two, anything can happen, as seen by my vault into second place in two hands. The 4th place prize was only $30, so I'd feel like an idiot if I busted out in that position. Omaha Hi-Lo is such a fickle game.

We chopped for $81 profit each and moved on to a $3-$6 lhe game. It was a rollicking good time. There was a group of randy older women (who doesn't love randy older women) making completely inappropriate sex jokes and causing your humble naarator to blush something fierce. Seriously, grandmothers making cunnilinigus jokes are funny! Joanna, the loudest of the group, pegged me as Jewish immediately.

"You're a jew, aintcha?"
"Yeah, how'd you guess"
"Are you kidding me? Look at that schnoz!"

Ok, you got me. Joanna proclaimed that she "had a little jew in her" too to which her friend exclaimed, "You mean your boyfriend's here right now?". Dirty dirty women.

I got friendly with a seven foot tall black man (not an exaggeration) named Hawk who's something of a local legend in those parts. Aside from being friendly and gregarious in his own way, he hailed from Bed-Stuy, so at least we had Brooklyn to talk about. Two other folks at the table hailed from Brooklyn too, including Freddy who insisted to me that there was no such thing as a Syrian Jew. He should know, he said, he's Syrian! I think the large Syrian Jewish population near Avenue S and Ocean Parkway would disagree with Freddy but he was drunk and loud so I declined to argue. Freddy and I had a bit of a smackdown comparing girlfriends. Ali is 12.5 years younger than me and beautiful beyond compare, which usually wins these arguments but poker players don't measure along that yardstick. Instead, it seems to go with who's girlfriend is skankiest. Freddy pulled out a picture of himself with a girl who was maybe 30 (to his 50+), dressed in a halter top that completely exposed her side boob and a tatoo running along the side of her body. Ok, Freddy you win.

I played until 2:45a when I couldn't take it any longer and cashed out with +$150 in profit, bidding everyone a good night. It had been the most fun I'd had playing $3-$6 ever in my life.

More to come...

Arizona trip report - Part 3 of 8

Arizona Trip - Day 3

I woke up at 9:00a on Monday morning, December 7, 2009, intending to go to Sedona and see the sights. Perhaps take a few pictures of chasms or gorges or whatever else they have that's pretty. Maybe buy some things for Ali or my family as holiday gifts. Whatever I thought about doing, it wasn't what actually happened, which was:

The single strangest day of my life.

I stepped outside of the casino and found it to be cold and drizzling. My flight took off from Prescott airport to Farmington, NM at around 2:00p. Given the weather reports coming in, I decided it was prudent to go to the airport first to make sure everything was OK rather than go to Sedona. Besides, seeing Sedona in the rain wasn't what I had in mind. So I drove the 35 minutes to the airport and got out to investigate. A word here about Prescott regional airport. It's small. Super small. Think the show 'Wings'. There's a little airstrip there with planes parked just beyond the fence of the small parking lot that look like toys. The 'terminal', if you want to call it that, is a building about 150 feet long that you drive right up to and go inside like you're visiting a tiny strip mall shop. Inside is two small counters, a tiny booth for a rental car agency, and the entrance to a greasy spoon diner populated by Chuck Yeagers long lost cousins. Craggy faced old men with leather bomber jackets sipping black coffee out of ceramic mugs. I didn't catch their conversation but I'm sure there was talk of the weather coming in. It was very dark and overcast and the rain was light but cold and steady. There was no one at the Great Lakes Aviation counter (my airline carrier) when I got there and I found out from the girl manning the rental car kiosk that the desks don't have people there until an hour before the flight, to take care of passenger loading. I called the number for Great Lakes and told the woman my dilemma. I was worried the flight would be cancelled because of weather and could they give me a refund. They informed me that the flight was still showing on time departure so a refund wasn't necessary. I called the Ute Mountain casino and asked how much snow they were expecting. They told me 6-8 inches. Now I might have been able to brave flying in a clap trap airplane, through rough weather, over mountains, and drive through six inches of snow to get there. What I was worried about was reutrning! If I get snowed in in Colorado, my entire itinerary would be thrown off. So I did the prudent thing and decided to ditch. Yeah, I'd lose the price of my flight and the rental car, but at least I would be able to complete my trip in relative safety. I called back Great Lakes one more time to see what could be done. The only thing they could do, they told me, was give me credit towards a future flight and waive the change fee because of the weather. I told them that I wouldn't be able to take a future flight within the year's time span as I lived in New York and they don't serve that area. So all was lost.

I drove back to the town of Prescott for breakfast, intending to go to my Tuesday night destination, Parker, Arizona, a full day and a half earlier than I expected. When in town, I noticed the rain had turned to sleet and snow, which means the temperature was dropping. Not a good sign. I asked a local shop keeper on Whiskey Row where I could eat breakfast and she pointed me in the right direction. I bought a half pound of butterscotch flavored coffee beans from her as a token of my gratitude. Whiskey Row, incidentally, is in the center of town and used to be a row of bars and brothels in the old west. The town has maintained a good deal of that charm, even though it's perfectly gentrified now.

I ate a HUGE breakfast at a western place. So big, in fact, that I apologized in advance to the waiter on how much food I was going to be wasting. I had scrambled eggs with toast and potatoes, which in normal environments is a smallish meal. This monstrosity used 4 eggs, mixed with about a pound of seasoned beef and vegetables, a good pound and a half of seasoned potato hash and 4 pieces of thick Texas Toast. I ate about a quarter of it, maybe, and I was completely stuffed. Into the car I went and off I drove.

As I was driving out of town, the snow was getting thicker. It was no longer slushy now and the roads were starting to get icy. I passed a Days Inn and briefly thought about spending the night here and continuing on tomorrow after the storm had passed. But I pressed on. I saw a woman in a small truck, with her baby daughter strapped in the car seat next to her, stop on the side of the road to make a phone call. From the look of it, she lived beyond the mountain pass outside of town, a twenty mile drive. But she had stopped and called her husband to tell him she wasn't going through there. And still I pressed on.

You see, dear readers, I am an idiot. There's a joke my mother (Rest in Peace) once told me that goes something like this:

A devoutly religious man was sitting in his house when a flash flood hit the town. As the waters rose to his doorstep, his neighbors rowed by in a boat and offered him a ride to safety. "No thanks," said the man, "God will provide". As the water rose into his house, covering his couch and TV and he had to flee to the second floor, a canoe passed by his window, paddled by a man and his wife. They offered him a ride to safety and he waved them off. "Thank you, but God will provide." As the waters rose further and the only refuge was the very top of his roof, a helicopter swung by. A policeman with a bullhorn lowered a rope and pleaded with the man to grab on but he stood his ground. "God will provide!," he shouted. Finally, the man drowned. When he got up to heaven, he came face to face with God himself and asked, "Why didn't you provide? Why didn't you save me?". God replied, "What do you want? I sent a boat, a canoe and a helicopter!"

My friends, I am that man. I am an idiot. After multiple opportunities to stop my trip as the snow was getting thicker and the roads were starting to get covered, I kept driving. I kept driving even as I had to slow my speed to keep from fishtailing. I kept driving even as other drivers turned back. I kept driving even as the wind whipped up whiteout conditions, leaving my visibility under 60 feet. I kept driving. I saw a sign for the local National Forest and understood, with a sense of dread, that the next town I could stop at would not be for twenty miles. I was hoping desperately that the road I was on would go down the mountain, lower in elevation where the rain was. But the road kept going up at a steady pace. I was heading into a mountain pass in a National Forest with nothing around me for miles.

There were cars on the road, thankfully, so if I got stuck I could at least signal for help. But I was frightened. As I entered the mountain pass, the roads starting curving dangerously. My speed was already down to 15 MPH at the most. I was mostly riding on first gear trying to negotiate tricky turns. You see, my good friends, I was about 6200 feet in the air, the road was about 20 feet wide and there were NO GUARDRAILS! To my right was the mountainside, with a ditch in the road that if I fell into I would not be able to drive out of. Not a steep ditch, but a ditch of about 3 feet none the less. To my left, across one short lane of traffic, was the edge of a clif that fell into a ravine hundreds of feet deep. Over there was certain death. My car was already slipping on occasion and I pumped the brake, rather than slam on it, every time I needed some traction. At the speed I was going, the turns weren't too bad, but the incline and slope of the road was all over the place. When I saw the road take a sharp drop or rise, I had to brake or speed up accordingly, lest my car go sliding in the wrong direction. It got so bad at one point that I unbuckled my seat belt and unlocked the driver side door for fear that I would need to jump out of my car if it started sliding slowly and uncontrollably for the cliff.

I'd like to say I'm a brave guy, not given to too much fear, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't crapping my pants at this point. Not literally, but you get the idea.

At the 10 mile mark, halfway through this mountain pass, I was traveling behind a Ford 150 truck who was helping me out by cutting a path through the snow for me. At this point, the road was covered by a full 2-3 inches of snow and ice and every little bit helped. The road up ahead took a sharp incline and the Ford took it at too slow a speed and couldn’t make it up. I had to come to a full stop as I saw him desperately spin his tires trying to make traction. He finally gave up and pushed his truck to the side of the road, allowing me to pass. I had trouble making it up the hill as well, but my lighter car had an advantage and I made it without too much effort. I kept driving slowly until, finally, the elevation started dropping and the precipitation turn to rain. As soon as I had clear roads under my wheels, without a hint of snow, and the temperaure was back in the upper 30's, I increased my speed to 40 mph. I was out of the mountains and headed into the valley.

This is a picture taken from Google Maps of a section of the road I'm talking about. Try to imagine it with driving snows and covered in ice!

I had to stop on the side of the road next to a farm just to breathe a sigh of relief. It had been the scariest 2.5 hours of my life.

There was another 90 miles until I got to Parker, AZ and the Blue Water Casino, and I didn't know if I'd need to go through another mountain pass. So at the first gas station I saw, I stopped at the stop n' shop and purchased an impromptu emergency preparedness kit. Two nutri-bars, a jar of peanut butter, two big bottles of water, toilet paper and last Sunday's paper (in case I needed extended reading material). Everything I would need to survive a night long stay in my car.

As it happens, there was no more snow, but the monsoon rains and wind made it difficult to see for long stretches of time. As I sped along the road, as fast as I could, I came along a sheep farm with a hundred or so of the critters all grazing by the side of the road. I couldn't resist stopping to take a picture, rain and all.

I also went through a small mountain range afterwards which resulted not in snow but in thick shrouded fog which lowered my visibility back to about 40 feet. As I crawled at 30 MPH behind a huge semi-trailer, I thought to myself, "How did I get in this situation? I could have been in a hotel room right now!". After another hour of slow going and trying to feel my way in the fog, the air cleared and the massive storm was behind me. The desert dryness ensured smooth clean roads for the rest of the trip and I zoomed along at 75+ MPH until I reached my destination in Parker.

The Blue Water Casino is in yet another small town and the first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was the incredibly bad smell in the air. Not quite phosphorous, but something like rotting vegetables. Like the Eagles song, "the warm smell of calitas", perhaps? Who knows? All I knew is that I couldn't believe people were just walking around like there was nothing going on! I high-tailed it into the casino where the rotting smell was replaced by stale cigarette smoke. Yay me. It was about 4:30pm at this point and I was really hoping that a game was going on, but no such luck. The poker room, a small sad affair of 6 poker tables stuck in the back of the casino floor, was manned by two dealers who were just waiting around for a game to start. The tables were all covered and there wasn't a single name on the board, so they'd be waiting for a while. I had just driven for 4 hours through torrential snow, wind, rain and fog and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to play *something*! I offered the dealers to play Chinese poker for fun while they waited but they hadn't heard of the game. I wandered off onto the casino floor, looking to at least play a shoe of $5 blackjack. There were two blackjack tables open with dealers and not a single person sitting at them. Not a one. That's at least 12 open seats, got it? This is important to the story. I sidled up to a table, got a stack of red chips and placed a $5 chip on two spots, intending to play two hands at a time. I like playing double hands at blackjack because it feels like I'm smoothing out my variance, even though I know it's only an illusion. I figure, hey, if I get a natural 16 on the first hand, I could always come back with a blackjack on the second hand! As I put down my two red chips, the dealer pointed at the bets and said, "Sir, you have to play double the minimum if you want to play two hands." I was incredulous. I looked around the casino floor and maybe 50 people were milling around the slots. Nary a single person was playing table games. Not one. Now I realize why casinos wouldn't want you to play minimum bets on two hands; it keeps higher rollers from playing the game if you're taking up a seat playing minimums. But there was no one playing! No one waiting. Not a single person interested, not to mention there were 10 other seats available. I pointed this out to the dealer by saying, "Really? There's no one playing!". He re-iterated his ruling and it pissed me off so much that I immediately asked for a color-up and cashed out. I wanted to play, but now the dealer's stupidity cost the casino money and he cost himself possible tips. The right thing to do in this scenario would be to call the pit boss, three feet behind him, and ask him to waive the requirement. I'm sure he would have agreed. As I passed by the blackjack table on the way to the door, I couldn't help putting in a little dig to the dealer. "Sorry guy, but you just lost business." Sure, he's not going to lose sleep over it, but the pit boss who was chatting with him about the situation might feel otherwise.

I made my way over to Blythe, CA to go to a small poker room called Bruce's Bar and Casino but before I did I stopped into a local Wal-Mart to get an iPhone Charger for the car. I forgot to bring the one I already owned and I needed it badly. I ended up spending $50 bucks on one but it had the added feature of simultaneously charging the phone and also providing the cable to play the iPhone through the car's AUX port. Still a rip-off.

It was another 90 minutes to get to Blythe and by that time the sun had dropped and it was night-time. As I pulled up to the bar at around 6PM, I was surprised to see that it was closed! I looked at my iPhone and discovered that it was actually 5PM. In the middle of my drive, having gone about 40 miles west, I had changed time zones! The iPhone has the wonderful feature of automatically showing the correct time for the time zone depending on your physical location. The posted time for the poker room was 6PM, which was confirmed when I called the bar a few weeks ago in preparation for this trip. So I figured I'd wait an hour in town. No biggie. Blythe is a bit skeevy, especially in this location. I had dinner at a local Mexican place (it sucked, surprisingly) and went back. At 6PM, still closed. Hmmm... I walked over to the entrance to the "poker room", a small back room affair with two tables as far as I could see through the window. The sign posted said 7PM. Damn. I drove into town looking for something to do and stumbled on a movie theater. Nothing playing that I wanted to see but they did have a sizeable video arcade. I cashed $10 of quarters and re-lived happy memories playing Star Wars, Time Crisis 2, Ms. Pacman and Galaga. Oh, Galaga...

I returned at about 7PM local time and it was still closed! What kind of bar doesn't open at 7PM?!?! Even if it is a Monday. Don't people drink on Mondays? There was a help wanted sign for waitresses needed and I called the number hoping to speak to the manager to find out what was going on. A guy answered and when I asked why the place was closed he said, "Uh, my dad's not home now but the bar should be open in about 45 minutes." Yeah, I wasn't waiting in this skeevy hell-hole for another 45 minutes. It was getting late and I needed to be heading on down the road. I was supposed to stay in Blythe that night but I ditched the hotel room and ran down to El Centro, about an hour south on the Mexican border. I needed to hit another bar game down there called Tommy's Saloon and Casino and I figured by the time I got there, the game should be in full swing.

For the record, I'm recording Bruce's Bar as an official visit. I did everything I could. 'Nuff Said. However, I couldn't get a chip and there doesn't seem to be one online that I can easily buy. So if there's anyone out there with a $1 Bruce's Bar and Casino chip from Blythe, CA, please contact me for a quick and easy sale. Thank you for listening. We now return you to your regular story.

I got into El Centro, CA at about 9pm. El Centro is a border town on the Mexican border and it's as rough looking as it sounds. A small strip of stores and lots of tough looking locals hanging around. I parked in front of the bar and went through the double doors. It was a complete dive. A creaky wooden floor with a worn wooden bar on one side and a beaten up pool table on the other. The three patrons drinking at the bar were, surprising to me, white, as were the couple playing pool. But they all looked like they were mean and ready for trouble. I walked to the back room which had a low wall making it visible from the bar area. There was a table cramped in the space with a "cage", consisting of a spanish speaking woman named Maria making change for players and two Mexican dudes dealing the game. The game had 7 players at the moment and they were playing $1-$3 nlhe. I bought in for two and followed the pace of play for 30 minutes. It was an aggressive game, with $17 PF raises the norm and 4 or 5 callers each time. Pots swung wildly back and forth and the hands being shown down were, not surprisingly, crap. Every so often, I'd be able to limp cheaply into a pot, so I took chances on hands that would enable me to double through. I had some luck on suited connectors and gap cards and built my stack steadily to $320, not showing down even once. By this time, I'd been there about an hour and was chatting amiably with the locals who, while very tough looking, opened up easily enough. I asked how long it was to Yuma, my next destination, and that got the table talking about what I was doing there and why I was traveling. Everything seemed fine.

And then I was dealt A8 on the button. It limped to me, I called and 6 players saw a flop. 2 4 5 . I had two overs, the nut flush draw and a wheel gutshot draw. An early position player, a white guy around 30 with a yellow hoodie and a tatoo near his neck that was partially concealed, bet out $15. Three people called and it was an easy call for me. The turn was the 7. Yellow Hoodie bet out $25 and it folded to a Mexican kid in seat 3. He called and I raised to $100. My feeling was that Yellow Hoodie might have bet the flop on the King Flush draw and made it, meaning he might be willing to pay me off on my raise. My feelings, I thought, were confirmed when he agonized over the call but finally made it. Once he made the call, I figure I'm getting totally pizzaid. Mexican kid wisely retreated. I have about $215 left in my stack and the river comes, the 6 ! I almost had to look twice but I really did have the straight flush. The unbeatable hand. Yellow Hoodie checks and I try to figure out how much a King Flush would call. The pot is about $280 or so, so I figure $100 oughta do it. I slide out a silo of red chips and announce a $100 bet. Yellow Hoodie instantly goes all-in. Wow! I instantly call and he tables 3 6 with a flourish. I quietly table A 8 and the table goes nuts! Yellow Hoodie looks like he got kicked in the gut and all the color drains from his face, only to be replaced by the flush of red. Flushed Face = Angry. I stack my chips for the dealer and he matches them up and I drag the biggest pot of the trip with straight flush over straight flush. Looking back, I really can't believe he called my re-raise on the turn. He had flopped the joint straight but got married to it. He put me on a flush draw on the turn (blocking raise on the button? Really?) and must have thought that he was with the angels when he spiked the 6 on the river. Whoops!

Yellow Hoodie angrily went to the ATM in the bar and got $100 and cashed it for 5 stacks of white. On the first hand, and with steam pouring out of his ears, he went all-in on the flop with a pair of 5's and a 3 kicker. He was outdone by pocket Jacks. He went back to the ATM, this time with $200. By that point I had seen enough. This guy was going to get his money back one way or another and I didn't want that to by from a knife in my back. I had $630 in front of me, that they knew of, and $2000 in my wallet that they didn't. It was time to take the high road. Without saying a word, I cashed out and walked to the front door, looking over my shoulder as I did. Yellow Hoodie was still spewing chips and I jumped in my car and locked the door quickly. I started her up, backed out into the street and quickly came to the corner and turned right.

Then I saw it. Flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. It was like in the movie "The Cooler" (Great freakin' movie, btw) where Bernie and Natalie get away from the casino with a boatload of money only to be stopped by a cop who works for the casino trying to get the money back. Yeah, it was a cop who stopped me. I pulled over and put both hands on the steering wheel. He ambled up and I lowered my window.

"How are you tonight?," he asked.
"Not too bad, how are you?"
"Ok. Looks like you made one of them Florida stops at that stop sign. You didn't even slow the car down" (For the record, my rental car had Florida plates).
"I did. Oh, sorry, I didn't notice."
"You from around here?"
"No, just visiting. I'm from New York actually. The car's a rental"
"Lemme see your driver's license"

I handed it over and once he determined that I hadn't been drinking and I really wasn't local, he let me go. I was grateful he wasn't trying to rob me and I made it back onto the highway and went straight to Yuma. Do not pass go. Do collect your winnings. And for god's sake, make a complete stop at stop signs!

As I was driving along the highway, the wind started to pick up and dust swirls were dancing along the highway. Every so often, I big gust would blow so much dust on the road that the lane markers became invisible and visibility briefly dropped to zero. And I mean, nothing. As a result, we all slowed down (again!). After a few minutes of this, the dust become more frequent and I was driving through a full fledged dust storm. What the hell?!? The weather in Arizona is W-E-I-R-D. I looked up ahead and noticed a car in the smack middle of the road with flashing lights out his back window and two yellow arrows pointing to either side of him. I didn't understand why he'd be driving in the middle of the road when I realized it was a government vehicle who purpose is to mark the middle of the road for drivers along this stretch of road where dust storms are frequent. It was a helpful safety gauge. After 5 miles of guiding us, the dust storms faded and the government pacer car drove across the median to the other side of the road to help a new group of cars going in the opposite direction. I guess you learn something new every day.

I pulled into the Quechan Casino parking lot in Yuma (actually Winterhaven, CA but close enough), got a room for the night and crashed, hard. The hotel was actually quite beautiful but I had absolutely zero interest in checking it out. I was too tired and exhausted from the days's hellish activities. I had been through fog, blizzard, monsoon rain, a dust storm thought I was going to drop off a cliff, got stopped by a cop, saw frightening lightning displays in a farmer's field and had to run out of a wild west saloon for fear of being stabbed in the neck for my poker winnings. I deserved my rest.

More to come...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Arizona trip report - Part 2 of 8

Arizona trip report - Day 2

I woke up in Show Low and hit the road for Camp Verde, AZ. There's a casino there named Cliff Castle and I had booked a room to spend the night there. Along the way was the most scenic drive I took the entire trip. I went through a National Forest and mountain gorges which took my breath away. Every few hundred feet, I'd let out a "damn, that's nice" and continue driving. As I wound my way into a particularly beautiful passage of windy mountain road, I stopped at every opportunity for pictures. The great state of Arizona had thoughtfully provided many such opportunities for photographers like myself, and I took full advantage. What should have been a 2.5 hour ride turned into something closer to 4.

I arrived at Cliff Castle, which is in a really amazing spot, high on a plateau surrounded by fantastic views of mountains and buttes (pronounced beauts, like the word beautiful). Inside was a homey looking poker room with a bunch of locals mixing it up playing $3-$6 Omaha hi-lo. I joined, and donated $160 over the course of two hours. I had a great time, but I wasn't hitting my draws and I didn't scoop a single pot the whole session. I moved over to a $3-$6 lhe game going on and found my rhythm, crushing it for $174. The only noteworthy hand was when I decided to use my new card spinner, gifted to me by the wonderful Dawn Summers over at I Had Outs, and the very first hand I used it for, I flopped quad Jacks. Clearly this is an impressive spinner!

At this point in my trip, I was way ahead in my itinerary, by about 10 hours or so. This gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, being high in the mountains, there wasn't a whole lot. I was only about 45 minutes from Sedona, which I heard has amazing scenery and a cool vibe. I debated doing that but I already had it in my schedule to do that the following morning, so I decided to see another casino, also ahead of schedule, about 30 minutes away in Prescott.

Bucky's Casino, in Prescott, AZ, is another small casino with a small poker room. Nothing noteworthy here except that there is a rodeo ring across the street, which I found interesting. Rodeo sports is a big attraction in Arizona, as you'd expect in the southwest. I played 2-8 spread limit hold'em for about two hours, taking $88 in profit for my troubles.

Going back to Cliff Castle, where I stayed for the night, I joined a 3-6 lhe game in progress. It was 11:20pm when I sat down, a big mistake. I donked of $200 in short order before figuring out that playing tired in a limit game is no way to play at all.

One more thing about Cliff Castle. The rooms that you book at the casino aren't even in the casino. Hell, they're not even on the property. You have to drive around the corner to a motel that serves as the casino's "hotel". Bleccch.

As I was getting ready to go to bed, I turned on the TV and listened alarmingly at the weather report. Snow was due for northern Arizona, and in large quantities. A rare winter storm was blowing in and Flagstaff, just over an hour north of where I was, was expecting 2 feet!!!! Holy crap, I thought, I hope I don't get caught in that! I wasn't worried at the time since I was supposed to be taking an airplane tomorrow afternoon to Farmington, New Mexico where I would then rent a car and drive to Ute Mountain Casino in Towoac, Colorado. I fell asleep without any worries.

More to come...

Arizona trip report - Part 1 of 8

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...

Worst possible hand

I was dicking around on UltimateBet, waiting for a $10 HORSE tourney to start, when I succumbed to the temptations of the 'CASINO' tab. I put $10 into a PaiGow table (the poker players -EV game!) and bet $1 a hand. Four hands in, I was dealt this: The Worst Possible PaiGow Hand.

A 9-5 high with an 87 top. Pretty impressive. Online -EV blows.

You fool, ya damned fool

Brittany Murphy, dead at 32. Drugs? Hmmmmm....Lemme think about that one for a minute. Ok, a second.

The only reason I post this is advertisement for the January 15th deadline for the Wall Street 2010 Dead Pool! Brittany Murphy would have scored 10 points for the base death, an additional 10 bonus points for being in the 25-39 age bracket, plus a possible John Belushi bonus of 5 points for dying of a self-inflicted drug overdose and a possible River Phoenix bonus for being the youngest person on anyone's list to die all year! How can resist this kind of action?! Oh, there are rumors her husband might have done the deed himself, triggering the 8 point Michael Jackson bonus!

Um...sign up soon with your list of picks for the new year (up to 25).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dead pool update

I'm working on the blog posts for my Arizona trip which I got back from this past Sunday. But in the meantime, I thought I'd mention that my Wall Street 2010 Dead Pool is still a going concern. I hadn't been pestering you guys for a while because of my mom's passing, but now that all the hubub has died down, it's time to ramp it back up. Because of the delay, I'm going to push the dates of the pool back two weeks from January 1st, 2010 through January 1st, 2011 to January 15, 2010 through January 15, 2011.

Please have your lists to me no later than midnight January 15th. The money ($30) can be sent via Paypal or any other form you'd like by January 30th.

If you have any questions, let me know at (F r i t z l e) AT (g m a i l) DOT (c o m). No parentheses in my email.

P.S. Check the link above for dead pool rules.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rising from the ashes

Tonight, I make my way to Phoenix for my Arizona poker trip. I leave tonight, Friday Dec. 4th and return Sunday, Dec. 13th. It will be a long trip, with 18 poker rooms on the agenda. There will be a lot of driving on this trip, including a few 3+ hour legs on single lane roads through mountains and deserts, but I'm leaving myself a fair amount of time to spend at each location. Contrast this with my Vegas trip from two years ago, where I darted around to nearly 40 rooms in a week, spending barely 45 minutes in each location. That was a tiring trip. This one should be a bit more rejuvenating.

I'll be doing a lot of contemplation in the stark and beautiful locales, I'm sure. I have a lot of things to work out in my mind and my life is rushing ahead at a frenetic pace at the moment. I'm making peace with my situation, as much as possible, and spending some quality time alone will be good for my head. On Thursday, I'm going to be joined in Phoenix (after I make a huge loop around the state) by Viv and Chris. I'm super-psyched to spend time with them, and anxious to see what the poker rooms in the greater Phoenix area are like. If there's anyone reading this who know what I should expect, please give me a shout.

In other news, Ali and her two girlfriends are going to Vegas for Spring Break! It's a girls-only trip and I most definitely wasn't invited. That's a shame, because seeing as I have free time, I was hoping to go to Vegas to finish up the 20+ rooms I still have to get to in that vicinity. But I was told not to be anywhere in the city during that week. So I've spent hours and hours looking over possible poker itineraries for that time period (Mar. 12th - Mar. 19th). After contemplating many choices that included Oregon, Northern Nevada, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico, I decided on California. The simple reason for that is that California, after Nevada, has the greatest concentration of legal cardrooms in the country. Washington State and Michigan, believe it or not, run a close second on the list but Michigan they're too cold for me for a March trip and their "cardrooms" are often nothing more than bars with a single table.

I'm running into a dilemma with my poker room quest in that I still haven't come up with a satisfactory definition of what a "card room" is. Casinos with poker rooms obviously qualify. California cardrooms qualify because they're main business purpose is gambling. Dog tracks and Jai-Alai Frontons and the like that have poker rooms qualify for the same reason. But what about those small bars in Montana, Washington and Michigan? Is it really a "poker room" if it's nothing more than a single table stuck in the back of a bar that happens to be legal. It's one thing if it's a real casino, with slot machines and table games, that happens to be dominated by a bar. That was the case for a card room in Laughlin that I went to once. But if the main purpose of the facility is drinking, not gambling, it seems more iffy.

I normally wouldn't care to distinguish these things, but after I run out of casinos, dog tracks and the like, do I really want to spend my precious time driving 1500 miles criss-crossing Montana to visit every dive bar in the state? For poker games that probably don't run until 6PM? If they get off at all? That would be the worst trip of my life.

{Sigh} Quests are hard.

Oh, so where was I? Oh yes, California. Yeah, after looking at the possible itineraries, I settled on hitting up the coastal region. I got a sick airfare too. $280 all in to fly into Los Angeles, drive up the coast, go east past Oakland, deep into Napa around Clear Lake and then swing back into San Francisco to fly home. This trip will be way more frantic than my Arizona trip. 34 poker rooms are on the agenda there, in 7 days! Fortunately, though there are many more rooms to see, they are spaced much closer together. I'll have one 3 hour driving leg and then my longest leg will be about 90 minutes. At this point, I can do 90 minutes standing on my head! BTW, if you haven't driven in California (outside of the cities), it really is a treat. Beautiful mountain vistas and rolling hill to the East, sweeping plains and flat deserts to the South and breathtaking Oceanic views to the West. Really something to behold.

One last thing, Ali is studying for law school finals this week (which is why I have time to travel) and her laptop has been acting badly. So as a backup, I'm leaving my own laptop with her so she can work uninterrupted. What this means, unfortunately, is I will probably not be able to post updates from the road, which blows chunks. I will try to take as many notes as possible by hand so I can reconstruct the postings when I return home.