My dad ("Pops"), bro-in-law ("Nickles") and I headed to Vegas for the weekend, heading out at noon on Thursday.
We got flights on Allegiant out of Rockford for $220 round trip, direct. Not bad. The Rockford airport was just as easy to get to from Madison as is Milwaukee, and has free parking to boot. Definitely a thumbs up there. On the flight over, the flight attendants run a "dollar game". Everyone writes their seat number down on a dollar bill (or more), puts it in a bag, and whichever one they draw wins the bagful. They ran it again with fives. Down $9 and I hadn’t yet set foot in Vegas. It was a harbinger of things to come.
We got checked into the Flamingo. It’s got a nice central location on the strip, but the ol’ Dirty Bird has definitely seen its prime many years ago. Still, for $100 a night average, who cares if the hotel room doesn’t smell quite right?
After dropping off our bags, we headed down to the poker room, which had a new 1-2 NL table opening up. Nickles and I had finally convinced the old man that poker was the way to go in Vegas; you at least aren’t guaranteed to lose in the long run, like every other game available. So we all sat down and played, and the Stewarts started drinking. They at least had Sam Adams on tap; a step above some of the crappier casinos.
Apparently all Harrah’s properties now charge a $5 max rake on their poker tables, which I find ridiculous. I’d never seen any more expensive than a $4 max, ever. Apparently some part of it goes towards a bad beat jackpot, but it wasn’t clear how much of that extra $1 did (as do most bad beat jackpots). Anyway, screw that noise. I’m there to play poker, not play the damn lottery.
After 5 hours at the table, Pops and Nickles were up a bit, and I was down $350 or so… the worst night of poker in my entire life. About $100 I could attribute to a half-drunk, stupid hand where I chipped off my stack with top pair, second kicker with AQ. I’d read my opponent as not having AK, which turned out to be correct. What I hadn’t noticed is the three diamonds on the board; whoops! As for the rest of my losses, I was just getting cold decked (and probably chasing my losses with a little too much investment in crappy starting hands and marginal flops).
Nickles called it a night, and Pops and I headed next door to find $5 single deck blackjack running on a couple of tables at Bill’s Gambling Hall (formerly the Barbary Coast), an old little casino which would look more at home on Fremont Street downtown than the middle of the strip. I somehow don’t think it’s long for this world, and the cheap blackjack allowed us to get proper drunk without having to think about how to play poker. They also had a live band, which wasn’t too hard on the ears, despite their repertoire consisting of Lynyrd Skynyrd covers.
The dealer gave out beads every time you hit blackjack, yet I couldn’t convince the ladies at the table that they also were by rights supposed to flash their boobies to get beads. I think I pretty much broke even at blackjack, which always counts as a victory.
The next morning, Nickles and Pops went off to golf at an ungodly early hour. They said it was the nicest course they’d ever played. After sleeping in and some breakfast (using my $5 in comps at the Flamingo diner… yay; 1.5% of my money back!), I monorailed it down to my favorite Vegas card room at the MGM Grand. A nice big room (not cramped and in a corner like most casinos) with nice tables and an endless stream of tourists.
The rodeo was in town over the weekend, so there were more cowboy hats and flannel in Vegas than I have ever seen. I knew something was up because on our flight out the person I sat next to waiting in the airport, I kid you not, smelled like horse shit. I wonder if it comes in cologne form?
My memory is hazy, but from my comps I know I spent 17 hours at the MGM the next couple of days, and I won back what I’d lost at the Dirty Bird. Thankfully so, because I was nearly out of cash and really didn’t want to hit an ATM… all of which on the strip have a FIVE fucking dollar surcharge.
One recollection I had of my MGM sesssion was this cowboy sitting down immediately to my left and just going apeshit maniac. In the two hours he was there, if it came to him preflop unraised, he bumped it up to $10… quite literally every single hand. He also called most raises and was a maniac on every street. He was tossing $4 tips at the dealer after looking at his hole cards (he tipped probably $75 in his two hours there). It worked for him, for a while. He chipped off a couple of people betting into him when his crap hands would spike a straight card or something. I waited and waited, hoping for premium cards to go to war, but never got my opportunity. I was sad to see him leave; he pissed off a lot of players (especially the couple he busted out), but I was damn entertained.
Hit a 200-1 quinella on the Sigma Derby at the MGM. It’s this ancient horse racing game… 10 people can play. You put in quarters and bet which two horses are going to finish 1-2 of the five in the race. Each pair has an associated payout. It’s a great way to kill some time cheaply and get free drinks. I only had one quarter on the 200-1 horses; but $50 ain’t bad. It’s near the poker room; definitely check it out if you’re ever there. Who knows how long it’ll live. One crusty old blackjack dealer at the Tropicana said he remembered playing that machine in the 70’s… they used to be all over Vegas.
The Tropicana is the place to play blackjack on the strip, especially if you need a break from the poker at MGM… the stairs right next to the poker room will lead you across the footbridge to the Trop (not that the have any signage to this effect, of course). The Trop allows doubling after splits and surrenders, and $5 games all the time, so it’s pretty much the best you can do odds-wise if you’re not counting cards.
I always, always, pull out my blackjack strategy card when I’m at a table. Even experienced players are usually making mistakes on the marginal calls, giving the house a huge edge instead of the 1% or so you’re giving if you’re doing everything right. I printed one out years ago from some website. Wikipedia has a table you can print out, but you can buy these in pretty much any gift shop in vegas. Best $2 you’ll spend if you play blackjack.
One of the plays I always do when I’m supposed to is a surrender (you get half your bet back). You’re supposed to do this with a 15 versus a 10, and a 16 versus 9, 10, or A. I was even taking shit from one dealer at the Trop who’d never seen it before, but hell if I’m going to give my money away for free, dammit! People would be curious about the card when I pulled it out, but it would not take long until people were asking me what to do and praising the wisdom of the card.
On Saturday morning, Pops and I headed out to the Gun Store. I’d been meaning to go the last few times I’d been there, but since we had a rental car this time, it was easy to do. I sort of expected a half-assed operation, but these guys were fast-food efficient. We walked in, they called out "You guys here to shoot?" "Yes." "Sign that waiver and come pick out your weapons."
It was like a Taco Bell menu, except with lethal metal instead of lethal burritos. We each picked out 100 rounds with an HK MP5 and 25 rounds with an AK-47. With our ears and eyes covered in safety gear, we were on the range within ten minutes of walking in and shooting bad guys on paper seconds later. You gotta love Vegas.
I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of the AK. Despite its erratic behaviour in Counter-Strike, it performed very well. The high velocity, low caliber rounds left neat little holes in the target, as opposed to the 9mm rounds of the MP5, which tore ugly patches of the paper away. You can see why the weapon is used by armies and thugs all over the world. Reliable, powerful, and cheap.
The last night, Pops kicked off early and Nickles and I went to the Wolfgang Puck restaurant to use up our MGM comps. Neither of us was very impressed, alas. We played some more blackjack at the Trop, then he went off to bed around 9:30. We had to leave from the hotel at 3:30 the next morning to make our flight back, so my plan was to just stay the hell up.
I headed across the street to the Caesar’s card room and played some 1-3 NL (their lowest stakes game). The place is a lot nicer since the last time I played a couple of years ago (just after they’d opened it). Previously, it was pretty much just like the inside of a mid-quality hotel conference room. They’ve since really decked it out with a lot of awesome, huge, sports photos (including one of Vince Lombardo and Bart Starr cheering a victory), nice fixtures, and all around nice furnishings. They also bumped up their low stakes game from 1-2 to 1-3 and reduced the seats per table to 9 from 10. All in all, very nice.
They still have a $5 max rake since it’s a Harrah’s properly, but unlike the rest of the Harrah’s card rooms, that extra buck goes to a high hand jackpot instead of a bad beat jackpot. Either way, I’d prefer to be paying $4 like at MGM, but at least I felt like I was playing at a nice place instead of a shithole like the Flamingo. Plus it’s a totally separate room from the rest of the casino, so you’re not getting all the smoke coming in like at most of the card rooms in Vegas.
I was happy enough to be even in my poker at that point, having battled back from my hideous night at the Dirty Bird on the first night. My goal was mostly to just stay even and stay awake for the next five hours and bought in for my usual $100. Instead, within 15 minutes, I was all-in three times.
The first came against a French dude, playing the maniac. There were a couple of callers around to me, and I looked down to QQ. I popped it up to my usual raise of $10. It came around to him and he raised me all-in for the rest of my stack in a $20 pot. I figured no one with AA or KK would be looking to scare away action that much, and called. The queeens held.
I know another called all-in held up soon thereafter (forgetting the hand now) and I was up $350 or so, enough to pay for the trip. I could have taken it and gone to bed happy, but I didn’t want to hit the sack at 10pm on the last night in Vegas.
A few minutes later, I popped it up with AK, and French maniac pushed on me again. I let him goad me into a call, and he showed AA. Ouch. I was back down to $80 or so after that; a painful swing.
After playing with the crazy French dude (and his brother, also at the table), it became clear that they were both solid players, but acted a good aura of craziness for the benefits to their action. A few hours in with money shifting in small amounts, it had gotten pretty tight.
About 2am, up hundred and change, I limped with 66 in the small blind. A dude from Southern California to my left in the big blind checked it, and three of us saw the flop. The flop came 10 6 X, me hitting my set. I checked and SoCal bet $20. The other player folded, and I made a call.
The turn brought the second diamond, and I checked again. SoCal bet again, something like $35, and I made a call saying "Well, I came to gamble."
With a blank on the river, I pushed for another $100 or so. SoCal tanked and I tried to act like I was bluffing on a blown flush draw. He was definitely leaning towards folding. He showed me his hole cards, Q 10, asking if he should call. Upon seeing his cards, I made an Oscar-caliber comment, "Oh, you’ve got TOP pair.", which pushed him to call, and I showed my set.
I was up $350 or so after a five hour fight, and with a plane to catch, I soon departed for the hotel to toss my shit in my bag.