January 2007
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May not contain nuts

Seeing as it looks like FX isn’t going to show Poker Dome again for another month, and I have no idea when my heat is going to be on TV, I’m just going to go ahead and do this from memory.  Without the aid of any screencaps of me sweating lots and looking like a nervous buffoon.

*** Spoiler alert *** If for some reason you do actually want to watch the show with some degree of suspense, do not read on. 

*** Length alert *** Sorry, longest blog post ever.  Promise it won’t happen again.  For busy people: I was 4th.

For what is probably the most high-tech show on TV, the seat draw was decidedly low-tech. At the Friday night players’ dinner at The Palm, after enjoying a delicious Filet Mignon (I couldn’t help checking the menu: it’s a $38 steak, and we had a private room and three other courses) I got to pick first from six books of matches, each with a number one to six written under the flap.

1. Steve Day
2. Carl Olsen
3. Chad Padgett
4. Hello, it’s me
5. Trey Aitken
6. Tom Bashioum

(I don’t know whether to be pleased with my Google skillz that I managed to find the obscure link to Tom, or upset that I couldn’t find anything at all for Chad).

The limo bus dropped us downtown at just about the only unit still in use at Neonopolis at just before 1pm.  The show started at 6pm but in the meantime we had to go through "poker school", where we were taught how to play speed poker.  It’s not just a little bit faster – you also have to announce every move you make, always stack your chips neatly (splashing is strictly forbidden), and learn to never, ever block the little camera.

Then we had a bit of a rehearsal where I managed to stack Steve after calling a raise with 24o and flopping 2 pair.  For what it’s worth.  He was playing his hand blind and got his chips back anyway.  We all got to press the time extension button and make the lights go mental for thirty seconds.  I’m still a bit disappointed that I never did this during the show itself, but there was never a decision that I really needed that long to make, or a situation where I had to convince someone my decision was harder than it actually was.  The latter is how I’d hoped I’d be using it.

The set really is very cool, and the music is not as annoying as you’d think really.  With all the commercial breaks there’s plenty of silence to break it up.  The droning music helps hide for the fact the dome is not perfectly soundproof; you can’t hear much without it but you can’t hear anything when it’s going.  I did expect the audience to be completely blocked from view when the lights were down – in fact you can see the outline of the first few rows.  It would actually be possible to signal to a player if you really wanted to, but it would be very obvious, and probably followed by a swift ejection for all concerned. 

We filmed some headshots in the dome (this will be what they use to project my face onto a casino in the opening sequence) and some extremely tacky thumbs-up shots.  The film you see of the players getting fitted with heart monitors and being scanned for cellphones is bullshit though.  Sorry, I mean that’s the magic of television.  It’s recorded separately; I got scanned by a wand that wasn’t turned on on camera, but we did actually all get searched properly before going onto the set, and dark glasses were given particular scrutiny.

I did take some shades, but you won’t see them.  Probably nobody will ever see them.  They were even worse than the tie I wore, which people kept telling me they liked.  I always replied that I didn’t believe them.  Why would they like it?  It’s awful.  Simply the fact that it had glitter on should have been a big enough clue that I wasn’t serious, surely?

Walking back from the fake security check we meet Michael Konik, who has amazingly managed to write two Vegas books that I don’t have.  They actually might be the only two.  Of course I didn’t mention this.

The button is in seat 1, making me first to act on the first hand.  Matt Savage tells me that I have a very special role to play, giving the commentators enough time to explain how the timer works.  I must not, under any circumstances, do anything in the first ten seconds.  I have some kind of garbage, probably four-something as it felt like every hand I had for the first hour had a four in it, and I wait an age before making an easy fold.  Has to be said, because I’ll look like a moron who’s just going for the screen time.

Matt Savage is very modest, by the way.  He reminded us not to forget to go see Lucky You when it’s released in March.  I already know the answer, but I asked anyway.  "Are you in it?".  "Yeah", he replied, "it stars Drew Barrymore, Matt Savage, Eric Bana and Robert Duvall".  Second on the bill, apparently.  See his illustrious movie career unfold here.

So anyway, onto the hands I did play.  I can remember eight of note:

1. My first button.  I have 22 and it’s folded to me.  I raise the pot and Trey or Tom calls from one of the blinds.  I don’t remember who, or what the flop was, but there was a bet and I had to let the hand go.   I do remember the sudden tightening of the heart rate monitor as soon as he made the call, and the realisation that… bloody hell we only have 50 chips, I can only do that a couple more times.

2. I have pocket 8s and am first to act.  I raise the pot.  Only Chad calls from the big blind, and he donk-bets a KK9 flop.  With deeper stacks (and less sweaty hands) I’m popping him back, but I don’t have enough chips to test him, nor the balls to make a big move with an underpair here this early in the game.  There’s plenty of hands that he’s already beating me with here, and I’m only just better than 60% to make it to showdown if he only has overcards.  Good bet, I fold.

3. I fold my third pocket pair, this time jacks and this time pre-flop.  Trey raises and Tom immiediately re-raises.  It’s folded to me in the big blind, and I can (a) commit my stack right now, (b) call and play a mediocre hand out of position (assuming Trey doesn’t re-raise) or (c) get out of the way.  Plan C looks like the best option by a mile, but I can’t help wondering whether I just have to bite the bullet and go for it there.  We’ve been going maybe twenty minutes now, so there’s not much time left.  I made it known that I’d folded JJ and asked Tom if he had me beat.  He wasn’t able to play it cool convincingly, so I was a little happier.

4. I have ace-something suited on the big blind.  Blinds are 1k/2k and Steve raises to 7k from the cut-off.  It was either ATs or A8s, I don’t remember for sure, because in my head it was much stronger than that.  I reraise another 10k and Steve shows he has been paying attention by giving it up.  This was just about the last chance I would have had to pull a re-steal without moving all-in, it seemed like a good spot and so I took it.  I still don’t know what he had – I was probably ahead anyway, but if I did make him fold a better hand then I’ll be having a screencap for my windows wallpaper!

5. Tom is a min-raising scumbag on my big blind, and it’s not the first time he’s made that bet.  I make an almost compulsory (read: spite) call for 4k more with 64s.  I figure he doesn’t have any of my outs, at least.  All kinds of uneventful things can happen, but the board brings a massive scare: AKJ.  It’s my turn to lead the flop, and then beat myself up when he re-raises – the minimum again just to add insult to injury.  I’m still not sure if this was a move I had to try, or whether I was just throwing good chips after bad.  I can get him to fold TT or lower here and probably QQ, and QQ or TT alone is more likely than a set with that board, but what’s his range for the good old minimum raise?  I don’t know yet. 

6. Desparation sets in.  Chad has been eliminated.  Everyone folds to Carl on the button, who decides to let me fight it out with Trey.  My Jd4d is irrelevant with 6k up for grabs and less than 20k left.  I ignore the warnings in poker school about not moving all in when you have more than the pot and let the guys backstage figure out just how much I’m allowed to raise.  I get 4k back, Trey calls, and my future looks somewhat gloomy.  The flop brings a queen and two diamonds, and I then proceed to suck out on Trey’s Q9.

7. Trey is the desparate one now and moves all in (or close to it) first to act.  I have QQ, he has AQ, my hand holds up and and for a brief moment I’m alive again whilst Trey gets escored from the stage on the arm of one of the "chip girls".

8. Of course, I bust myself even before Trey has left the set.  We share an exit interview with Leeann Tweeden, who I later learn is actually a respected sports analyst and not just a pair of jugs to host the show.  I have AQs on the small blind, Carl raises from the button and I get it all in against, of course, AK.

Carl goes on to win, showing almost no emotion in the process.  He probably agrees with the 2+2 sycophants that there was never any contest.

UltimateBet encourages multi-accounting!

This makes no sense at all.  I’ve cashed out.

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Obligatory Photo Post

Something old.  The Stardust on death row.  The number of windows remaining decreased throughout the week.  By Friday you could look straight through and see Boulder Station from one direction, and the Wynn from the other.  Implosion is exected some time in March.

Something new.  Just one of the many ways Harrah’s continues to downgrade Caesars Palace.  If it’s so bad it’s good, like hanging huge pictures of David Hasslehoff doing jazz hands from the fake Arc de Triomphe, I can appreciate it.  However this is just skin-crawlingly tasteless.

Something broken.  When keno channels go bad.

Something green.  This is what $500 in "casino credit" looks like.  Oh look, it’s Celine Dion again.

Something tall.  The Stratosphere from a random angle, but I kinda like this shot.  "Home to the world’s highest roller-coaster", boasts the video they play you as the BMI plane touches down.  Not for a couple of years it’s not been… it’s basically just one big commercial for Dollar car rental anyway, but – as you’d expect – it’s already horribly out of date.

Something dark.  Westward Ho is just rubble now but it looks like the sign is waiting to be taken to the Neon Museum.

Something handsome.  Best carpet in town, at the soon-to-be Planet Hollywood.  Let’s hope they’ve changed enough to actually get rid of the jinx this time.

Back in Blighty

Plane landed on time, once I finally got there.  That’s the last time I let someone organise a ride for me, as my limo ended up nearly an hour late, and I was getting just a little flustered.  The flight was half empty and I wasn’t the last to get there, but I had no time to eat.  Aside from some snackage in the green room and picking at plane food, the last thing I ate was Saturday morning, a horrible greasy breakfast skillet thing at Imperial Palace .  Ready for a curry!  It took a while for them to assemble the staircase to the plane.  Either there was no proper gate available or the pilot had missed the jetty by a mile.  We piled out onto the tarmac, with everybody managing to refrain from kissing the ground.

If you’d told me any time this week that I’d be spending my last night in Vegas at Pure I’d have laughed in your face.  But after the trip back from Downtown to Caesars in the party limo bus (it was a long trip, but it could have been longer – the coolest vehicle I’ve ever been in) I joined some of the other losers and their friends and did just that.  I could call it camaraderie, but mostly I think it was just that we all wanted to go and get drunk.

Yeah, I lost.  No real spoiler there, you know I’d be bragging much sooner if I’d won it!  I think I’ll post some hands I remember separately but still before I get to see the show.  Although it went out in the USA whilst I was flying, it should be on late Wednesday night here but it’s not showing in the Sky EPG at all any more!  I might have to find a torrent in order to watch myself looking like a nervous donkey and probably folding the best hand too many times.

I wasn’t sure that playing $20 roulette was the best way to get free drinks, but the game was kind to me.  And apparently we played briefly with Jim Belushi, although I never even noticed, so I’m starstruck in retrospect only.  I played four numbers and hit three of them in the first four spins!  Beginner’s luck I’m sure, as all I’ve done before is the odd matchplay coupon and being an evil influence on Vij one time.  He’d gone to make a bet for a friend at work, just a $25 double or nothing bet on red.  When it hit, I managed to convince him that he could press it and go again.  Then if it wins he keeps $50 himself and pays his mate off too, but if it loses then nobody really knows.  Plus EV to be sure… 🙂  The next spin is black, of course.

I still have no idea how we got into Pure.  Seat Five, Trey Aitken (long "a", silent "t" – he wasn’t going to get it misprounced on TV) did something or said something and then suddenly we were jumping ahead of about 400 people standing in line around the casino.  Par-tay animal Trey blew his $500 in chips the night before on table service with a bottle of vodka.  No table this time, but hey you can’t have everything…  Welcome to the home of the $10 beer, but this place is something else.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s so damn big it needs an elevator.  You can jump right in and go straight up to the strip level balcony.  Which is fantastic.  It’s not going to be the great city-wide view like you’d get at the clubs in Palms and Rio that are fifty something stories high, but it’s right in the heart of the action.  Neon in your eyes and desert air in your face.  Just awesome.  And if that wasn’t good enough, there’s the Pussycat Dolls too.  Caesars’ answer to the Binion Dollar Babes – a poor substitute, but they’ll do 🙂

I have a ton more pictures as usual (actually 351 it says, not bad for a week’s work eh) and some of them are even in focus.  Expect me to bore you rigid throughout the week!

You don’t have to work here to be crazy but it helps

As I walked back to my very nice large room in the new Augustus tower at Caesars tonight there was a security guy with a podium waiting by the elevators.  He asked the couple walking ahead of me for their room key.  I went to reach for mine from my pocket but he waved me on.  "You work here, go ahead", he said.  Sure I was wearing a Caesars logo jacket, but even if that looks like a uniform (which it doesn’t) and even if employees use the customer elevators (which I’m sure they don’t) what would I be doing there at 2am without a room service cart or luggage or something?

I have all my Mansion freebies now, except for one surprise that we apparently get at the taping tomorrow.  Everything came in a rather nice sports bag.  There’s a baseball cap, a too small t-shirt , a deck of cards, two round but rather sharp silver things that I can only assume are meant to be card protectors, a book about how to play poker (just in case I qualified by accident?) and a badge.  Yes, a badge.  What am I?  Twelve?

The $50 food credit is a swipeable gift card for any of the Caesars restaurants (but not the Forum Shops, so no Cheesecake Factory) and it looks like it will last a while, which is great because I’m never going to spend it all by Sunday.  The $500 casino credit is a stack of green chips, some of which have Celine Dion’s head on them.  I cashed them in and went over the road to play $2/$4 at the IP instead.

At the cage there are separate lines for diamond level players and all other plebs, as there are almost everywhere now.  I’m still waiting for the diamond urinal and vip washbasin to appear in the gents, it won’t be long before you have to show a player’s card to have a piss.  All I wanted to do was walk up to the pleb counter – three clerks, one customer, nobody waiting.  But that wasn’t to be my decision.  They have someone waiting there to ask whether you are special, and presumably if you are you can’t just use any old counter, it has to be the vip one, as long as you stop and rummage through your pockets to produce the right coloured card.  It did make me wonder what else, other than a separate line, the diamond members were getting.  Do they valet park the notes into your wallet for you?

Pre-match bollocks

They did get me a car to Caesars.  Yay!  I’ve just done my pre-match interview nonsense, which involved me struggling to think of anything interesting to say whilst trying to smile and not look like a psychopath.  After I maxed out on poker last night, I’m pretty spaced and trying to be human was all a bit too much effort really.

My mimes are: trying to look tired (as I’ve travelled further than anyone else this week); jazz hands (they will project Vegas behind me, apparently); trying to not drop a laptop whilst typing with one hand.  For all of them they kept asking to tilt my head down to avoid glare from my glasses, but I’m sure this will just have created new glare from my rapidly thinning scalp.

Now I have some free time (wowee) until dinner later, when I’ll get my $500 in chips.  In the meantime I’m contemplating a poker-free day.  Yesterday I played three tournaments and three hours of no-limit and nothing went right.  OK, maybe a poker-free afternoon.  There’s always the 11pm tourney at Caesars or $2/$4 over at the IP.

My champagne just arrived too.  Felt like I needed to tip but (a) they weren’t expecting me to be here and (b) I’m not going to drink it.  I might have the ice bucket though 🙂

So yesterday, I lost at The Orleans at midday, Binions at 8pm and the Strat at midnight, with a bit of $1/$2 NL inbetween.  I have bad beat stories from each if anyone would care to ask, but I’m sure they won’t.

Binions have let me down though.  Here’s the scenario.  We’re down to three tables and I’m in need of chips.  I see A7 and push.  It’s early position, but we’re seven handed, and I just can’t wait any longer.  I get one caller, but as we go to flip our cards the caller notices he no longer has them.  The dealer has taken his hand and mucked it.

Almost the exact same thing happened on Monday at the final table.  A player moves all in, a shorter stack calls and I umm and ah and fold pocket 7s – I have him covered but not by much.  Whilst I’m deciding the delaer has taken his hand.  Jenny the Floor comes over and tells it like it is – players must protect their hand, and as soon as it hits the muck it’s dead.  The short stack doubles up without even showing her cards.  If I’d called here, I’d have eliminated a player without showdown.  The floorlady shows a printed copy of the TDA rules to the protesting player and we move on.

So why, this time, is the hand recovered from the muck and played out?  I can’t really explain this without sounding like an angle-shooting asshole, and that’s exactly how I came across at the table.  I didn’t want to push too much because, basically, I agree that if the dealer makes a mistake costing the player a pot then they should try to make an effort to put things right.  But here’s how it actually played out.

Ethan the Floor whispers to the player.  The player whispers back.  Ethan picks up the muck, riffles through it and gives the player back two cards.  I ask why he’s changing the rules and he says, "I have discretion and I’m doing it for the integrity of the game".  So much for integrity when it’s one rule for one and one rule for another.  I was close to asking whether he knew the player, but thought better of it, took my shot against his pocket nines and left.

It was only on the bus back that I realised why this was so bad.  I don’t care so much about the hand being played out, but that rule is there for a reason.  It’s to ensure that cards cannot be swapped, and if your cards touch another player’s unprotected cards as you throw them in, both hands are instantly killed.  This is exactly the way the situation would be handled if the floorman was colluding with the player.  That’s not what I’m saying happened here, and I don’t believe it did.  It was just a power-hungry floorman who thought he was doing the right thing, and was not going to let anyone tell him what the actual rule was.  So now, sadly, there’s always going to be doubt in my mind as to whether something dodgy was going on here.  If they must go hunting for cards in the muck – which I’ve never seen done before, just the idea of doing so is ridiculous really – at least announce the cards you’re looking for out loud, and then turn the muck face up to see if it’s there and the cards are next to each other.

Blackjack Maaaaadness

Took full advantage of two new player signup offers at Sahara on by way back tonight after crashing out of the Venetian’s tournament.  It was all going swimmingly until my JJ was cracked by an over-excited 66 who wasn’t quite as short-stacked as he thought he was.  I never fully recovered.  I did discover somewhere to get a very nice pastrami sandwich to go from the Grand Canal Shoppes though, which was not quite messy enough for me to end up with mayonaise all over the cards.  I’d walked to the Venetian, taking photos on the way including some very sad shots of the Stardust which has been having its windows ripped out from the top downwards since I got here.  They’re nearly done now, so it won’t be long before it goes kerblammo.

The first offer at the Sahara was a totally free $10 slot play, which was mine for the taking as Sahara had wiped my account from their system.  It’s probably been 5 years since I played there with a slot card so I’m not really surprised.  I turned the $10 in machine credit into $10 in real money in 8 spins of video poker.  Mission accomplished!  They still have some machines that pay out in coin, which used to be an inconvenience but now they’ve made virtually everything ticket-in-ticket-out I do miss not getting my hands filthy and having to carry round buckets of quarters.

The other offer was a promo chip deal, where $40 gets you $50 in $5 chips.  You can’t cash the chips in, they have to be wagered – and lost, because when you win you get the winnings as a regular chip but the stake remains in play as a promo chip.  Not sure what this is worth, but it’s definitely worth doing.  I had a similar deal at the Hilton before but I think it’s only for hotel guests there.

If I’d played like I normally would, increasing my bet with each win, I’d have made a killing.  As I’d decided to only make the same bet each hand though, in order to clear the bonus, I only finished up with $90.  There was a long streak where I just couldn’t lose, and when I tipped the dealer the other players looked puzzled and I had to explain what the other chip was for.  Still, free money is never something to be sneezed at.

I’d already noticed that I was the only one there who knew what was going on though.  There’s a reason the Sahara can still make money from $3 tables!  Never mind the odd rookie mistake like standing on a 16 when the dealer shows a big card.  One hand when the dealer showed a 3, the lady to my right hit her 13 and bust; the chap to my left split his pair of kings and ended up with a 15 and a 16.  The guy on third base had a blackjack, but I half expected him to hit it anyway.  The next hand he hit on a 13, drew an ace and then decided that 14 was enough.

The dealer wasn’t much better.  I doubled on a soft 18 against her 5 (turns out this is actually wrong, but there can’t be much in it; with 6 decks you double soft 17 against 2 to 6, but soft 17 against a 6 only) and I was given a 9, and next thing I know I see two red chips flying my way after she hits to 17.  By the time I’d figured out that there was no way I could have possibly won that hand, only pushed at best, everyone had moved on.  I don’t think I was the only lucky one!

Contenders ready!

I just had an email from one of the Poker Dome producers that was sent to all six of the contestants in my heat.  So of course, I’ve been using this boob to do a little research 🙂

I already knew one of my opponents would be Carl Olsen, as he was the other qualifier from my heat.  He was a runner up in the 2005 EPT French Open (apparently dumping out to his best mate) and has a string of other live cashes to his name, and online success as colson10.  In fact, when searching for just his name, Google suggests: "See results for: carl olson poker".

Turns out we also have another possible online pro at the table in Steve DaySharkscope actually lists him (ackbleh) as a loser on PokerStars (current form is "tilt", it unhelpfully says), although he does play $210 and $315 turbo SNGs, which are perfect training for a speed poker TV crapshoot.  Steve has a handful of respectable recent cashes to his name.  Olson also is listed as playing $525 turbos and $500 and $200 heads up SNGs, although he hasn’t been on Stars for a few months.

Of the other three players, I only found one possible hit – Trey Aitken, a cafe owner from Alabama. 

I still don’t think there’s any reason to let this intimidate me.  I’ve known all along the game will be fast and furious, and at least I already expect two of the guys to be prepared for that and play accordingly.  Besides, there’s a very good chance that any skill or experience will be rendered neutral by the TV format.  Virtually every contestant I’ve seen on Poker Dome so far has appeared to be as poor as the show itself.  Oh, should I not say that?  I still have a one in six chance of $25k on Saturday, but I figure my odds of looking clueless are much higher.

Quickie results update

Four tournaments played and one cash – 3rd place at Binions – put me into a small profit for the trip so far.  Then I blew it by losing nearly $200 at $2/$4 on the coldest streak of cards I’d seen pretty much ever.  The table was great, including a Hawaiian woman who couldn’t see the cards very well and sometimes just hoped she’d actually made a pair.  Wasn’t happening for me though – it was 2h45m before I won my first pot (must be a record) with pocket aces, although the table had dropped to 6 players at that point so it was a little easier for a big pair to hold up.  The very next hand I had AA again, it won a second time, but then every other hand I hit I ended up splitting the pot.

In the Binions tournament I stayed to watch the last two battle it out with stupidly high blinds and they actually kept it going for some time.  Then, the internet poker gods intervened.  On a flop of 789, both players get it all in.  One shows 78, the other somehow found a call with AQ.  Turn J.  River T.  Lovely.

Security Alert

A sign at the entrance barriers to the Las Vegas Monorail reads:

"Due to the heightened security alert, all carry on bags are subject to inspection"

I’m sure the monorail is a high profile target for terrorists.  A bomb would surely injure a handful, and inconvenience dozens.