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3am Eternal

I’m awake not long after 3am as usual, on the lucky 14th floor of the Stratosphere (remember, the number 13 does not exist here), although I’m grateful right now to be here at all.  Took me three hours before I could check in, thanks to Travelworm (they don’t deserve a hyperlink) kindly faxing through a list of customers that had cancelled their bookings, and my name was on the list.  Apparently they had the same problem yesterday.  So I had to wait around for a new list to get faxed through, leaving me wandering the casino wheeling my suitcase from tv screen to tv screen.  Not that big a deal really, as all I really wanted to do before crashing out was watch the football, but I would have liked to do it without having to sit on my suitcase in a sportsbook.  No point checking my bags with the bell desk – apparently they were sending some folk to another hotel yesterday because of the Travelworm cock up.

Had a pretty good flight really.  No problems with flashing the silver diamond club card to get priority check-in (not that there was much of a line anyway) and I got the lounge pass without asking, as well as being pointed towards to priority security door, which was great because there was a huge line to be scanned.  Also discovered that if you wait for an escort from the lounge to the gate (in the past we’ve always gone wandering for duty free, usually disappointed – £17 for Jack Daniels… what’s the point when I can get one for $12 over here?) then you get to board the plane first too.  I got one of the legroom seats at the front of the cabin too, and they fed me Macaroni Cheese, which is surprisngly edible for plane food.  Very little that can go wrong with it, really.

I got a chatty cabby who wanted to know everything.  Of course the subject of why I was in town came up, so I had to tell him I was going to be on TV.  Rude not to.  I then proceeded to jinx myself.  This was one of those perfect moments where I say something like, "you know if I win the million, I’ll buy you a Mercedes" or something, pushing my karma up and creating a nice little story for when I do actually win.  But I only thought about it later.  Crapola.

Now waiting for the breakfast buffet to open, then will work out a plan for my poker assualt this week!

Going solo

My flight for Vegas leaves at 9:05. T-1, I guess, although it’s really too close to call.

It’s not the first time I’ll have flown alone, but it’s my first time time flying transatlantic.  I went to Guernsey once by myself for a job interview, and mostly what I remember is that they grow a lot of tomatoes there and everyone is so rich they have to outdo each other with their fast cars, even though the island speed limit is 35mph.  Jersey, apparently, has a dual carriageway where you can go up to 40mph.  They grow potatoes there, and cows.

So many things I’ve never had to deal with before that I’ll be learning over the next few days.  Firstly, the all-important question of whether I want a window seat or an aisle seat.  Do I want to be treading over a stranger when I need to stretch, or do I want to be the one getting budged out the way, probably at a critical point in one of the in-flight movies. 

At Christmas the plane was half-empty (or half-full, for the optimists reading) and we were able to move to the front row of the cabin and have plenty of stretching space.  It looks like there’s still room on this flight as BMI was showing seats available for £188 – plus £131 tax, but still the cheapest direct flight I’ve ever seen – yesterday.  Still don’t know what it takes to get an upgrade when the premium cabin is empty, but given that a silver Diamond Club card now doesn’t even get you priority check-in any more, and we had to fight at Christmas to get our lounge privileges, I can’t see that happening.

I’m shooting for an aisle seat mostly because they tend to put the in-flight entertainment units under the window seats.  Here’s what I could be watching.  A better selection on the way back than on the way out (I am not talking about Jackass).  However I’ve loaded up a couple of memory sticks with movies to watch on my PSP now that I’ve finally figured out how to do it – I’m sure it’s more content that the battery life will allow me to watch though – and successed in packing my 8Gb ipod to the brim with many more podcasts than I could ever listen to.  It’s showing 12.4Mb free, which is close enough to capacity for me.

It’ll also be the first time for years I’ll have been in Vegas without a car, so I am going to have to find other ways to get around.  Staying at the Strat there’s a monorail station just up the road, but $5/trip is silly.  There’s a ten ride pack for $35 that’s better value (although still expensive, and uneconomical to get to almost anywhere if you are travelling in a group of two or more) which I’m guessing I could burn my way through in a week.

The Deuce bus which runs up and down the strip and to Downtown (and, as I’ve just learned, sometimes all the way South to the Outlet Center in case my "business attire" is not suitable) is handy, but slow.  The timetable reckons about 40 minutes to get from Sahara to MGM Grand.  The same journey is 12.5 minutes on the monorail, so even by the time you’ve walked for miles through the casino to get to the station at the very back of the property, it’s much quicker.

Getting to The Orleans by bus (they have a few tournaments I fancy playing) takes 1h3m according to the RTC route planner, with two buses and half a mile of total walking.  I reckon I could drive it in ten minute drive, fifteen if I hit every red light possible, so a cabbie can do it in less.  I’ll be going posh if I do decide to go there.  Getting downtown, on the other hand, should be a breeze.  The bus picks up right outside The Strat and takes 17 minutes to get to the Downtown Transportation Center.  Bus station to you and me.

The other thing I’m not sure how I’ll contend with is eating alone.  I can’t live on McDonald’s and Subway for a week.  I don’t think I’d have too much trouble grabbing a newspaper and sitting alone with a breakfast buffet or in a cafe, but I think it will be pretty intimidating to go for dinner alone.  I did fish out a few coupons from the American Casino Guide though that were valid for loners like myself – 50% off your bill, rather than a two-for-one offer.  Kudos to The Orleans and Terribles for allowing that option, but that’s it.  Everywhere else requires patrons in even numbers.

Anyway, need to be up at 5ish.  Better try to sleep!

La la la, la la la la la

I could never have imagined this 20 years ago – last night I saw Kylie Minogue in concert. The girl who was a significant part of the reason my family’s bought their first video recorder puts on quite a show.  I do remember that first summer holiday of a twice-daily Neighbours fix – new episodes at lunchtime, repeated the next morning – with a skewed teenage fondness.  Eventually the BBC caught onto the fact that this was actually the biggest TV programme on the planet and moved it to the early evening slot it has had ever since, but until then I know we were far from alone in the world in compulsively recording half an hour of Australia’s finest export every day.

Let’s be honest – Kylie made some shocking records early in her career.  But this was a greatest hits tour, so all the offenders were there and stood up to be counted in suitably cheesy fashion.  The karaoke version of Especially For You was somehow nothing like as bad as it should have been and I just found myself laughing uncontrollably during I Should Be So Lucky – not so much anything to do with the show, more the fact that I realised I was actually enjoying a live performance of a song that I detested with a passion.

Amongst this and other retro campness, including a candidate for t-shirt of the year – "Kylie Says Relax" (you don’t need a picture) – there was even, surprisingly, a moment of musical genius in the swingin’ cabaret arrangement of The Loco-Motion.  Absolutely stunning (really) and God bless YouTube and camera phones for letting me share it here.

Don’t you think this is a little bit tight?

The only new information I have had about Poker Dome in a month.

Regarding ground transportation, we take contestants from the airport  round trip to Caesars. Since you’re coming early on your own and staying elsewhere, it’s your responsibility to get to Caesars. 

Airport to Caesars = 3.8 miles
Strat to Caesars = 2.7 miles
Updated 26/1: I take it back, they did actually send a car for me, and I didn’t even have to ask again.  I was probably meant to tip.

They’ll be alright

Whether or not the Gutshot verdict will spell the end for Europe’s Busiest Card Room remains to be seen.  Following the trial, Derek Kelly announced, "There will be poker played at the Gutshot tonight – but we may have to change the way we do it".  He went on to finish in the money in a £5 rebuy game of chance and skill.

Clearly many Gutshot regulars, as well as other keen poker players throughout the UK, are disappointed by the guilty verdict.  Amongst the comments of appreciation, sympathy, disbelief and outrage on their forum are calls to arms – write to your MP, or let’s start a petition and see what we can do.  Even if there is no court appeal, there is still a fight to be fought, and it will be fought by more than just one gallant Irishman.

Boycotting Grosvenor Casinos is another suggestion.  This is the organisation that commissioned the investigation that ultimately led to Derek’s prosecution, after the police were uninterested in taking matters any further. They have, effectively, outlawed private poker clubs (except for clubs that can somehow cover their costs by charging the 60 pence per player per day allowed by law) whilst also hiking their own charges earlier this year.  It is only an interpretation of the Gaming Act that allows them to call their a registration fee a "session charge" and charge more than the permitted 10%.  The Gambling Commission approves of this loophole, however, and I cannot see it being tested in court.

We eagerly await a formal statement from Gutshot to see just how they intend to proceed.

Edit: There will be an appeal.

Derek Kelly Guilty

Apparently.  So far reported by two unregistered posters on Gutshot forum, and a call from someone who knows a guy who says he was there.

A few minutes later, the BBC agree:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6267603.stm

Casino Poker Cheats Banged Up

There has been a story in the news about some crooks being jailed for, apparently, cheating at poker.  I first heard this in a brief report on the radio so my first thought was exactly what they’d been done for – even in a fully licenced casino, the house pretty much can’t (or wont) do anything about a poker cheat, on account of it being a game that’s played only against other players.  If they’re not stealing from the casino, the worst that will happen is a swift ejection from the premises.  They usually want to keep punter-worrying stories quiet, especially when they don’t have to worry about getting their money back.

The crime in question took place in September 2005, but with the story breaking less than 24 hours before a verdict is expected in the Gutshot case, and showing the public – and the jury, if they are allowed to watch TV - that a licenced casino is a very safe place to be, the timing is impeccable.  I may very well say more about the Gutshot defense and their shocking definition of gambling and expert witness who does not understand conditional probability after judgement has been served later today.

Footage of the scam taking place confirms that the three men had actually been caught cheating at three card poker.  Just having the word poker in the name of the game will help to carry the story in the media, but really this is just a poker-style carnival game, played against the dealer and featuring a juicy house edge.

According to the ITV news report I saw last night, they got away with "three and a half (pause for effect) thousand pounds", suggesting that these guys were stupid enough to not only hang around long enough to be seen repeatedly winning at a game with horible odds, but also that they only got away with a little more than one month’s minimum wage each.  The BBC coverage, however, suggested a much more respectible figure (although only a guestimate) of £250,000, won over a four month period. 

Yau Lam and his partners in crime – Fan Tsang and the fabulously named Bit Wong – used a lipstick camera concealed in his sleeve, positioned to see the faces of the cards as they were dealt.  The pictures were transmitted to a nearby van where his accomplice could speak the relevant information to a hidden earpiece.  Sky News has pictures of the kit.

As only 26% of hands in three card poker are decided by a pair or better, even seeing just one of the dealer’s cards is very valuable indeed.  After placing an initial ante bet, the player has the choice of "raising" – doubling the bet to find out if he beats the dealer’s hand – or "folding" and forfeiting his bet immediately.

The basic strategy is to raise if you hold a Q64 or better, otherwise fold.  However every time you have a queen-high hand but see that the dealer was dealt an ace or king, you can save a bet by playing opposite to the normal strategy because you already know you are beaten.  Quite clearly though, if you are only investing more money on winning hands, the casinos is soon going to notice.

In case you’d somehow forgotten, it was actually the World Poker Tour that invented fucking tiny cameras (not Noel Edmonds or Timmy Mallett as I believed in my younger days).  If the police didn’t get these guys, WPTE’s lawyers would have done, and that’s a much scarier prospect than a few years of porridge.

First major result of the year

I’d wiped the slate clean on my poker results spreadsheets on 1st Jan.  Things didn’t go exactly to plan with me playing a pretty random collection of tournaments and running quite cold indeed.  This one was random too – it was just whatever was starting after I managed to get online from my hotel in King’s Cross.

PokerStars Tournament #40451369, No Limit Hold’em
Buy-In: $10.00/$1.00
1101 players

You finished the tournament in 7th place.
A $363.34 award has been credited to your Real Money account.

It all went my way early on, getting some stupidly easy payoffs every time I hit a hand and I then managed to maintain and stay in the top pretty much all the way.  This was a 10 minute level tournament – not quite a speed game, but faster than usual and by the end the monster chip leader only had 20 big blinds in his stack.  I ended up busting after I pushed with KJs and ran into an eager caller with AJ in the blind.

I was deliberately not looking at my results spreadsheet to see how much I had to win to get back even for the year, or I’d probably have played much weaker and tried to limp into as big a payoff as possible, whilst never standing a chance of winning the thing.  This is a very good payoff for a $10 tournament and three hours work (although, of course, first place was over 2 grand) but it still doesn’t quite get me out of the hole.  Nevertheless, I’m pretty darn pleased with the result, and in terms of performance against a large field, this is probably my best MTT result ever.  Certainly my best result on Stars.

Unfinished Business

As I’ve now been back from Vegas for longer than it is until I go again (T-8!) I should probably lay to rest the stuff  have from the last trip that I haven’t talked about yet but would definitely have blogged if the crappy net access didn’t let me down.

I had two tournament cashes.  I already wrote about the result at Binions, but I also hit a $964 payout at Caesars Palace.  This was a 12-way chop that gave everyone remaining a prize just better than the third place money.  Amazingly, only eleven accepted the deal to start with.  Blinds were about to double (they skip some levels in the lunctime tournament to get it over with quicker than the evening one) leaving nobody with a stack much bigger than 10 big blings.  He soon came round though, and I got to experience the bureaucratic nightmare that is a Harrah’s casino poker payout of $600 or more.  Form-filling-tastic.

Somehow I’d lost my Total Rewards card (or at least I thought I had, it did turn up much later) whilst playing video poker at Caesars, resenting the downgrade from 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.5% payback) to a pathetic 7/5 paytable (96.1%).  To get the payout from the cardroom, I needed to hand over both my ID and the players card.  I tossed in my passport to let them get started on the paperwork and went hunting for the card, with paranoid visions of neither my passport nor my money being there when I got back.  The card wasn’t where I thought I’d left it, so I had to beg the players club staff to give me a new one: at first they insisted I needed my passport to get it reprinted, but eventually they believed my story that I’d had to leave my ID in the poker room and just let me write my name on a piece of paper, found me on the system and asked me if the address on screen was correct.  A peculiar security procedure to say the least, especially after nothing else I had on me was acceptable proof of ID - including a Visa card that has a photograph on it, that they wouldn’t even look at!  I was pleased when I eventually found my old card however - it was a World Series of Poker edition card from the summer and these things matter! :)

I did meet another English player who’d cashed in that tournament who passed on some useful information on how to be an illegal immigrant.  He’d been living there for some time now with his friends who play poker for a living.  He, he insisted, was not that good yet but tagged along and still enjoyed some success.  "How did you get a visa then", I obviously asked.  "Don’t need one mate", he replied, going on to explain that as long as you leave the country every three months you can take full advantage of the visa waiver.  Nobody at the airport pays attention to when you were last here, he insisted.  As I’ve been a bit concerned about my return next weekend so soon after this trip, especialy travelling alone this time and almost certainly fitting some kind of profile, this was quite reassuring.  "The only thing is", he advised, "if you get into any kind of trouble they’ll try to kick you out.  But we know a guy.  He’ll take you Mexico for $99, then next day you can come right back".

That was my largest win of the trip, and a good result at the right time really, putting me back into the black for the trip.

My only other win of note was a profitable session playing $1/$2 No Limit at the Golden Nugget.  Apart from one session last summer playing $1/$3 in a local’s game, which didn’t help a great dea;, I was a complete noob to this game.  I played almost nothing all night, and somehow ended up leaving with $129 more than I came with after nearly six hours.  I’m still unsure whether loose no-limit games could suits me – I have a long way to go to be confident enough to take full advantage of the weaker players and the donators, but at least I could spot who they were.  The bigger pots I won, if I recall correctly, came from a well-timed check-raise holding only second pair – which I felt very good about – and a bizarrely played ace-jack that I might still hold back for another entry in the future.  All I can think looking back on that hand is that I played it like it was limit poker, and somehow it worked.  I know I have much to learn.

The Nugget is actually now home to the coolest swimming pool in the world.  That would be because it’s got a goddamn shark tank in the middle of it!  And a water slide where you go right through the sharks!  On a chilly evening in December – definitely not swimming weather – the Nugget opened its doors just to show this baby off as soon as they’d finished building it.  And quite rightly so.  Best pool ever. 

I must also mention that we finally went to see Wayne Newton.  I’d heard that his voice isn’t what it used to be, and they weren’t kidding.  His orchestra and backing singers did a fairly good job of making just enough volume that you couldn’t quite tell how badly he was choking.  There were plenty of talky bits for recovery time between musical numbers and he was also professional enough to always cough and splutter away from the microphone.  It was a very odd experience to be in the presence of greatness but have to imagine what the Wayne Newton experience is actually meant to be like.  He is clearly a fantastic entertainer, and still puts on a decent show, but it looks like he was way past his best several years ago.  Nonetheless, it’s something that had to be ticked off the "things to do in Vegas before I (or they) die (or get eaten by a tiger)" list.

 So I think that’s it - that trip is finally put to bed.  Until I remember something else, anyway.

WSOP 2007 Schedule Announced

Harrah’s have announced the schedule for this year’s WSOP.  Someone who is disgustingly well bankrolled has 55 ways to win a bracelet in 2007 – 9 more than last year.  That is, of course, providing she is a female casino employee aged 50 or older.

The 52 open events now include much mixed-game fun: a $1000 buy-in SHOE, $2500 and $5000 HORSE and $1500 and $5000 mixed limit/no-limit Hold’em events.  These are in addition to the return of the $50,000 HORSE "real world championship".  Gone are the $1000 and $1500 bracelet events that took place alongside days 3 to 7 of the main event, and in fact you’ll only get to play a $1000 No Limit Hold’em tournament at all if you are a lady or a senior.  The buy-in for these so-called World Championship events is almost as patronising as the fact that they have to take place at all.

"As part of our commitment to innovate for the benefit of all players, we’ve added nine bracelet events", says WSOP commish, Jeremy Pollack.  Yep, that’ll be the reason.  Harrah’s are, after all, world-renound innovators.  Like the groundbreaking conversion of Caesars Palace from one of the classiest, most opulent resorts in the world into - well - just another Harrah’s with a few columns on the outside.  More likely it has something to do with the certain drop in the number of internet qualifiers this year and the huge amount of rake they’re going to lose from the resulting smaller Main Event field.

They’re still planning for 9000, which is 1000 more players than last year’s capacity - the final total also includes several hundred alternates.  The World’s Most Vacuous Cardroom is being expanded to accomodate up to 3000 players at a time and Main Event Day One will be split into three days, rather than the four they had last year.  Day 2, which was split into two, is now scheduled for one day only.  If they do manage to sell 9000 seats – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see about this – it’s going to be a very long first day, with over two thirds of the field having to bust out before the end of play.

The press release and full schedule can be found here:
http://www.worldseriesofpoker.com/news/fullstory.sps?inewsid=393478