February 2007
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Twenty Five Pee

It occurred to me after walking back to my hotel from a night at Gutshot that one of the major differences between playing poker in London and playing Las Vegas is that in Vegas you will never, ever be walking back to a hotel room that is numbered with a single digit.  Yesterday, I was in room 4.  I also hit the trifecta – a working TV with all five channels, a kettle and a fridge.  Luxury indeed.

I was a bit worried about how my luck would hold up, after having to walk from the office in a horrible February drizzle and leaving my umbrella up to dry in the ensuite whilst I went out.  Is that unlucky?  I really don’t know.

I did crash out of the tournament early, and in spectacular fashion.  With T6 in the big blind and no raise, I was pretty happy to see a flop of 789, then two players getting their chips in the middle after I checked.  However a two pair 78 became a full house on the turn and I was done.  This was a freeroll WSOP satellite with £10 rebuys, but I wasn’t particularly bothered about playing in the first place, let alone rebuying.  The £25-£50 table I was on had broken up just before it started, when the dealer announced "Right, it’s my last hand, I’m off to play the tournament".  We did get our voluntary donation table fees back though.

I was back in the action straight away after busting.  This table was proper dealer-dealt and I learned that if the dealer wears a Gutshot top, the voluntary contribution is a rake from each pot rather than a time charge.  Nobody didn’t volunteer.  From next month, there will be a compulsory daily membership fee introduced – £2 from noon to 6pm, £5 from 6pm to close.  Not yet sure how this will affect donations, but it’s good to see they have a plan to keep the club running.

"What’s that funny looking chip in your stack there?" someone yelled across the table after I took down my first pot.  I flipped the El Cortez 50c chip I’d been using as a card protector across to him.  A few seconds later it came flying back.  "Nice colour", he said, implying "gay colour" I’m sure.  It’s pink, what bits of it you can see through the lovely downtown grime.

I finished the night up £38 and change after about 5 hours.  Gives me a little confidence, considering it was a pretty solid game all night.  I still have the change in the form of three 25p chips.  They have an endeering home made quality to them.  Presumably for such a low value chip it wasn’t worth having any specially made (the £1 and higher are Chipco style chips) but the quarters – that sounds so wrong when talking about English money – look like a set off eBay with some custom stickers.  The tell tale sign is the "Las Vegas Nevada" edge marking.  If I ever get to play poker at the El Cortez with Jackie Gaughan – which might even trump Claire’s game with Oklahoma Johnny last summer – this will be the cheap and nasty chip I use for a card cap.

Almost Famous

Woohoo! I got a mention on the latest Five Hundy By Midnight.

I’m not posting a clip though.  Subscribe yourself. 🙂


SportingBet PLC announced this week that Paradise Poker is to be made redundant, and their players be swallowed up by a SportingBet branded poker client on the Boss network.  Although I haven’t played at Paradise for a while – in fact I can’t actually remember the last time I did – I will always have a soft spot for it.  It’s here that my screen name originated, after all.

One of Paradise’s gadgets is the ability to virtually order food and drink from a menu, and then a few seconds later it appears on the side table next to your avatar.  It’s a great way to create superstitions.  Maybe you do always get your aces cracked if you have food on the table.  That guy is drinking a martini, he must be bluffing.  You can’t call for a new dealer or new cards try to turn things around, but you can order a new drink.

I always used to sit down and order donuts.  I felt it was lucky.  Mmmm, donuts.

Here’s a sentimental old picture of me and a plate of donuts winning a huge six-way all-in with pocket 8s.  I managed to miss five overcards as well as ending up with a full house.  Lovely.  It also shows another feature of Paradise poker – the electrified cards when you hit a big hand.  Sometimes you got flames instead of electricity, too.  Features like that will be missed.

Paradise was also the online poker site that was endorsed, albeit briefly, by reigning EPT London champion Victoria Coren, although in all the photos I’ve found she’s actually wearing PokerStars gear.  However, I don’t need any more excuse than that to put a stolen photo of her here.  Mmmm, Vicky. 

In other swallowings this week, details of Harrah’s takeover of Barbary Coast were announced.  An article in the Review Journal says the new name will be "Bill’s Gamblin Hall and Saloon".  Clearly a typo, but I’m hoping its a missin’ apostrophe, rather than a missing G.  It’s named after Bill Harrah, founder of the corporation that’s slowly eliminating all competition on the Las Vegas Strip, and not Bill Boyd, chairman of the corporation that bought Coast Casinos in 2004 to eliminate their competition in the locals market.

This isn’t going to be a major rebranding – after all, it’s must only be a matter of time before Harrah’s pull it down – so I don’t expect much will change apart from the dreadful new name. Mmmm, Big Elvis.

A little bit of sunshine

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A bit of sunshine for this snowy day – I got confirmation of our house for this summer in Las Vegas.  I’m pretty sure this is it – Google Earth showed the address at the same house without a pool, but this version from looks a bit more up to date.  If not, it’s one across the street.

It’s the South side of the valley this year; last year it was Henderson and before that Summerlin.  Only North Las Vegas to go to complete the collection.  I can’t really explain why the thought of that scares me so much, but it does.

Our nearest casino will be the Silverton (1.96 miles), but I can’t see us going there a whole lot.  Hootie and the Blowfish and the Bass Pro Shop don’t really do it for me, but they do have a must-see interactive fish feeding show in their giant aquarium (home to 4000 tropical fish, so the web site says, and why would it lie?).

The next closest is The Orleans (3.60 miles) and the first stop on the strip is Mandalay Bay (3.81 miles).  Downtown Las Vegas is just under ten miles away – 18 minutes to drive, I’m told.  My version of Streets and Trips isn’t new enough to know about South Point, but that’s a casino with no redeeming features at all.  Apart from the equestrian center (currently home to the Home Improvement and Backyard Living Expo, which doesn’t seem to be much to do with horses at all) it’s just a copy of The Orleans but cleverly omitting all of the style.

T-318. Really.

Three hundred and eighteen days until we leave for Chrismas in Vegas 2007 🙂

Couldn’t resist it when I saw BMI flights available for just over £500 each including taxes.  Did you know that the tax when you fly from the UK is about £130, but for the return leg it’s only US$75.  They don’t tell you this of course, unless you try to book only a one way flight from the USA.  I don’t know if this is just for Las Vegas or the whole of the USA, but maybe the slot machines at the terminal help to subsidise the airport taxes.

I’d found this out because I was fiddling with all kinds of ways to try and spend some Diamond Club miles.  Getting a comped flight for the summer (T-164, still way too long) was a miracle in retrospect.  I don’t think it will ever happen again.  There was almost a perfect deal for the Easter holiday 1st-12th April, but although it showed two seats available on the web site, there was only one when I called to try and book it.  I got way too excited, and will know better next time.  Would have been business class too.

Then there was some convoluted combination of miles and cash to get two flights out on 27th Dec, but buying a return ticket separately.  Came to about £1200 all together and virtually all our miles would be used up.  That return leg for US$925 was a premium economy ticket, and much cheaper than any regular economy ticket going, but I don’t think airline pricing was ever meant to be understood though, was it?  So with the tickets I just bought, we get four days extra for two hundred quid less… no decision at all really!

In other news, it’s snowing.  Headline news that is.  My train was cancelled and Claire is back from school already.  Some trains were cancelled and some schools announced to be closed yesterday evening, on the strength of a weather forecast only.  It didn’t start snowing until about 7am here.  They got it right as it happens, but really… aren’t we a pathetic nation?

The Sky News headline just about sums it up:

A Little Background Music

I’ve added a music player feature to my blog, based on a similar plugin for WordPress by 1pixelout.  If I hadn’t hacked it quite so horribly I might consider releasing the code for other Serendipity users, but it’s really that bad.  It’s because of the need to give the players individual sequence numbers if there’s more than one on a page, if anybody cares in the least.  It works, as you’ll see, but it’s not my finest work by a long way.

Music is the one feature of MySpace I actually wanted, but I promise I won’t set it to start playing as soon as you load the page, then never change the song for months on end.  I was thinking I’d use this to add the odd musical accompaniment to my posts.  Not so, it seems, because the first audio I’ve come to post is actually a clip from a podcast.

Five Hundy By Midnight is one of the few podcasts I actually manage to keep up to date with, from the gazillions I’m subscribed to.  iTunes is telling me I have over 400 shows to listen to right now – maybe I should be a little more disciplined.  This clip might not be the very best advert for FHBM in the world ever; it’s pretty much random even for a ten second teaser (I’ve not asked permission to post this, and keeping it short obviously makes it much less an infringement of copyright) but it does feature my new favourite phrase and a laugh at Celine Dion’s expense.  Sweet.  Go ahead and hit the play button.  Twice if you have Internet Explorer.  Then you can make an informed decision to subscribe to their show.

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They’re talking about the cock up and subsequent pass-the-bucket-i’m-gonna-hurl statement by Harrah’s exec Jan Jones about the alleged high rolling antics of Celine Dion’s husband, Rene Angelil in an interview with the Observer.  In fact, now that Harrah’s have put the record straight, we know that Rene is not millions in the hole, but he is in fact about even.

Google doesn’t really find much for "Celine shit fit meltdown".  I’m hoping I’ll be the first to bag that juicy traffic now…

Hey Tim, Michele – if you actually get any hits from this (which is unlikely, let’s be honest) give me a shout OK?  Or sue me, your call. 🙂

A moment of spine-chilling musical genius

The Magic Numbers do Kate Bush.

This is a big ask, because you need a good ten minutes to appreciate it.  But I’ve not heard a cover version that’s made me tingle so much since I first heard Orbital do the Doctor Who theme.  And this is nothing like that.

Track 12, "Slow Down".  Half way through, they wander off into another song.  If I’ve not overhyped it already, sit back and enjoy.

Big Game Sunday

In a few hours time, hundreds of millions of people around the world will be starting to watch the Super Bowl.  Or, like me, they’ll be setting Sky+ and bunking off work in the morning to watch it.

Despite the NFL‘s best efforts to keep such unwholesome activities as gambling out of football, today’s the day that you blow you money as you like on one some truly awful prop bets.  Gambling – bad.  Getting paid stupid amounts to bash the living shit out of each other for entertainment – good.  The salary cap allows teams to buy chunks of their players’ life expectancy for an average of $100,000 per game; each game bringing them about one month closer to death.  Obviously, some players fare better than others.

You won’t see it called the Super Bowl in any of those despicable houses of sin in Las Vegas.  It’ll be the Big Game, Super Sunday or the Pro Football Championship.  Despite being arguably the most well known sporting event in the world, it’s still a trademark after all, and the NFL says no.

You can bet $110 to win $100 on who will win the coin toss, in what is one of the few genuine even-money shots in sports betting, but it is also one of the worst bets in the casino.  Obviously it’s a sports bet because you’re backing the team and not heads or tails.  Be sure to shop around if you cant wait for the first snap to get into the action.  Paddy Power are offering these at a dreadful -120 (win $100 or lose $120 – any bet on double zero roulette is nearly five times better!) whereas Bodog has it for a (relatively) healthy -105.

Among the exotic (or, if you prefer, sucker) bets, you might fancy overtime to be decided by a safety.  A whopping 80-1 for that.  Has it ever happened?  Actually yes, but only twice ever.  If it even happened once a season, 80-1 would be way short.  Pinnacle offers odds on "Will there be a score in first 6:27 of game?".  How very precise.  Sporting Index is, as usual, leading candidate for best-named market.  It’s a close one, between "Interceptasaurus Rex" and "All You Need Is Lovie".

They’re also taking action on how long the sixty-minute game actually lasts.  The spread is 225-230 minutes.  With an 11.25pm kickoff, that makes your ETA to bed about 3.10am for anyone in the UK that’s thinking of staying up to watch it all.

Although Jerry’s Nugget wouldn’t be anywhere on my list of places to watch a football game in Vegas, they do have one of the best Big Game ads ever.


Origami is the new Chip Tricks

As I was working in London yesterday and it was somehow easier and cheaper to stay the night and get a train back saturday morning, I decided to take a look at how Gutshot was doing after the court case, and take my first crack at the cash tables there.  Something I decided I had to do before it’s too late, if there’s any chance the club won’t survive much longer.  It took me a good half an hour to get a seat.  I was third on the list for the £25-£50 game (that’s the range of allowable buy-ins, not the blinds) and I saw about three hundred people come up the stairs whilst I was waiting but never heard a seat called.  Turns out the waiting list doesn’t actually mean a whole lot, and the more practical way to get into a game is to ask one of your mates already at a table to throw a chip at a seat as soon as somebody leaves, and then it’s OK to jump the queue.

The tournament arena in the building next door has been closed down – a real shame – so space is at a premium.  The new arrangement is for cash tables to run around the clock (as late as the players want to stay) and tournaments go upstairs in the bar area on circular self-dealt tables.  I’d only played in the "old" club a couple of times before, and once was  a £5 pack-em-in-get-em-out rebuy, which was horrible.  Rebuy tournaments are off the menu now, on account of the new "donation" policy.  Since Derek Kelly was found guilty of charging a levy on gambling activities, the club runs rake-free and any money you wish to contribute towards the facilities when you play is optional.  For freezeout tournaments, the suggested donation is be ten percent of the buy-in, just like the old registration fee.  In rebuys they used to take a percentage out of the pot instead, so the easiest thing was just to stop them.

In the case of the £25-50 game, the suggested donation was £3 every hour.  A somewhat bizarre way to collect a very reasonable (it’s that phrase again) service charge.  I only saw one person opt out all night, and he didn’t get any grief about it from the players or staff. But he did have aces cracked brutally in a large pot and then steam off another couple of buy-ins before leaving.  Funny how things turn out.

Although the hourly charge is decent, tipping the dealers was also expected.  It’s illegal in a casino, but perfectly fine in an illegal card room.   Half the dealers working were there for tips only, which wasn’t a bad gig really (I’d love to do it!) but they only got to work one hour on, one hour off which slices your pay in half and leaves you hanging around in the bar for long stretches.

You have to sign a sheet of paper to say that you agree to make the voluntary donations, and the very presence of paper on the table let to an outbreak of players attempting to remember the fantastic paper folding skills they had when they were younger.  One guy did manage to construct a paper cube, then wrote "fold", "call", "raise" and "re-raise" on four of the sides.  The other two sides stayed blank, depsite calls for "trap check" and "check-raise" to be added from players who hadn’t quite thought it through.  Of course I managed to get involved in the first hand where he decided to use this.

With a straddle and 3 callers, I find AJs in the blind and raise the pot to £10.  The dice’s creator rolls a "fold" and throws his cards away.  The next player rolls a "call", chuckles and throws in another £8.  The next player throws a "re-raise" and bets the pot.  £36 more to me, and what can I do?  I could push for the remaining £70-odd I have left.  However I doubt I can make him fold anything now, and I’m either slightly ahead or way behind.  Do I believe he really just did what the dice said?  Or I can call and play out of position against two players, with not enough left to make a pot-sized bet, so I have to hit the flop.  Is folding here mandatory, or just weak?  I folded, he showed 9Ts and I started plotting to destroy the dice the next time it came near me.

The players were pretty solid on the whole, but I did manage to spot some value in this game – mostly it’s the habitual straddlers that provide it.  There were usually four of five straddles each round.  The dealers encouraged it with cries of "small blind £1, big blind £1… its £2 if you want to straddle".  Obviously bigger pots mean bigger tips, so who can blame them.  But straddling is one of the worst moves in poker.  You’re paying a big premium to see a flop with random cards out of position, and I figured that having £10 of almost dead money in the middle for every £2 I paid in blinds was a pretty good deal.

Anyway, the result of my six and a half hour session was an overall profit of £17.  Which is not a great hourly rate, but at least it’s profit.  Although this really sounds more impressive than it actually was.  I only stopped from going bust, in for £120, after I got a three-way all in with QQ against KK and AT, and hit the miracle queen on the flop.  I’m back down on Thursday, think I’ll try again!