June 2007
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Taking a shot

I reached my target of $2000 won at NL50 today.  After the steady climb from $0 to about $1300, everything went very erratic with a frustrating long period without any overall win, a massive upswing, a big downswing and then another big upswing.  I was in two minds whether this was indeed the right time to move up – I really didn’t want to do it on a massive upswing because I knew that wasn’t sustainable and the doomswitch would be just around the corner.

Tonight I took the plunge.  This is only a shot at the higher limit, and I decided that if I fall 5 buy-ins then I should drop down again for a while.  It’s difficult to report anything after one session (I played about 800 hands) but I don’t think the higher stakes are particularly scaring me yet.   I had something of a baptism of fire, running into quads with a full house on my first orbit and then being treated to the wrong end of a set vs set battle three times.  I don’t actually have the figures for how rare this is (probably something I should know) but I don’t think I’d been on the losing end of set vs set three times in total at the lower level!

I know it’ll be tough if I continue to see my bankroll slip away so rapidly, but so far the game doesn’t feel too different and I felt like I was in control.  I’m used to raising using clicks on the bet slider, so a 3x pre-flop raise is still two clicks, even though it’s now $3, not $1.50.

Watch this space – more graphs to come for sure!

Welcome to the fabulous capital of foulness

As I still haven’t found the screencaps I wanted for the stuff I was going to write about Ocean’s Thirteen (watch this space, I’m sure it’ll be worth it, no unnecessary hype here) in the meantime I will leave you in the more than capable hands of a somewhat ranty Mark Kermode, expressing his dislike not only for the movie, but also for the city I will one day call home.  Cheekily borrowed from the podcast of his BBC Five Live show.

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I’m not transcribing the whole thing – just press the damn play button, it’s only a minute long – but here’s a taster.

"If truth be told, Las Vegas needs to be wiped from the face of the earth because it is an evil abomination and, you know, bad and a blight upon mankind.  Obviously."

Mixing business with pleasure

I met a prospective new client today.  Half way through the meeting, as he stood up to fetch me a coffee, one of his colleagues muttered something to him, they both grinned, and then this happened.

"Chris, rub that plant"


"It’s not a trick or anything, just rub it, it’s a lucky plant"

I am confused as hell, but I eventually oblige, expecting it to be a comedy vibrating plant, or to light up or start singing or something.

Instead, as I touch the leaves I notice a pound coin begin its trajectory upwards.

"Heads or tails?"

"Err… heads"

It lands on the floor – tails.  Apparantly I broke the plant.

He pulls a wad of money from his pocket and starts counting.

So I was only wearing three items of casino clothing today (Caesars jacket, Plaza shirt, Luxor socks – obviously I like to dress well for such meetings) but even if he’d noticed the subtle signs, I guess it’s wrong to offer me a piece of that action when he hardly knows me.

"So what happened?", I ask.

"You lost me a hundred and fifty"

I think the meeting went well otherwise.

T-47: a fistfull of dullards?

Hooray for starting a premature collection of dollars.  Or "dullards", as Matt keeps telling me they’re called, even though he can’t tell me why…

The best exchange rate in town was at the Cheque Centre, which has recently taken over a butcher’s shop in Longton.  The shop is so new you can still smell the carpet glue.  They offered $1.92 to the £1 and 0% commission – two or three cents better than everywhere else.

In fact the rate on my Citibank dual currency account was only $1.94.  Not much in it if you change up the cash before you leave, when you have to pay ATM fees over there.

"How would you like the money", he asked.  "Large bills are fine", I replied.  I remembered where I was and readjusted to British English.  "Hundreds, if you’ve got them".

"We’ve got fifties", he offered with a smile.  Oh dear.  Our faces dropped in unison.

I tried to explain.  "Well, we’re going to Vegas and fifties are unlucky.  But twenties would be like this big..".  I held my hands a good few inches apart, apparently indicating the five figure bankroll that one day I actually hope to have, and not the few hundred we’d gone to change up.

From his reaction I’m sure he hadn’t heard this nonsense before, and I’m glad.  Because I have no idea where it came from, and just wouldn’t know how I’d explain it if pressed.  We talked about this afterwards.  Claire says it’s something I told her, but I’m sure it’s something I picked up from her.  I’ve searched online to try to find some far fetched urban legend or just some unwritten rule, but nothing turned up.  Google does index unwriten rules, right?

The best I’ve managed to find is an old Question of the Day from Las Vegas Advisor, which I can’t even link properly to because it’s a subscription-only page, so I’ve had to reproduce some parts of it here and hope that Anthony Curtis doesn’t mind.  Actually, if I find out that a Vegas legend reads my blog I wont really care about the consequences!  If you’re a subscriber, you can see the full thing here

"The Las Vegas Hilton told us that they hold some $50s, but that many casinos don’t order them, because they’re considered unlucky. (They also said that casinos tended to avoid dealing with them in the past because of their resemblance to $100s and the risk of error, although we’d have thought that this would apply more to $10s.)

The Plaza acknowledged that a bit of superstition surrounds the $50, with some people considering them lucky and others the reverse, but they didn’t know the reason behind either belief.

Stratosphere claimed its Asian customers like getting $50s, while the Imperial Palace stated that its big players do not like them.

The Golden Gate said they don’t hold $50 bills, i.e., if they receive them they’re not given out, only banked. But they didn’t know why.

Bally’s, Binion’s, and Caesars had all heard of the unlucky connotations, but they all keep and give out $50s."

So essentially, nobody really knows.  Still, better not take any chances eh?

Winner, winner. Harrah’s chicken out.

I have read, albeit with some scepticism, the account of Richard Brodie being barred from all Harrah’s casino properties on the grounds that he is simply a lucky player.

Brodie is the author of Microsoft Word, a ball and chain that will no doubt follow him to the grave.  It’s only fair to say from the outset that the person responsible, however indirectly, for that goddamn talking paperclip will receive very little sympathy from me.

Besides an overpriced, bloatware word processor, I am unfamiliar with his work and his adventures as a gambler and I had not read his blog until today.  After a little research, there appears to be enough respect for his writing that I decided that I should not immediately call BS, even though the tale seems a somewhat far-fetched.

I will, however, hold reservations that, just maybe, the story is fabricated (after all, he is a poker player) or that Harrah’s in fact have barred him for some other reason than simply being lucky.  We cannot assume Harrah’s will automatically reveal personal information about a high roller, however there’s always a chance that Jan Jones will open her gob again.  Let’s hope so.

Brodie has been barred from Harrah’s casinos because they cannot work out how to make money from him.

How ridiculous is that statement?  A Las Vegas casino cannot win money.  Sorry, I’ll correct that.  The world’s largest gaming corporation cannot win money.  It really shouldn’t be that hard, and if they’re sweating the action on a $300 per spin video poker machine then the answer should be simple.  Pull the machine.

This photograph (click to enlarge) shows Brodie grinning next to his machine having just hit a natural royal flush – on the deal – for $240,000.  The machine is almost full pay deuces wild.  There’s one variation: 8 coin payback for a straight flush instead of 9.  I plugged the paytable into Frugal Video Poker and it checks in at 100.35% payback, compared to 100.76% for FPDW.  At $300 a pop, with perfect strategy this machiine is worth $1.08 per spin to a knowledgeable player. 

Add on Total Rewards benefits for some extra value.  It’s only a paltry 0.05%, but then each hand becomes worth a theoretical $1.23.  Grind out 600 hands an hour and you’ve got a job that pays over $700/hr.  If you can cope with the swings, of course.  Typically you need a bankroll equal to five royal flushes to deal with the huge variance of video poker.  That’s only $1.2 million then.

Obviously this figure requires perfect play, which is not that simple, when you have to work out which one or two gap straight flush draws to hold and which to discard, taking into account the slightly reduced payout for that hand.  So you have to play a little slower to make sure you make the right holds… maybe it’s only worth $300/hr.

This paytable is rather surprising, given the downgrades Harrah’s have made to the video poker at Caesars (and indeed to Caesars in general) over the last couple of years.  Once the best paytables on the strip, they’re now a poor imitation of their former selves.  The 9/6 Jacks or Better machines have become 7/5 machines, reducing the payback from a healthy 99.54% to a dreadful 96.15%.

Slightly fewer players with a much larger house edge (in this case, more than eight times larger) generates a bucket load more money for the Evil Empire, and since Harrah’s has the marketing clout to ensure a constant volume of players through their doors, they have absolutely no incentive to offer ther players a good gamble any more.

Claire has been researching video poker availability for her summer assault and has found that although there’s a handful of positive expectation machines scattered around downtown and off-strip, they only exist at the 25c level.  The hourly rate, with the very best slot club cashback deals, is about $6/hr.  It would take a really creative use of slot club points and fancy free drinks to come close to 100% payback on a $1 machine.  For anybody interested in all the numbers, vpFREE is the definitive resource.  They don’t even mention the three-coin, $100 machine at Caesars though.

That Brodie has been been lucky is not his fault.  Anyone can run hot, but the odds of hitting a royal flush on that machine still remain in the region of forty thousand to one.  In fact, on Deuces Wild games you should hit less royals than on other types of video poker, if you are playing correctly – you’ll never discard a 2 to draw to a natural royal flush.  The Frugal VP simulation shows that it comes along once every 45,409 hands.

Brodie has indeed been exceptionally lucky, hitting three royals at Caesars in the past year.  To hit three royals should require, on average, 136,000 hands, which is a ten day stretch with no sleep if you can maintain 600 hands per hour.  However over the course of a year, this is certainly achievable although Brodie doesn’t appear to have played anything like that many hands to get his three jackpots.

Brodie claims he’s given about 80% of the winning back, which would put him at about $144,000 profit on the year (20% of $240,000 x 3).  This is the figure I found most interesting though: for an advantage player that would actually grind through 136,000 hands to hit three royals without being exceptionally lucky, their expected return would still be in the same region: $146,000 won plus about $20,000 in comp.

So clearly the thing to do here is to reduce the paytable or bin that machine completely.  It’s a major leak in Harrah’s game.

Instead their answer is to find players who seem to be winning more than their fair share and then do their best to remove the lucky element from their casinos.  Is this not just the same as a player who has to sit in a particular spot at the blackjack table, or has to set the dice the same way every time, or has to wear his lucky underpants before going out to gamble?

That kind of thinking is for suckers, so who’s the sucker now?

We like ice cream

The summer is nearly here, so we decided to head to the seaside.  Using a complimentary weekend train ticket, our destination was fabulous Torquay.  This trip didn’t actually work out too bad.  It’s a 4.5 hour journey each way, with 6 hours there to soak up some rays, go for a swim, or whatever.  I’d never pay for that train, but there’s worse ways to use a free train journey than to head for the coast.

The only problem: no beach.  Nothing to speak of, at least.  Plenty of water, but only one tiny strip of sand.  Perhaps I should have done more research than just try to name a seaside town, check if the train went there and make sure the station was within walking distance of the coast.  Maybe it was just high tide the whole time we were there.  There were a few bucket-and-spade shops, which suggeests there’s more to Torquay than water, but I didn’t see it.  Maybe it’s just a bit further away than we could venture, but by foot we were stuck with whatever piece of coastline was nearby.

Boats.  There were lots of boats.  Claire asked if I’d ever want a boat, and I said only if the other guy had a flush.  Oh how we laughed at the very clever poker joke.  I’d seen a pier on the map, but it wasn’t much more than a plank out into the harbour.   What a con.  At least there were seagulls and the smell of the sea drifting in and out.  Not to mention dodgy amusement arcades, where we came across more than one fruit machine pro.

Oh my word, how fast they need to press those buttons to do this for a living.  Having waited for me to drop two quid into a machine and walk away, one of them jumped straight in there, pumping it as hard as he could in order to squeeze out the five pound jackpot.  Plus EV.  I think it only cost him £4 more so that’s a pound clear profit for those who are willing to put in the time to learn the system.  If you can do that three or four times a day, then… wow.

But of course the most important things were clotted cream – which it’s illegal to leave Devon without, and which made me very pleasantly sick after we got home – and ice cream.

We do like ice cream, as you can see.