December 2007
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How many ducks is that?

Playing deuces wild video poker, a four deuces hand doesn’t happen very often but it’s very nice when it does.  It pays off $250 for a $1.25 spin – second only to a $1000 royal flush.

So when Claire and I both hit four deuces within seconds of each other on adjacent machines, it was pretty special and much hi-fiving ensued.

What’s more, I still can’t believe it came in after I decided to record the redraw.  It’s crappy cellphone video, but still…

When airlines go busto

All the excitement of having my next three trips all booked up turned out to be a little premature, following the announcement on Christmas Eve that MaxJet has filed for bankruptcy.

They’re trying to make arrangements to get anyone who is half way through a round-trip back home, but their own flights are all suspended.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the planes were on eBay by now.

Three of my four flights booked for 2008 are cancelled, and the freebie return with BMI is useless without an outbound flight to match.  Every one-way ticket I looked at was more expensive than buying a round trip and throwing away the return half.  It cost £25 per ticket to cancel the miles award booking and have the remaining money and all the miles recredited to my account.

MaxJet’s recorded message says to contact your travel agent or credit card company for a refund and I’ve spoken to MBNA who told me there shouldn’t be a problem but it could take some time to get the money back.  They said MaxJet should write to confirm that they don’t intend to provide the flight, and then there will be strong claim that can be made against their bank (they still have money, we hope) which is virtually impossible to dispute.

Otherwise I’ll have to wait for the travel dates to pass and not fly, and then apply for the chargeback.  It could be getting on for next Christmas before I get the money back if that’s the case!  It should all be a formality, but I haven’t even had an email from MaxJet yet – I only found out when I stumbled on a post on

So given how popular the summer flights are, I already panic-booked replacements today.  Well, a little thought did go into it as I actually ended up on a £1400 business-class fare.  Compared to the £800 I expected to pay for MaxJet, it’s a little steep but that extra £600 should help to secure some extra value for the future.

As well as the nice big flat-bed seat I was so looking forward to and a chance that the food will be edible (the sausage crap I had on the way out last week was the worst yet; how hard is it to warm up a sausage?) the double miles award for business-class will bump me up to Diamond Club Gold status which opens the door for free upgrades on future flights and the ability to put your name on a waiting list to book seats on the flights you actually want to redeem your miles for.  Given that Claire and I now have enough miles for nearly five return USA trips between us, that’s got to be a good thing!

How to dominate with a Christmas jumper

It took me a while to realise, but last night at Binions I was playing $1/$2 NL with Sam O’Connor, apparently one of the first men to ever be seated in a Texas Hold’em game when it arrived in Las Vegas.

In fact I only realised when he started recounting a story about being on the set of Lucky You and being asked for an autograph by someone who didn’t know who he was.  Well really, why would they?  Although he was a poker advisor for the movie, his part on screen is credited only as "Old Man".  But he was in a movie with Drew Barrymore and that, apparently, is enough to make you a celebrity.

I was sure I’d heard the same story told the same way, it just took me a few minutes to remember where: an episode of the Gamblers’ Book Club podcast.  I posted a clip of that interview here.  A stroppy local woman ran her queens into aces and left the table moaning that "Sam is always bad luck for me", even though he wasn’t involved in that hand, and the penny dropped.

He wore a cracking Christmas jumper.  Although very popular with the ladies over here, you don’t see so many worn by men so I was pretty impressed.  Almost impressed enough to pretend I was a fan of Drew Barrymore myself and whip out the camera phone to take my picture with him.  But not quite, so I’ll just have to describe it: blueish with many large white snowflakes.  I’d wear it for sure.

Now that I know that O’Connor actually plays $1/$2 live games I have a little more respect for his book, which contains some of the tightest poker strategy advice you’ll ever read.  Fold all draws and most pairs btw, just try to flop the stone cold nuts.  Perhaps it’s suited to the ultra-tight game at Binions, which is usually comprised of at least half a table of rock-tight locals looking for just one big pot before they turn in for the night.  If it’s not a strategy for beating them (wouldn’t that be rude?) it’s going to be a guide to joining them, so I’ll attempt to read it again with this context in mind.

No longer owed

My second career royal flush came yesterday morning, and not before time!  I was so owed!

My only other video poker jackpot came several years ago now, and all I held to get it was one ace.  This time I actually had to hold two cards before the miracle happened.

If you look closely you can see the top of my head reflecting in the paytable.


Christmas cacti

Photos from the Ethel M chocolate factory and cactus garden, in full holiday costume.  I couldn’t have timed this better – I had no idea if the lights would still be on at 6am but they were, it was just getting light and there wasn’t a soul about except for one security guard, who wouldn’t let me walk around inside but didn’t seem to care about taking photos from the roadside.



The next big thing

Palazzo already delayed its soft opening until December 28th.  That means it’s supposed to be opening in three days time.  It doesn’t quite look ready just yet though… (photos taken Christmas morning).

EDIT: 28 Dec 8.30am – the TV news just pretty much said that nobody knows if Palazzo will actually open today.  They still need a final inspection and to obtain permits.

EDIT: Later same day – according to the RJ they’re not opening today, and nobody still knows quite when.

Christmas Dinner

This week is meant to be the quietest time of year in Las Vegas, but you wouldn’t know it.

The special Christmas Day buffet menu at Wynn was meant to start serving at 11am and we thought it would be a good idea to be there early to try to beat the rush.  After all, who else that wasn’t jet-lagged would be ready to give themselves a traditional stuffing at that time?

We arrived at 10.45 and it was packed, and by 2pm we’d just about been seated – apparently the entire world had the same idea, and the $45.95 per person price tag hadn’t put many people off.  Fortunately it didn’t cost us a penny, as the two-buffet signup comp Claire earned in the summer was still valid.  That’s stunning bonus value, as a regular dinner buffet is only $34.99.  I’d be pissed off to wait over two hours to pay for it, but for free you know it makes sense!

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t actually find the Elk (it’s on the menu!) but I munched my way through a truly festive pile of meat and seafood: ham, pork, tandori chicken, veal, shrimp, crab, sturgeon and anchovies.  And then five different puddings.  They’re quite small, honest!

Team Donut hiatus

If anyone cared, they’d probably already realised that I’m not soliciting any poker sponsorship for my upcoming Vegas trip.  It’s a bit late now at T minus 2, but – amazingly – leaving everything until the last minute isn’t the reason.

In fact I’m actually quite organised for this trip.  I already had the "oh shit where’s my passport" panic earlier in the week, and as long as I don’t move it again in the meantime that should be that.

There are just no poker tournaments of note going on in Vegas during the very quiet Christmas period or over insanely busy New Year weekend, so there’s nothing to get excited enough about to get anyone else involved.

Last December I got to play in the Ultimate Poker Challenge which kept on running weekly throughout the holidays, despite getting only 36 runners for a $660 tournament in Christmas week.  Six players got on TV, but only four got paid.  I’d love to be doing that again, especially with those great odds of televised glory.  After seeing that disgraceful turnout though, I’m not surprised that there’s nothing special going on at this time of year.

Tournament-wise I do want to play at least one of the midday deep stack events at Venetian ($540 Saturdays, $145 every other day) which should be handy the first three days when we’re staying next door at Casino Royale and I’m still too jetlagged to play well at night.  Otherwise, I’m just going to play it by ear.  The last few weeks playing online I’ve flitted between fixed limit and no limit, so I really don’t know yet what will take my fancy.

Don’t worry though.  I’ll be pimping myself out again to try to win as many people as possible their money back – or even a small profit this time – in 2008.  Stay tuned.

Welsh Cheddar

Is Welsh Cheddar an oxymoron?  I was not aware of Wales as a great cheese-producing nation, let alone producing a quitessentially English cheese from Somerset.

Nevertheless, I received a nice lump of Welsh Cheddar – made by the Snowdonia Cheese Company no less, it’s mountain cheese – in the post today, along with a bottle of port thanks to the people at Virgin Trains, who are still convinced that I’m a VIP.

I requalified for another year of Traveller by booking eight return journeys from Stafford to Cheltenham Spa for just under £600.  I collected all the tickets but didn’t use any of them and didn’t even need to send them in – the system flagged me for renewal automatically from the online bookings.  I’m still wondering if there’s double value to be had here by using those same physical tickets to get a second membership for someone else…

The perks, as well as the occasional free cheese, are unlimited weekend travel anywhere on a Virgin train for two people and it’ll take no more than a dozen trips pay for itself.

I’ve already made two trips to London this month.  Just last weekend was the Spice Girls, which was terrific, and quite insane, and I’d go again in a flash.  Also we tried to go Christmas shopping but it was a complete nightmare; so bad we gave up and went to the cinema just to get off the streets.  Thirteen quid each you know – in the afternoon!

Unfortunately the Virgin network was cut in half last month (as was the Christmas freebie; last year there were mince pies too!).  They’ve lost the Cross Country routes so most of the free seaside weekends are out.  Torquay, Brighton and Bournemouth are gone, but at least there’s still Llandudno.

Twist and sprout

Home delivery is meant to take the stress out of shopping for groceries.  I had a delivery this evening for a Christmas dinner we’re hosting on Saturday.

I can live without the sausage/bacon mash-up, I can make it up from ingredients if necessary.  Even my limited culinary skills can deal with wrapping one thing inside another and slamming the result in a George Foreman grill.

But how do they manage to run out of sprouts six days before Christmas?  I can’t believe I’ll actually have to leave the house to go shopping for a vegetable I don’t even like, but it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the little buggers…