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I’ve been a bit too busy playing to write the past few days, but I have oodles of notes and pictures and I’ll be retro-posting when I get back, or at the airport if my laptop battery holds out.

Meantime, have a look at what I could have won. The Megabucks jackpot is pretty high right now.

Hotel 3 of 4: Terrible’s

The deal I had in the mail from Terrible’s was for two hotel nights free with $50 in free slot play for turning up. In fact, when we went to the players club to claim the free play we each got $50 awarded. I still don’t know why, but I’m not complaining.

Nor am I complaining about the fun book coupon for a 125 coin bonus with quad 8s or 9s, which Claire managed to hit while we were running through the free play. Two attendants came along, took the coupon, discussed it among themselves and came to the conclusion that 125 x 25c was $62.50. Miscalculations by casino staff are definitely +EV, even if a little grey ethically.

The hotel room was very nice, in fact even without a mystery gift basket it still takes the lead as best hotel so far. All the rooms have been about the same size, but Terrible’s was a little more modern. It had a flat screen TV – they call it high definition, but that’s complete rubbish when you just get the regular channels shown in stretch-o-vision – and a coffee machine in the room.

Another useful – and unexpected – little perk was free internet in the room. Compared this to a whopping $13.99/day at Monte Carlo and $10.99 at Harrah’s Laughlin.

The room even had as much of a view as you could possibly expect from a five-story, off-strip hotel. The picture is a bit streaky because I had to take it through the window mesh but you can see the clear view of the neck of the Hard Rock Hotel’s big neon guitar. And a giant electronic billboard.

My only complaint would be that the ice machine was about a mile from the room, down two floors and right on the opposite side of the hotel. In fact it was quicker to walk to the casino gift shop to buy some.

If I believed Terrible’s were pioneers in hotel design I might think that it’s deliberate, but I really doubt they’d have gone to that much trouble for the sake of a 75c bag of ice.

Royal family

Just when I was marvelling at Claire managing to hit three royal flushes in three days, she went one better.

On Wednesday she hit four more royals. Before breakfast!

Dutifully, here is the family album. Three are from multi-line 5c machines but there’s another fully fledged $1000 jackpot in there too.

The biggie came from Edgewater which I think is becoming my favourite video poker joint. There’s at least 8 full pay deuces wild machines (100.76% payback) with nice flat screens in slant-top cabinets, and they play at turbo speed. I was running at about 1200 hands per hour on this (and there’s still room for improvement) which would be $1500/hr coin-in leading to a theoretical $11.40/hr profit. Then there’s a further 0.15% cashback with the player’s card ($2.25) and 0.1% ($1.50) comp.

Not quite enough to go pro, but I did see one player sitting between two machines with an awesome wavy flappy action as he alternated between them one hand at a time. It’s an honourable profession.

Hotel 2 of 4: Harrah’s Laughlin

Driving through the desert is always so much duller than I remember – and in this regard I seem to have a particularly short memory. I’d already forgotten just how boring it was when we came to drive back from Laughlin to Vegas after staying out there just one night.

This is a relatively short drive too, about an hour and a half on a good run. There’s a few miles of twisty mountain road that make you wonder why they didn’t just drill through the bugger, then about an hour of nothing but a straight line before you finally hit the freeway and civilisation is in sight.

Actually, you can’t beat the view of Las Vegas when you approach it in this direction. As you turn a corner, high up in the nether regions of Henderson, everything is visible right in front of you; the entire Strip from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere and the major downtown hotels all in view. One day I’ll figure out a place to pull over and get a picture of it all.

Harrah’s Laughlin was a fine hotel room, and all the better for not costing a penny. I’d picked a room with a river view, and that did exactly what it said on the tin. We were a little early checking in but it didn’t matter because I flashed the Diamond card and used the VIP desk. We got checked in and went to play and sample the buffet while the room was being prepared.

Every day is brunch day at the buffet here, and so I managed to get eggs benedict and pepperoni pizza on the same plate. Yummy. At $11.99 each it’s a little pricey for Laughlin but it was so good we ate it twice and enjoyed the Diamond/Seven Stars seating area which also featured actual glassware. Very fancy.

I’d like to have been able to compare it to the mighty $2.99 breakfast buffet at Edgewater but that plan was foiled when we saw the queue was the entire length of the hallway – and back again. It’s on the todo list for next time.

We did get a cracking food comp was at River Palms though, a chicken club sandwich meal special (including fries and a drink) from just $500 coin-in on a positive pay video poker machine. Menu price: $8.75 – there aren’t many slot machines that wouldn’t make that one pay for itself, but on a +ev video poker game it’s great. Theoretical win: $3.80.

The best freebie though was the stuff that someone must have broken into the room to leave for us. We returned at night to find a gift basket on the bed containing fruit, pretzel sticks and a chocolate truffle bar…

… and there was a pack of freshly baked filled cookies.

Food is usually an easy way to please me, but bringing cookies (which were gorgeous) to my room as a surprise bonus gets top marks. A+, would eat in bed again.

Grazie very much

My investment in achieving Total Rewards Diamond with Harrah’s is already starting to pay for itself.

I just had to flash the card at Venetian and instantly got an upgrade to their own Gold level.

Oh, and the $50 in slot play for upgraded members was a very nice bonus too. We’d only stopped in to get $10 free play for Claire as a brand new member, but walked out with $55 of their cash after playing it through.

Gold is not the top tier of Club Grazie but it’s enough to get access to their VIP lounge and it’ll rack up slot points a little bit faster if I ever play video poker there. They do have 9/6 Jacks or Better at both Venetian and Palazzo, although even with the points multiplier it doesn’t quite make a positive game.

I’m hoping one other hidden benefit might be when playing poker if I make sure the card is in view when sitting down at a table. Anyone who is paying attention will clock me for the big gambler that I am, then all I need to do is make a big hand and the monies will flow even faster than usual.

We crawled along the strip by foot on a free money run from Harrah’s ($5 bonus comp for 50 points earned) down to Sahara ($50 in blackjack chips for a $40 buy in) via a complimentary hot dog at Slot-a-fun.

Casino Royale told us that we should have had room offers in the mail for this month, and it’s nice to know we’re still in the system but not much use when we’ve already booked places to stay. Oh and look, we’re already in town too. But they explained because two of us are have qualified for mailers – usually a 2 or 3 night free stay – we can combine them and take 4 or 6 nights in the same room if we book at the same time.

In fact, as the offers are one stay per month if we were ever able to time a trip over the end of one month and the start of the next we could take up to 8 or 12 nights free all in one go!

This has to be the best hotel offer in town – to get into the comp system you only have to earn about $10 cash back, which is about $2000 coin-in. Play it through on 8/5 Bonus Poker at 99.2% payback and it costs a theoretical $16 for the mailers, and I’m pretty sure it racked up at least $10 in food comp as well as the $10 cash back.

They’re virtually paying you to stay there before you get started!

Hotel 1 of 4: Monte Carlo

It looks like there’s still some work to be done on the upper floors of Monte Carlo following the fire earlier in the year.

But this really doesn’t get in anyone’s way, 36 floors up. It’s the construction of the monstrosity that is CityCenter next door that’s making life difficult.

With sections of Frank Sinatra Drive closed off while they build, there’s really no other route than to drive down the Strip to get to Monte Carlo. Which was fine in the early hours of the morning while I was getting up jet-lagged, but any later in the day and the traffic around there just gets horrendous.

Not to mention the dozens of pedestrians at every set of lights that look at the red hand on the crossing sign through the blue drink in their dice-shaped glass and see some other god-knows-what symbol and colour pairing that apparently always means they should cross whenever they feel like it.

There is also no access to the garage right now.  The only place to park a car is a makeshift outdoor lot next to New York New York, and it’s not even close to being big enough. When it takes 30 minutes of circling to get a spot on a Tuesday morning you know they’re going to have major problems with this. I’m just glad I didn’t try to spend a weekend there.

So what about the hotel itself? First impressions go a long way, and unfortunately they weren’t particularly good.

We decided to valet park and hoped to get some assistance with our bags after a long flight, but the valet jumped straight into the car and waited for us to unload the bags and that was that. We juggled everything together and strolled past two bellmen rolling a cart back and forth between themselves on the way into the hotel, who eventually thought to ask if we needed any help with the luggage.   I declined as politely as I could: "It’s OK, we’ve done the hard bit now".

The room (on floor 13, can you believe – how many hotels in Las Vegas
even have that floor number?) was fine and did the job, but it was nothing special and felt like it was about due for some modernisation. Also, I blew the food credit that came with the room package on room service on the first night and that took well over an hour to arrive.

Overall slightly disappointing. I guess I just expected a little more from a hotel I was actually paying for.

Annie Duke’s hourly rate

As the USA flipped onto daylight savings time a few weeks ago and the UK don’t put the clocks forward until next weekend, it’s actually a 7 hour time difference right now rather than the usual 8, and I’ve felt a little less jet-lagged than usual.

Even so, after an early start for a bunch of pre-breakfast gambling and a long walk along the Strip all the way down to Sahara I was ready to crash pretty early last night and ended up flipping TV channels in bed until I came across Deal or No Deal.

The contestent, Mary Beth, was a self-proclaimed great poker player who had actually played in a live tournament one time and finished like 9th or something.

However her interest in poker actually came into play in one of the offers she was made. In addition to $138,000 in cash for her case, the banker added an extra special prize.

Look, it’s Annie Duke!

We’re reminded that this leading female player "won two million dollars in a televised poker tournament". But not that she only had to outlast nine other players – sucking out on most of them – to take down that freeroll.

So, take the deal now and the offer also includes admission to some women-only poker seminar thing, but the really special part is that it would also include a whopping four hours of private poker tuition from the special star guest.

Annie was really giving it the hard sell trying to get the contestent to take the deal, quoting impressive-sounding results from people she had mentored the past. She said she hardly ever gives personal lessons, so it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. And a fast track to easy money, obviously.

Her efforts made perfect sense when we found out the reason that there might be a shortage of takers for her private tuition.

The value of this little package, Howie Mandel revealed, is $25,000.

Twenty five grand for four hours work.

No deal, apparently.

Royal variety performance

What better way is there to belatedly start a trip report than with a photo of a royal flush?

Claire hit this beauty at Palms on monday on the bank of Deuces Wild machines we’ve played so much in the past – and seen the progressive jackpot hit at least half a dozen times while playing there. So I’m sure this was overdue!

Remarkably, another player also hit a royal flush at almost exactly the same time but Claire just got in there first. The jackpot meter showed $1067.01 for hers (it’s rounded up to the nearest quarter for the hand pay) and $1000.56 for second place.

Nice work indeed, and it’s not even her only one. Make it three royals in three days… spades, clubs and hearts ticked off the bingo card – just diamonds to go.

The one of the left came from a 10-line machine and the one on the right from a 50-line machine, so these weren’t quite so difficult to hit but each was worth $200 nonetheless. A royal flush always looks pretty, even if you do have to get quite close to the screen to actually see it.

Vegas XVII: the heptadeca-quel?

We decided not to leave it to chance to find out whether BMI was going to fuck up the seat reservations again.  Night-before check-in began at 7pm and we were there at 6:45.

Even so, we were only the second group in line – with quite a few queueing up behind us before they started letting us through – and I thought for a minute I was going to have to produce a doctor’s note to get an exit row.

"Do you have neck or back problems?" he asked when I made the request.  "No, I’m just quite tall", I replied. I don’t know if this would have been enough on its own, but Claire lovingly added "and quite fat" and without any further ado we given window and aisle seats in row 28.

I’ve actually lost nearly 20 pounds in weight and two belt holes since the start of the year.  I think I’m ready for a Vegas-style burger…

Win when you’re SNGing

Although I’ve been playing single table sit-and-go tournaments for as long as I’ve been playing online poker, I’ve never really played then in enough volume or taken them seriously enough to have a realistic idea of how well I could do.  That is, until this month.

After throwing away far too much money chasing a dream with EPT Steps on PokerStars - a series of single table tournaments that play with turbo blinds (in the lower levels, at least, the first time I got to Step 4 I was completely unprepared for the "normal" blind structure!) – I’d started to feel I was getting on OK with that format but never quite got lucky enough to parlay $5.50 into a twenty grand seat package.

There’s no prizes in between worth speaking of, just odd dollars here and there, and although a poker trip to Warsaw would be nice – as well as a little bit scary - I wasn’t going to go mad over it.  So  I thought I’d play a few more for, like, actual money.

Turbos SNGs never last more than an hour, and often they’re over in 30 minutes – even if you make the money.  I soon realised that this speedy format should give me a chance to play enough tournaments to see a pattern emerge without having to stick with it for months and months – particularly once I became comfortable playing four at a time!

Here, three weeks later and thanks to a spreadsheet I had to knock up in Excel as I couldn’t work out how to get Poker Grapher to read my tournament results, is that pattern.

I like the pictorial view much more than the dry output from Poker Tracker, which simply tells you how great you are through the medium of green numbers.

So, yes, 425 is not a huge sample size but it’s definitely a start and those early signs are looking good.  The Two Plus Two forum FAQ speculates that a "very good player" could achieve a return on investment of 14% at this level, so I think I have every reason to be pleased with this performance.

So what’s my next step?  Time for an enforced break now while I nip off to Vegas for a week or so (T-2!) but if I can carry on with these winning ways I’m going to need a plan to try to maximise the money I can make from these tournaments.

The results above equate to a win rate of about $8/hr in real terms (playing four tables and waiting for each set of four to complete before starting again), which is not to be sniffed at but it doesn’t compare to most of the casino bonuses I’ve been playing lately, and even though poker is much more interesting than blackjack this probably isn’t enough to keep me focused on playing intently for any longer than any of my previous poker fads have lasted.

So should I consider moving up limits yet?  Or perhaps try to play more tables at once at the same buy-in?  Or maybe I should stick with what seems to be working but look to improve, nay perfect, my game using tooks like Sit-and-Go Power Tools or SpadeICM?

I’ll have to have a good think about that over an all-you-can-eat buffet next week… ;)