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Stepping over

I’d played dozens of step tournaments to get this far and this was my first shot at getting something out of the system: I’d made it to Step 4 of a Poker Stars WCOOP Satellite.

With steps, you’re never done until you either win a top prize or lose.  However unlike most of the live event satellites, the WCOOP Steps offers a choice of routes, some of which are much more achievable.

Instead of being stuck on a path that takes 6 steps to win your way into a $5,200 package ($7.50, $27, $82, $215, $700 and $2100) you can branch out at Step 3 or 4 to play directly for a $330 or $530 tournament seat.

I’d decided to go for the $530 route, with the intention of unregistering and keeping the W$ value for future speculation – or possibly towards buying into smaller WSOP or EPT events - should I get there.

In a 9 handed Step 4 sit-and-go worth $215 to enter, 3 players win a $530 seat and 1 gets $210 cash.  Everyone else leaves with nothing.

In fact, from WCOOP Step 3 onwards there’s no backtracking.  You can’t fall back to Step 2, only repeat the same level, move forward or lose completely.  This structure is designed to attract higher stakes players to buy in directly at the $82 and $215 levels.  It seems to work, and it can make these games pretty tough.

Anyway enough suspense.  My first crack at Step 4 was a terrific victory and will surely be an inspriation for other weak-tighties playing way out of their comfort zone.

I played like a rock, as did just about everyone else.  For example, how often do you see AJ check behind on the river with a board of TT7AA and a flush possible?  You really think the only hand that calls a bet there is pocket tens?

Then with just T1460 left in chips and facing a T300 big blind next hand, something beautiful happened.  Two monster hands and a big stack who felt like taking a crack.

The double bust out threw me into the top 3 and a seat to Sunday’s $3m guaranteed event, apparently.  The first time I’ve ever made it out of a Step series alive!

It took about 1.5 seconds before I’d unregistered and was counting my W$. :)

Whose tax is it anyway?

You should never gamble just for comps.  Everyone knows this.

It’s all one long game though, and if you have an edge on the game where’s the harm, really?  You’ll win in the long run, so as long as you don’t have to sell your ticket home to keep gambling, it’s all good.  If you get to eat for free along the way, it’s even better.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway, in spite of recent video poker results.

But nobody ever told me I shouldn’t choose flights based purely on frequent flyer status, so that’s exactly what I appear to have done.

I’m pretty sure it’s a good play, but whenever I try to explain the cost-per-mile calculations to justify it I usually get instant snores (and this time they’re more complicated than ever) so I won’t even bother.

Firstly, I’d redeemed some Diamond Club miles for a business class flight next July.  It must have been on the very day it was released for booking because BMI redemptions are almost never available.  Certainly not in school holidays, on their own planes and bookable through the web site.

37,500 miles and £696 will get me and Claire there using a miles+cash option.  That’s £210 cash and £486 tax for both of us, but on a one-way flight.

They’re on the fiddle with the tax for sure.  If you buy the flight, it doesn’t really matter how the cost is split between fare and tax, but they’re stuffing frequent flyers by doing it this way because you always pay the full tax in cash when you book using miles.  Whatever that £486 is for, it’s not all tax.

Compare these identical flights (it’s the actual same piece of flying tin, they have the same flight number) booked as operated by US Airways, or as a BMI codeshare.

The price of a ticket with US Airways is more expensive, but overall it still weighs in as a cheaper booking thanks to, apparently, over three times the tax with BMI.  I don’t believe it for a second, but there’s not much you can do.

Still, I have tasted the high life and I think I like it (especially the chocolate cake) and £348 each way per person for business class isn’t bad at all.

Of course, we still have to keep fingers crossed for a return flight – they won’t be released for booking until later in the month!  Bit of a gamble, but it is Vegas baby…

The one downside with a redemption flight is that you don’t earn any miles when you’re spending them.  So, in order to retain gold status for another year, I still needed about 20,000 miles to come from somewhere.

By choosing an unorthodox route with two stops for next Easter, I found a business class fare that awarded double miles and clocked in at $3410 – about £1900 when converted using the plummeting exchange rate.  A couple of months ago it would have been £1700.

It’s a pretty steep fare considering the hassle involved, but it’s sorted out my flyer status for the next year in one go.  The only other way I’d found that Claire and I could both retain gold membership was with a premium economy flight in April (about £1300) and either paying for Summer 2009 instead of redeeming or taking another paid flight.

We’re flying from Manchester to Philadelphia, then on to Phoenix, then on to Las Vegas.  It takes about twice as long as a direct flight, but at least we’ll have nice big seats and lounges every step of the way!

There aren’t many sub-£2000 business class fares across the pond, especially at peak times, so I think this falls somewhere inbetween taking one for the team (a stupid route now earns perks for next time) and splurging on luxury.

I’m not even sure MAN-PHL-PHX-LAS is a recongnised route.  If you put MAN-LAS into the Star Alliance timetable software, it doesn’t even think to suggest making a connection in Phoenix – you have to force this stopover yourself when booking.

That’s probably because one of the connections on the return journey only gives us 42 minutes to change planes, which will be exciting.  Even if we make it, who can imagine what will happen to the luggage?

In fact there was a possible 26 minute layover on the outbound, which I would have been allowed to book but I decided to wait for the next one instead.  57 minutes then.  Plenty of time.

The effect of adding in this scenic detour via Arizona was a drop in price by nearly $1000 compared to flying MAN-PHL-LAS, using only two planes.  I have no idea why but I’m not arguing, and you can be sure I’ll be looking at every possible wacky route next time I’m booking a flight.

So, that’s my next three Las Vegas trips in the bag, with a little more than minimal fuss but at least it’s set.  For a while there, I only had one planned, and that just wasn’t good enough!

Big Brother does Las Vegas

I’m a bit behind with this one as I think it actually went out on TV on Wednesday evening, but that’s what happens when you no longer have a TV service.

Indeed, I cancelled Virgin Media before we went to Vegas thinking we’d re-activate Sky when we got home.  The Virgin V+ box had given me a year of nothing but untimely crashes and unscheduled reboots.  It also missed the start of nearly every episode of Doctor Who, which is unforgiveable.

The real heartbreaker though was missing the very end of the NFC championship game last season, with the scores tied and Green Bay having a chance to make it to the Superbowl.

It wasn’t because the timer cut out too early, but because Virgin stop broadcasting that particular Sky Sports channel for a few hours overnight, regardless of whether the game they are showing has finished.

I hoped at least Sky would be committed to showing the full schedule for their own channels.

However, when it came to the crunch of paying £21/month for 200 channels I don’t really want (but the ability to record the couple I do want to hard disk to probably not watch later is nice) or £38/month for Sky Sports, which I’d watch once a week, it no longer seemed like such a good proposition.

So the Sky box now gives us terrestrial channels and probably QVC, but that’s it.

To be honest, there’s very little I’ll miss about satellite or cable TV, or even the PVR functionality, which is nobbled unless you have an active TV subscription.  I can’t really see me going back to watching stuff on TV when it’s actually on, but for anything I can’t be without there’s always the internet.

After all, I went four weeks in the USA without missing a single episode of Big Brother.

Anyway, this week Big Brother has "brought the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas-style casino to the house" by adding a couple of neon signs and a few antique slot machines.

Here are some of the highlights.

Part 1: Rehearsals for the variety show task.  Escapology, illusion, celebrity impersonations and… performing dealers.  I’m just grateful they didn’t have to imitate Cirque du Soleil.

Part 2:   Showtime.  Proof (should it be needed) that you can put a blind man in a wig but he won’t care if it covers his eyes.  Or even if it’s on the right way round.

Part 3: Losing on slots.  "It looks complicated?  You pull the handle".

Part 4: All you can eat buffet.  Never mind the food, this is all about what shape Mohamed’s afro goes when it’s stuck inside a plastic party hat for over an hour.