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This is what I saw when I opened a mailshot from Circus Circus today before pressing "load images".  Sorry, but I had to get my red pen out.

Want to stay at the Rio for free during WSOP?

All you have to do is take me with you.  I still have oodles of room comp, including 5 free midweek nights at the Rio throughout the Series.  I’m open to offers :)

The 2009 World Series Of Poker schedule is here.

That’s not my name

Job description: Greet visitors to the building, take their name and look up their details on a computer system.  Print them a pass, or if the printer isn’t working (as today) write one by hand.

Is a basic grasp of English spelling and familiarity with common names required?  Apparently not.

This was the end result, after a confident first attempt at "Chris" ("so that’s K, what?") and then scratching his head at why a search for surnames beginning with "NW" gave no results:

Having finally found it, you’d think copying down the name from screen onto a piece of paper would be the easy part.

Hand duly snapped off

I really did think that Harrah’s would notice that I didn’t give them any action at Christmas, and so my Las Vegas room offers would dry up pretty quickly.

They snoozed, and they losed.

I’ve nabbed 5 nights at Harrah’s and 3 at Rio.  It’s looking like a 3- or 4-hotel trip at this rate, but I can start to worry about that in 9 months or so.

Marathon Man

I’ve been needing a reliable way to get up in the morning, as various combinations of three alarm clocks placed strategically around the bedroom just wasn’t working as effectively as it should.  You can only blame jet lag for about a week, after that I wasn’t even fooling myself.

I may have found an answer: pre-register for an online poker tournament before going to bed.

I bought in to a tourney starting at 8:20am, set an alarm for fifteen minutes before and it turned out to be totally unnecessary.  I was bizarrely wide awake just before it started ringing.

How does this work then?  The prospect of knowing that if I oversleep I’ll struggle to get going before lunch and then be playing catchup all day hasn’t been enough to get me going before 10am so far this month.  But the thought at the back of my mind that I might not be able to play every single hand in a $20 poker game if I’m not up on time apparently does the trick.

So why put myself through this ordeal, and on a Sunday morning too?

Quite a while ago I looked at the Empire Poker VIP Club and thought it looked like a good deal for tournament players, providing you can play quite a few tournaments all in one sitting.  Their points are awarded one per dollar of entry fees, plus a bonus amount equal to the square of the number of tournaments you play in a day.

So if you play one $10+$1 tournament, you get 1 base point and 1 bonus point.  If you play ten of the same, you get 10 base points but 100 bonus points.  It gets to the point where the value of the tournaments doesn’t matter, it’s all about the volume.  It can be quite a significant bonus if you’re prepared to concentrate your play to the extreme.

Compare this to cash game players, who are awarded points equal to the square root of the number of hands they play each day.  So you get 1 point for your first hand, then it takes 3 more hands for the next point, then 5 more, 7 more, 9 more and so on.  Seems like a funny way to reward loyalty to me if the more you play the harder it is to get something back.

Anyway, this seemed like a great way to reach the top tier of the loyalty program, and the attraction of that was a $100 monthly deposit bonus with no play requirement.  $1200 a year just for moving your money around?  Yes please!

So having a marathon day every now and again to help achieve this status was once part of my master plan.  It seems I just forgot about the plan as the last time I did this was almost a year ago.  The end is in sight now though, so you never know…

I’m hoping to play 40 tournaments today.  Results will follow, unless I can find a way to graph it and then a graph will follow

10:30 – There’s no better display of awesome poker skill than to take down a stupidly fast tournament.  Officially I have the 1st place in a $30+$3 turbo after we agreed a chip count deal.  I walked away with $432.89, which is enough to cover my buyins until at least 3pm.

10:55 – Runner up in a satellite.  4th place pays $7.60.  It cost $11.

12:15 – 3rd in a 30-player $20 limit tournament for $120.  Would have been at least 2nd if not for a miracle comeback by a player with 0.2BBs.  LOL donkaments, etc.

12:30 - Scraped 3rd in a $22 shootout after making an awesome call with Q2 and sucking out on ace-rag, giving me $24.16 in the bank and entry into the next round.  Claire just brought me pizza, she is awesome obv.

13:00 – Choked in round 2 of the shootout.  Still, 4 cashes from 9 results (and 3 games still in progress, 1 final table 3 from money) for +$298 is running pretty good.

13:20 - Bubble boy :(

15:45 – Scraped into money in a $44 tournament with 10 paid, then made it to 8th place for $144.

18:30 - Won $177.75 for 15th place in a $30 rebuy tournament.  I didn’t rebuy or add-on.

18:40 – 42nd when 40 get paid.  Basically bubbled again.

19:40 – 9th place got me $83.20 in a $22 tourney.  That would be $366.60 up on the day if I stopped now.  But I’ve only played 29…!

21:15 – 15th in a 331 man turbo for $33.10

21:20 – A bottom level cash in a $33 tournament for $54.60.  Currently up $371.30 with 2 games still running.

21:40 – Down to playing only one table for the first time since I started, over 13 hours ago.  My brain hurts a bit.

23:25 – I am heads up at the end of a $22 Omaha Hi/Lo tournament with 68 runners.  Not bad for someone who hasn’t really got a clue how to play that game.  He has a 9:1 chip lead so I figure I’m almost certainly getting 2nd place for $272.

02:05 – Got to round three of a $22 shootout, winning $43.31 and $46.20.  One more tournament (number 40) is still running, and I’m going to play it like I want to go to bed.  Because I do.  I’ve been playing online poker for nearly 18 hours.  So assume it’s all over.

This will have earned me 1,668 VIP points, which is worth $33 in real money (equivalent to almost 50% rakeback – I paid $68 in fees today) and puts me just 1,118 points away from the Royal Flush Club – so it won’t have to be quite such a marathon next time.  33 tournaments should do it..!

(Note: To earn 1,668 VIP points in a day playing ring games would have needed me to play nearly 2.8 million hands).

Not a bad result at all really: 11 cashes from 40 is pretty phenominal (and obviously unmaintainable) and $601.81 is a very nice chunk of profit.  Sometimes I do run good.

03:45 - What do you get if you cross woohoo with zzzzz?  I cashed in the last tournament for $88 but there’s no way I’m going to be awake at 8am again…

A year in review

I appear to have managed to bag a copy of my Harrah’s win/loss statement early.  On their web site, it says that statements for 2008 will not be available until 1st Feb.  Right now, that does seems to be the case, however last week it disregarded its own message and let me generate mine, and I saved a copy.

It’s hardly a major coup, but as I have the information already I may as well use it.

Obviously, my $10,000 jackpot at Harrah’s Laughlin helps a little bit.  Taking that extremely rare win out of the picture, it’s a total loss of $527; $241 in Las Vegas and $286 in Laughlin.

What I’m most interested in is how this compares to my theoretical losses over the course of the year.  After all, that’s the figure I used as the basis of the decision to go for Diamond status at the start of the year.

I started off by pumping $30,000 through on video poker to get Diamond in a Day (valid until March 2009), and made sure that number reached $110,000 to retain that status for another year.

I played the majority on 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.5%) in Laughlin, and the bulk of the rest on 8/5 Bonus Poker (99.2%) in Las Vegas with a smaller amount on 9/5 Jacks or Better (98.4%).

I can be a little obsessive about my video poker records, but it does mean that I have enough information to know that my theoretical loss this year is $691.70.  So even without the jackpot, I was slightly over-achieving.  (On the other hand, the machines at Palms that you’re meant to win on have killed me).

Breaking it down, I should have lost $360.90 in Laughlin from about $72,000 cycled through the machine and $330.80 in Las Vegas from about $38,000.  That’s virtually the same loss number from roughly half the action – every fraction of a percent counts!

$110,000 on video poker earns 11,000 base reward credits (worth $110 in comp) and most games award bonus credits – albeit somewhat randomly.  In total I earned another 26,000 bonus RCs ($260).

As it was easy to spend (what I hadn’t already eaten, I used towards the hotel bill at the Rio) I am treating this as real money.  In fact, it’s worth a little more than real money because you don’t pay tax when spending comp!

So, was Diamond status worth it for me this year, at a theoretical net cost of $321.70?  Absolutely yes.

Quantifying all the perks this lofty status has afforded me over the past year is tricky.  It’s hard to put a value on guaranteed valet parking on busy nights, lounge access or being trusted with glassware instead of plastic beakers at the buffet.

But I can add up all the lovely room, food and free play offers I’ve managed to take advantage of.  I’m aware that these are not necessarily related to Diamond status in particular, but as I had nothing but a dormant players card the previous year, everything I was offered is based solely on my play in 2008.  Here’s my total haul for the year:

Harrah’s Laughlin 1 night March 49.99
Bounceback cash for January play 27.00
Matched status and free play at Venetian 50.00
Rio 2 nights June 220.00
Harrah’s Laughlin 3 nights June 199.97
Imperial Palace 2 nights June 119.90
Harrah’s Rincon 2 nights July 258.00
Harrah’s Rincon food credit 25.00
Harrah’s Rincon slot play 25.00
Flamingo 3 nights July 285.00
Summerfest blackjack tournament 80.00
Second City show tickets 100.00
Harrah’s Laughlin 2 nights August 198.00
Harrah’s Laughlin free play 100.00
Caesars Palace 2 nights August 240.00
Rio 5 nights December 300.00

The Laughlin room rates seem high (I’d never pay $99/night to stay there) but I did get all these rates straight out of the Harrah’s reservation system by logging out and trying to book the same type of room for the same dates as an unknown user, and given their best rate guarantee it should be pretty accurate.

The amount I’ve put for the Rio was what it could be booked for in December (which had been reduced by more than $100 since I first booked it) and I’ve not included anything for the ability to get casino rate for an additional 6 days.  In total on that trip I actually got at least $1800 worth of hotel for about $400.

It’s also worth noting that some of these rooms were also upgraded at check-in (I got a Go room at Flamingo with a Deluxe room comp and a surprise suite in Laughlin), so in some cases the rates would have been higher to book that particular type of room.

I also only put $80 down for the summerfest tournament, which is the amount you had to pay to enter if you weren’t invited.  I doubt it’s worth anything like that, but I walked away with $550 so I should include something!

Anyway, the total of that little lot as listed: $2277.86.

Not bad for $321.70, even if I did only use the Caesars Palace nights to stock up my shampoo collection.

So, can I do better in 2009?  It depends on how long the offers keep on coming but I’ve made a fairly good start.

It’s extremely unlikely that I will earn 11,000 reward credits to retain Diamond status for another year, and if I do it will be exclusively through play in Laughlin as the one video poker game worth playing in Las Vegas has been removed.  That means there’s a chance that I could keep the shiny player’s card but lose the room offers once they realise I don’t play in Las Vegas any more.

So if I don’t plan to give them another cent in action, anything I get for free this year is all gravy.

Driving my privileges into the ground has already begun.  Right now, I have advance hotel bookings in the bag for 27 free nights.

There’s a 2 night stay at Caesars and 5 nights at Rio for my trip in April.  Value: $620.

Then there’s four separate 5-night midweek stays in the summer at Harrah’s, Paris, Flamingo and Rio.  Although I probably won’t use half of that, it’s $1375 worth of hotel accomodation that it’s just rude to say no to.

I’m checking daily to see whether I’m going to be able to nab something for next Christmas too.  It’ll be interesting to see if they manage to catch on to my flagrant abuse of the system before then.

Big balls

Leading up to New Year’s eve there was a temporary "Party Store" on the Strip, just outside one of the strip malls that sells tacky souvenirs and cheap t-shirts.  For those that navigate by fast food, it was near Fatburger.

As well as the big balls – which they were clearly proud of - they sold an awesome range of hats.  Those balls were quite shiny though.  Note that I did not use a flash to take this picture.

The way God intended gambling to sound

There aren’t many slots or video poker machines left in Las Vegas that pay out using actual coins.

Most of the time, I love the ticket-in-ticket-out system.  But when you hit a big win, you just can’t beat hearing that clank of metal on metal several hundred times.

Oh, and I miss the incessant dinging.  It’s never annoying if it means you’re getting paid.

The brief recorded "kerching" noise you get while your ticket prints – the same sound whether you won a jackpot or just cashed out your last few cents – just can’t compete.

This is a snippet of a 600 coin payout by a vintage machine in the Fremont casino after Claire hit quads on Pick’em Poker for $150 in quarters.

They’re an endangered species – this could be the last time I ever see a significant coin payout in person.

Driving in to 2009

Happy New Year!  OK, I’m just about a full week late posting this, but I can backdate it a bit so nobody will really know.  Sshhh.

My top priority for New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas was avoiding the zoo on the Strip.  Sure, I was going to miss some dude jumping his motorcycle onto the fake Arc de Triomphe, but I figured I’d cope.

So instead of bouncing into 2009 with a drink shaped like Bette Midler in my hand, I stepped back 40 years to go to the movies. 

For a long time, I didn’t even know there was a drive-in in Las Vegas.  It’s certainly not new though, as you can tell from the awesome sign.

I must have driven past it several times without realising it’s there, but unless you know what you’re looking for it’s quite easy to miss.

What you’re looking for is a large screen by the roadside.  Easy when you know how.

It’s an amazingly cheap operation, and I think that’s part of the charm.  Basically a large slab of tarmac just off a major road with five screens made out of pallets, some projectors and a shed that sells popcorn.  I could have had a free refill on my one-size-fits-all barrel of popcorn, but I just couldn’t face any more.

There was one girl on the gate and two staff in the shed.  If there was ever a business model to survive tough economic times, this must be it.

And I’m always a sucker for a distressed letterboard sign.

All the films start at 7.30, you just turn up and park at the one you want to see.  In fact, every night that it’s not New Year’s Eve, you get to see a double bill for one price.

We parked facing Jim Carey to watch "Yes Man".

To be fair, it’s not the greatest cinematic experience in the world.  The projector didn’t quite line up right (where’s the top of Jim’s head?) and the contrast was pretty poor.  The brightly lit casino right behind the screen means it’s never really going to be dark enough to make out what’s going on in the scenes filmed in low light.

At the bottom left of the photo, you can make out the top of Fiesta’s neon sign.  It’s quite animated, and always there flickering away in the background.  Forget about surround sound too, unless you have a really good car stereo.

But a cool way to spend an evening chilling out away from the hustle and bustle of the casinos?  Absolutely.  I wouldn’t want to see anything I particularly cared about this way, but at $6.25 to let (normally) 2 brand new movies wash over you, how can you go wrong?  I would definitely do it again.

I got back to the Rio in time to see the fireworks.  The display seemed to be toned down this year, but that’s probably an effect of the significantly reduced height.  Fireworks were launched from 8-story parking garages rather than the usual 40-story hotels and an 1,149 ft tall tower, thanks to the Monte Carlo roof fire earlier in the year.

Even though that was caused by molten metal as the result of a blowtorch mishap, and not by controlled aerial pyrotechnics.

It was pretty underwhelming.  We couldn’t see much, but it turned out to be more than you could see on the Strip and on TV.  If you spin the second video to 5:05 you can compare it to last year and see what a difference it made.