August 2009
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Day 25: Spotting a pattern

Now I know where the pattern on my new Flamingo socks came from – it’s the same as the wallpaper in their "Go Rooms".

Day 24: Quads always come in pairs

It was my third hand, and the first I’d decided to play.  I had a pair of red fours in the small blind.

I don’t even know why that detail is significant.  The colour of the cards has nothing to do with how I played them, or how I tell the tale.  It bugs me enough when people begin a story with "I had red aces", as if the suits matters pre-flop, and like they’re not going to point of they have a flush draw the tiny number of times it actually becomes relevant later in the hand.

In this hand, there was no flush draw, and even if there was one four wasn’t going to make much of a difference to me.  But for some reason I can’t explain, I looked down and thought exactly that: two red fours.

There were a couple of limpers and the button raised to $12.  He had a little more than a full stack ($100) so my call was fairly loose with bad position and three other players still to act.  I was hoping at least one of them would come along for the ride as well.

What I didn’t want was what happened: the big blind raised, but it was barely more than the minimum, making it $25.

I hadn’t been here long enough to know if that meant anything, but pre-flop re-raises at $1/$2 are unusual without a big hand and small re-raises scream of a monster pair.

I don’t like paying $25 on a small pair, but I was getting fabulous odds after the limpers fled the scene and the original raiser made the call.  $13 more to me, $66 in the pot and a hand that will either crack those pocket aces which the big blind had already told everyone about or cost me no more money. 

Flop: ten, nine, four.  All different suits.  Seriously loving my set of fours.

I check and the monster pair obligingly moves all in for about $70.

The button also moves all in for slightly more.

Am I still happy?  Slightly less so than I was, but I’m never folding here.  Pocket jacks and queens are all over this flop, and on balance of cards alone they are twice as likely as any hand that beats mine.

I don’t even ask for a count (I have both players covered) and we all jump head first into a three-way bloodbath.

Pocket aces we already pretty much knew about, but I have to confess when the last four popped up on the turn to crack the other guy’s pocket nines (for a bigger flopped set that left me with one card left in the deck to win) I did let out a little yelp, for which I quickly apologised.

The result of the carnage was a net win of about $200 for me – but as this was at the Excalibur two players got to spin the wheel – one for the four-of-a-kind and another for the cracked aces.

However, the player with the best hand on the flop by far got diddly squat, and had to watch as I got paid another $25 for sucking out on him.

But wait, there’s more.  We already know these huge hands come in pairs.  At Christmas, I thought I’d missed a jackpot and then made quads again shortly afterwards to confirm that there was no high hand prize at the time.  My last quads in Vegas before that was also two in the same session.

If I hadn’t already hit quads this trip (9s at Bally’s with a $100 jackpot) I’d swear it was always the case. 

Two hands later, while the jackpot wheel was still spinning (those things have a lot of momentum!) I picked up a massive ten-eight offsuit and limped in.  As the wheel settled the floorman had me sign the necessary paperwork to get my bonus chips so I wasn’t really paying attention to the game.

"Hurry up quad fours!", came the shout from the other side of the table.

I look back to see a flop with two tens, verbally checked, and then struggled to keep one eye on the game while dealing with the bureaucracy so I could try to work out how to make some money from my hand.

I still don’t really know how it happened.  The fourth ten came on the turn and I checked again because I didn’t think anybody had much yet, and I was really hoping for a river ace or king to generate some action.

It was a 5, but apparently that was enough.  I was just completing the formalities when the action got to me (two signatures for a $25 win – this is Vegas, right?) and threw out a $10 bet.

But I’d missed something.  Another player fancied his hand, and now decided that he wanted that pot of $8 that had been sitting in the middle of the table without anyone taking a stab at it so far.  He’d made a $30 bet at it and the dealer kindly let me have a do-over.

That $30 was pretty much $30 more than I expected to win, and I had no idea how what he could possibly call with but I had to raise, so I made it $70 and sure enough I got paid off by eight-five for a ridiculously weak full house (given the cards on board).

I should have won $8 on the hand, but I actually got another $70.

And even if the other guy couldn’t bring himself to fold a full house, all he had to do was point out that I’d already made my action by throwing out fewer chips than his bet amount because I wasn’t paying attention and I wouldn’t be allowed to raise, only call.

The dealer made me an extra $40 on this hand.

I also had an awesome second spin of the wheel, hitting "triple" and then $30 for another $90. 

My action dried up after that.  Nobody wanted to play with me because I was "great at flops" so I had to move on.

With all their money in my pocket 🙂

Day 23: Mandarin getting wrapped

It looks like that the new Mandarin Oriental hotel is going to be the first in Las Vegas to spoil its exterior with a jumbo window sticker even before they’ve finished building it.  It’s set to open in December.

It’s also going to be the first non-gaming property to pimp out its skyscraper.  Seems an unusual step for a high end luxury hotel that doesn’t have a casino – or even a Cirque du Soleil show – to promote.

But, hey, if everyone else is doing it… 

There are two slogans used for the Las Vegas resort on Mandarin’s web site, both ending with an "s".  However one looks too long to fit here with lettering of that size (‘A haven in the heart of Vegas") so the smart money is on it looking like this:

It’s a bit less cheesy than Donnie and Marie Osmond’s big grins, but only just. 

EDIT (14th Aug): I was wrong, looks like it’s going to say "We (heart) Vegas" with their fan logo in place of the heart.  Photo will follow as soon as I see it in daylight.

EDIT (16th Aug): Vegas Rex has a picture of the completed wrap: We Fan Vegas

Day 22: Personal Identification Number number

Coast Casinos have recently started adding PIN numbers to players club accounts.

This is a great idea as it means they’ve been able to put in a bunch of self-service terminals where you check your offers and print off coupons without having to stand in line for the players club.

Hopefully it also means paying with points in person will be quicker too as they won’t have to check ID.  When you hand your card to a person, you’ll have to enter your PIN on a keypad like this one.

The size of the keys and the bright primary colours… it looks like they got a job lot from the Early Learning Centre.

But what I want to know is… why do these beasts need a "num lock"? 

Day 21: That Bellagio rant

Just to get it off my chest, this is my other whinge from Thursday night.

I finally got to play poker at Bellagio for the first time. 

On two previous attempts I got fed up of waiting for someone to even acknowledge that I was standing right in front of them.  "Quick, look busy!", has been their attitude when I showed up on two other occasions.  In between finding things to do, they’d look around me or through me, but never make eye contact.

And so it began today.  There were many more important things for the man with the clipboard to do before he would be able to write my name on a list.

That was even before I’d asked to play $1/$2 no-limit, a game that the Bellagio used to be too good for.  The floor staff apparently still think that they are, and can spot the pond life that come to play it from 20 paces.

To be honest, I guess my orange Hawaiian shirt didn’t help. 

When he couldn’t ignore me any longer, I was apparently first up so I waited right at the podium.  I didn’t realise how naive this strategy was. 

Clipboard Guy had a wireless microphone, and he was going to use it.  He brushed past me, out of the poker room and a few seconds later, after some cunning misdirection and presumably using a trap door, re-appeared back inside, but way over the other side of the room.

I’d spotted him, but there was no way I could hear him.  "Mnmnph mmnnnm rrrmph rummit holdem" was about all I could make out.

Was that my name?  Was that my game and he’d bumped someone ahead of me?  Some players must have been waiting within earshot of whichever speaker he’d hooked up to, so was I meant to have been waiting over there?  It should never be this hard to play cards.

It’s usually about now that I’d walk but, today, I’d decided I wasn’t giving up.  I knew he would have to return to the podium eventually and prepared myself for a confrontation.

Sadly, the colourful line of enquiry I’d been rehearsing was not needed because a few minutes later someone else called my name, looked at me like "seriously, that’s you?" when I stepped forward and reluctantly showed me to a table.

I’m almost positive I’d been bumped down the list, and I’m not even sure if the other floorman calling my name was a mistake after he’d picked up the wrong clipboard.

Anyway, I got to play.  I stayed less than an hour, hating it.  The beer count at the table was zero, which is never a good sign, and although the iPod count was only 2 the dick count was a perfect 9.  Makes sense – anyone who looked like they might be playing for fun would have had a hard time getting this far.

As I grabbed a rack to gather my chips, the dealer flung a "reserved" button into my spot before I’d even picked up the first stack.  I guess he didn’t want me there either.

Inevitably, one day I’ll be a big name high stakes player.  I can’t wait to stick two fingers up at the Bellagio and have somebody actually notice.

Day 20: The re-steal

I may have mentioned before now my tendency to stock up on small bars of soap and tiny bottles of shampoo whenever I stay in a hotel.

The usual routine, working on the assumption that things that are partially used or missing when the maid comes the next morning will probably be replaced, is to leave out anything half used and hide anything I haven’t touched at all.  One of the drawers in the dresser usually does the job.

This week, my five night unnecessary reservation at Paris Las Vegas has gone largely unused.  I’d popped in a few times to make the room look stayed in to ensure they didn’t check me out after finding the room in perfect condition when it seemed likely I wouldn’t be staying, but I hadn’t actually spent a night there – until tonight.

While Claire decided to try to get maximum value form the 5x points day at Terribles, I played poker on the Strip.  She had the car and I had a place to crash.

I even got to play at Bellagio for the first time.  It’s also going to be the last time.  Clearly, I’m not welcome there.  But two big rants in one blog post is almost two too many, so I’ll save that one.

When I got back to Paris I was delighted to find two pens in the room.  Sometimes you only get one.  I pulled open the top drawer to deposit them with the rest of my haul from the past four days and…

… empty! 

Seriously?  The maid stole it all back?  How dare she!

I’m not even joking.  Since when did the cleaning staff start going through closed draws in hotel rooms – let alone playing a vigilante in the War on Soap?

Sure, my pilfering hadn’t been subtle. I’d also taken all the non-decaf coffee from the machine without leaving a single wrapper in the bin.  No used soap.  No half used shampoo.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out I’m on the take.

But for fuck’s sake… did she really go looking to see where I’d stashed this stuff, quite happy to rummage around in the drawer I usually use for dirty underwear, and swipe them right back?

Apparently so.

Is there some kind of "fair usage policy" on the amenities that I’m not aware of?  It’s "unlimited soap" on the surface, but if I need both bars replacing on four straight days, does it red flag my room and print out a search warrant?

Am I somehow wrong to assume that these disposable items, left for me daily to use as I see fit, are fair game?  I know I’m not alone.

If housekeeping feels that I am using too many of their valuable resources, the way to deal with this is to stop replenishing them.  Indeed, this happens.  At the Rio earlier in the trip, we dropped from 2 daily bars of soap to 1, and on some days the lotion didn’t get replaced at all.

That’s not a big deal.  If I genuinely needed more supplies than they left, I could call housekeeping and ask for more.  I didn’t need more, I’m just a hoarder. 

I don’t take the towels, the ice bucket or the bible.  OK, I’ll admit I did take an ice bucket once, but it was a long time ago and I know it was wrong.  There’s a big difference between the fixtures and fittings and consumables.

But the soap isn’t really the issue here (although, of course, I did want as much fake French "lotion pour le corpse" as possible, just because I wanted to believe they actually were little bottles of formaldehyde).  Searching the personal storage areas of an occupied hotel guest room is a gross invasion of privacy.

Not to mention that it kind of freaked me out when I got in late at night and realised someone had been through my stuff. 

What’s really interesting is that the welcome card from the maid – the one that says "Hi, My name is Rosario, please give me money" – and sometimes even comes with a handy envelope for your donation – had also been removed.

I guess you don’t think you’ll be getting a tip now.  You’re absolutely right.

If I wasn’t still milking every last cent of value out of my Harrah’s status I would have caused a hell of a fuss.  The circumstances are a little embarassing ("I know someone’s been messing with my things because I’d filled a draw with your toiletries and now they’re gone") but it’s a major worry to think hotel staff are going through the things you put away when you’re not around.

The problem is that I still have two fully comped reservations at Christmas which I really want to keep.  The last thing I need is to attract attention so they look me up and see that I haven’t gambled at a Harrah’s casino in Las Vegas for almost a year.  The upside (most likely nothing more than an apology) didn’t seem to be worth the risk of the downside.

Day 19: Headshot

Even though the opportunity to pursue a career in hat modelling has probably passed me by, I just had to strike a pose to show off this beautiful "peace hat", which I received courtesy of Binion’s.

That pose would be: just got back after a long poker session and need to go to sleep.  I think I pulled it off convincingly. 

As part of their participation in the Summer of ’69 theme throughout the whole of Downtown Las Vegas, you can win one of these beauties every time you hit quad 6s or 9s on video poker.

It’s actually even more awesome than the photo suggests, as the red stars are actually lights and they flash in sequence, moving from the bottom of the "V" to the top.

I have yet to see anyone wearing one of these in public. 

Day 18: How to break a perfectly good promotion

Alongside all the other great value at Terrible’s casino at the moment, there’s also been a swipe-and-win promotion which is linked to a $250,000 cash giveaway.

Every time you swipe you earn one entry into the drawing and some other prize that is randomly generated by computer.

To give you the impression that you have some kind of influence over what you win, you have to pick one of three alarm bells with Mr Terrible’s face on it to reveal your prize.

Sometimes it’s a two-for-one coupon for the buffet, which isn’t worth anything if you have points on your card, as comp is worth twice as much at the buffet as anywhere else.  Sometimes it’s a twofer for a particular kind of meal (e.g. a steak dinner) at the cafe.

It’s better when you get free players club points. I’ve had awards from 100 points (worth about 25c) up to 5,000 points (worth about $12).

There are also instant prizes, including a musical "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign ornament, Terrible’s t-shirts and (presumably because of surplus stock in the gift shop) a set of tupperware containers.  They’re not Terrible’s logo containers, it’s just a totally random giveaway.

And sometimes it’s nothing more than another drawing ticket to stick in the drum.

It’s not worth making a special trip just to swipe here, but as I’m playing at Terrible’s a lot lately I’m taking advantage of the extra value.  Especially as you could earn extra swipes every day by playing the machines: 250 points for each extra entry, but limited to a total of three entries per day.

That was until today.

After playing more than enough video poker to claim the daily maximum $25 of free fuel each, Claire and I stood in line to swipe – unaware of the change.  It was fairly unusual to have to wait at all for this, and even more so that it was moving extremely slowly.

It didn’t take long to realise that some players were getting more than three goes, and we quickly figured out what was going on.

In fact, only the first three selections give you a chance to win bonus points or free tat.  From the 4th one onwards, whichever alarm bell you pressed it is always going to give you a drawing ticket.

One player ahead had 61 goes.  The ever-growing mass of people waiting for their free shit started to dissent.  Many couldn’t connect the sign on the top of the kiosk that said "earn bonus entries for every 250 points" and the fact that some people had earned bonus entries.

"Why does he get so many?", came a voice from behind.  "What makes him so special?  Is he the son of the owner or something?".

They really must have special perks for family.  "Here boy, take this golden slot card and go swipe so many times that my customers will start spitting on you".

It could happen. 

Others, when it was finally their turn, swiped their card, took their one free entry for turning up and looked devastated that they didn’t get to go again.  A second swipe of the card proved fruitless, and the message "you need to earn another 250 points for another entry" just produced confused expressions. 

Newsflash: casinos give more stuff to those who gamble than those that don’t.

We finally got to the front of the line and Claire steped up to swipe.

You need to earn 1,000 base points for $5 in gas, but this was a 5x points day so we had earned tens of thousands of spendable points.  There’s no point in keeping count beyond 25,000.  But surely, only the base points would count towards these extra entries right?


Instead of the twenty-something entries I was expecting, the kiosk dropped a bombshell: "Play 1 of 135".

Oh. My. God.

It took nearly 20 minutes to clear them all, because you have to listen to a little cheering noise each time while the ticket prints, and then wait for the machine to reset to the selection screen.

This is how it plays out…

Except it went on much longer than that, without any way to speed it up or stop it.

You can imagine how popular we were.  Needless to say, I didn’t bother swiping my own card after all that.  I think it could have been the first time in Vegas history that someone gets carted off to a back room and taught a lesson – by other punters.

There is no need for this to be the way it is.  What Claire had actually earned was 3 plays on the swipe-and-win and an additional 132 drawing tickets.  It might take a couple of minutes to print all those, but there’s no reason to wait for the player to make a selection before printing each one.

Furthermore, there’s no way to cancel the session once it’s started and slot attendants are not interested – it’s not a slot machine.  You have to hit the screen the requisite number of times to give someone else a chance to play.  We could care less about the drawing tickets as we won’t be around for the draw, but if there’s a chance to get another Terrible’s t-shirt for nothing, I’m going to take it. 

I can understand them wanting to reward players with more entries for giving them more action, but doing it this way – especially when there’s only one kiosk in the casino – is quite simply a clusterfuck.

What I really didn’t like, though, was how it also drew massive attention to those who had clearly come to the casino with a bit of playing money.  This isn’t like them regular casinos – carrying a few hundred dollars makes you a high roller.

Tourists mostly stay away and well-off locals tend to choose the more upmarket off-strip resorts nearer to their more upmarket homes out in the ‘burbs.  As one slot attendant once told me, "this place brings out the crazies".

So I can’t tell you how how delighted I was to have to stand there with, effectively, a flashing arrow pointing at my head while dozens of frustrated bottom feeders got a little bit hungrier.

Even though it was still daylight, it was a relief to make a clean getaway.

Day 17: Doubling down on hard 16

In a game of blackjack today, I doubled down on hard 16.

It’s one of the worst plays you can make and – against a dealer’s ten, as it was – is one of the very few plays that has a expected loss of more than your original bet.

You would actually lose less money over the long term by forfeiting your bet before seeing any cards than by doubling down on 16 against a 10.

Of course, today the long term was irrelevant.  This was the free Summerfest blackjack tournament that was included with my free room at Paris and, as you have hopefully realised, I was pretty desperate.

With five hands to go, the chips were counted down and I had 1,350 – second out of the four remaining players. The leader had 2,700.

Two ladies at the table didn’t appear to realise the objective was to finish with more chips than anybody else and seemed content to just make sure their play money lasted all the way to the final hand.  One had just 300 left, and decided that the way to catch up with the leader in five hands or less was by betting 100 at a time.

She’d left herself absolutely no way to win, and that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid.

Hand 11 of 15: The chip leader, not content to sit on his massive lead and find out if I would go broke trying to catch him, bet 300.  Although I could have bet the minimum 25 and hoped he would lose significant bets on the next four hands, he would only need to win one more hand (or to suddenly realise that he coast to victory) to put the game out of my reach.  I had no choice but to bet the maximum 500.

He doubled down on a 12 with the dealer showing a 10 and I began to wonder whether letting him self-destruct would actually have been the best strategy.  He bust, but I also lost the hand with a dealt 18, leaving me with 850 compared to his 2,100 and with four hands still to play.

Hand 12 of 15: He bets 500.  Perhaps he really did want to lose.  But even so, I didn’t think there was time for him to donk it all off and also made a maximum bet.  Ploppy had a 14 and hit a miracle 7 for 21, which couldn’t lose as the dealer showed a 9.  Even if the dealer also pulled a 21, he was ending the hand on 2,100 chips – but more than likely it would be 2,600.

If I win, I’m looking at 1,350, a deficit of 1,250 – 2.5 times the maximum bet – with just 3 hands left to play.  And if I lose, I have 350 chips left to fight for a meaningless second place.

So, despite having a 16, I doubled down.  And, unsurprisingly, I bust out of the tournament.

Give me a pen and paper and a few minutes and I’m fairly confident that I’d be able to work out the optimal play in the end stages of a blackjack tournament.  Or, at least, be able to satisfy myself that any particular decision is not a huge error.

However, under tournament conditions, having to track the number of chips left for your opponents in your head, working out all the possible scenarios and having just ten seconds to act, it’s a totally different matter.

There’s actually no reason you should have the pressure of only ten second to make an important decision, but my table had a real bitch for a dealer.  She’d already hissed at the lady to my left for not making clear enough hand signals (they were just fine if you ask me) and scolded me for the heinous crime of riffling my chips. Then she decided she’d had enough of this shit so started putting clocks on players indiscriminately.

God help you if it takes a few seconds to be absolutely sure in your head that 3 + 2 + 4 + 3 + A + 3 is indeed 16, and not 17.  You’ve already wasted enough of her precious time by hitting 4 times in one hand and not busting yet.

Ten seconds?  That wasn’t in the rules… what is this, an online turbo tournament?

She clearly didn’t want to be there, and letting her deal was a horrible advert for blackjack at the Rio, which is surely the point of running these promotional tournaments instead of just having a prize draw.

Anyway, here’s a pop quiz from a situation in the previous day’s tournament for anyone who actually read this far.  I finished second, losing by a single chip 2,375 to 2,400.  In the final hand, there were just two of us left and I thought my opponent’s stack was 175 less than mine (although it turned out I was actually only 125 ahead).  How much do you bet here (minimum 25, maximum 500) to give yourself the best chance of winning, and is it affected by a lack of confidence in the chip counts?

Day 16: The red room

Five nights in Paris Las Vegas: the first truly unnecessary hotel rental of this trip.

I only took this one because I’d never stayed there before.  It was the first – and just about the only time – I’ve seen dates available as fully comped under my account, and given that it’s a miracle I’m still getting room offers from Harrah’s at all surely the last chance to check it out.  I was just a bit curious as to what the place was like.

In the pecking order of Harrah’s casinos, based on typical room rates Paris seems to sit in second place – below Caesars Palace and above Rio.  So I expected something quite fancy – especially when we were given an upgrade to a newly remodelled "Red Room".

It may well be as "chic" as they claim, but I have to admit that I don’t really get it. 

Aside from the red blankets, there was also a bit of red padding behind the beds…

…and a red wall in the bathroom. 

There’s a big-ass television…

… and a well stocked mini-bar.  That’s traditionally something you don’t get in a Las Vegas hotel, but more properties are starting to like the idea of charging $4 for half a tube of Pringles these days.

The finer design features were clearly lost on me, and it just seemed like a fairly typical hotel room, although it actually felt a little on a small side compared to other places I’ve stayed.  Which is a bit odd, because although these rooms have been renovated, the resort is not quite ten years old.  Not exactly a relic.

It hardly seems worth the hype of giving a special name to this type of room, and not quite what I was expecting from a Red Room…