August 2022
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What a difference some play makes

Harrah’s love me now, it’s official.

So I moaned a bit before about not having any good offers since I got Diamond, and they said it was because I hadn’t actually played on any of the shitty games they had in Las Vegas.

Fine, I thought, let’s give them some action and see what happens.

Claire and I spent not much more than an hour pumping money through the best video poker games we could find at Harrah’s Las Vegas.  Tucked away in a bank of multi-line games there was one multi-line machine with 5c 10-play 9/5 Jacks or Better (98.5%) and the next best was 7/5 Bonus Poker (98.0%) at 25c.  Definitely not great, but the best of a bad bunch.

Between us, we racked up 355 base reward credits on my card which means we must have played $3550 in total.  If you reckon on a 2% house edge on those games, the overall expected loss is $71.  In fact we won a bit on the day because Claire of course hit about 25 royal flushes.

That expected loss number is not quite as bad as it sounds.  We also got a combined 606 bonus reward credits (how these are calculated at any given time is an official secret) taking the total for the day to 961, worth a whopping $9.61 in instant food comp almost anywhere at any of Harrah’s casinos.

Except at Mon Ami Gabi.  I found this out the hard way.  You can’t swipe your card there because it’s not operated by the casino, although I asked at the players club about this later and apparently you can get a comp slip before you go to dinner if you care to guess roughly how much it’s going to be.  However, our fake French waiter (who actually sounded Italian) didn’t think to even tell us this, he just shook his head at my Total Rewards card and we had to pay using real money.

I’d be annoyed about this if it didn’t mean I still had enough comp on the card to have to go back there again in the summer and do it right.  It was a fantastic steak with a fantastic view.  I’m kicking myself for only taking a picture of the latter.

Anyway, it seems that $3550 of action in Las Vegas was enough to get me on the radar for room offers worth way more than $71.

Finally, the Imperial Palace is free!  As well as a "Deluxe Room", sometimes their web site gives me the option to book a "Luv Tub" room (putting a Roman bath in the rooms in an Asian-themed hotel is obvious, no) completely free of charge, and for up to five nights!

That’s pretty cool.  The reservations site says "sold out" for every date I’ve tried if I’m not logged in so I don’t know what they usually go for (they might even be restricted to players club bookings) but on the dates I can’t get a comp the Luv Tub rates are about $60 more than a Deluxe room.

We don’t need any hotel accomodation for the summer, but I might just book it anyway and take the little bottles of shampoo.  Or if anyone out there is looking for a good deal and the dates are right, buy me a drink and I’ll think about checking you in 😉

There’s also quite a few comps showing for me at Bally’s, Flamingo and Harrah’s and the odd night elsewhere, as well as reduced rates for all the other hotels.

The best bargain I found has to be four nights at the Rio at Christmas (the flights are already booked, need you ask) totally free.  In fact, it was only $50 to add a 5th night so I splashed out and went for that too.  If enough offers come along later to cover the rest of the trip, I expect I can always cancel that night anyway!

The best part is because every room in the Rio is a suite, I can finally boast about getting comped a suite in Vegas!

Don’t send me back t’dark place

This just in:

I used a few coupons at Circus Circus last month – a couple of table game match plays, $10 free slot play and a "get $15 in chips for $10" offer.  All this combined with a free monster hot dog at Slots-a-Fun almost makes a trip down there worthwhile.  Almost.

Circus Circus has a lot of haters, and after going back for the first time in a good few years I have to agree it absolutely deserves it.  Something about the place just started to drain my life force the moment I walked through the door.

And that was well before I had to negotiate any over-excited families of nine, kids eating candyfloss, adults chewing toothpicks, on their way to the RV park.  I can’t explain exactly what the "vibe" was, but it definitely wasn’t like you get at them regular casinos.

Maybe it was the promotional table game chips – you know it’s a cheap-ass casino when they only have them in $1s.  This deal was meant to come with a pack of win cards, but they’d run out (long ago, I imagine, judging by the 30-or-so years of grime on the chips themselves).

Or perhaps the blackjack table I sat at had something to do with it.  It took the combined brain power of a dealer and a pit boss (and what was left of their life force) about ten minutes to figure out whether a coupon from their own "fun" book which said "good for any $1 side bet" could be used at their game.

The table had a side bet that cost $1.  So, yes.  It really wasn’t worth holding the game up for.

Then one player asked the dealer, "do I hit that?" when he had a 16 and the dealer showed a ten.  "Oh that’s a tough one, it’s really up to you".  Great, it was well worth asking.  Do you not know, or have you been told to help the player make mistakes?

I’m guessing she wasn’t aware of all the hard work that has been trying to do for dealerkind.  "Your dealer will help you out because they like getting money" is the pretty much the message of that web site.  In fact, Circus Circus dealers get the worst tips on the Strip, and it’s not close.

Anyway, even with this $10 free slot play still to claim, I’m still not sure I’ll be back in a hurry.

Walk this way

I don’t think there could have been a better time to decide to call it a night – and a trip – than after being dealt back-to-back pocket aces. I didn’t make a fortune on them, but at least they held up.

The first time, I raised to $15 pre-flop after a couple of limpers and there was one caller who gave it up when I fired on a low, paired flop. Second time I got it all in against pocket kings, but he was short stacked, only sitting on about $50 at the start of the hand.

Even so, it was a three figure profit on the session and – as had been my M.O. that evening – I decided to quit with that profit as soon as the blinds came round again.  I’d been there an hour and thought I would playing a bit later on my last night, but this was always going to be my last session of the trip and I’d already realised the table wasn’t that good. In fact, the few times I’ve played at the MGM Grand before it’s never really been a great game.

I’d begun the evening at Excalibur, winning about $100 in an hour and moving on to Luxor. There, it took more like 2.5 hours before I hit a monster hand: nines full of threes. Yes, I had pocket nines, I can’t believe you would even ask.

I flopped top set, bet the flop and three of us saw the turn as it completed my boat. I checked and we saw a free river card which happily completed another player’s straight and he thought it was good enough to go broke on. I’m sure I would have done too, but I was the one running good this time.

One of the reasons I like to take in a number of different poker rooms in one night is that I just love soaking up the atmosphere around Vegas.  Strolling through casinos and between casinos, you get a chance to be around all the other action while you take a break from your own.

Starting at Excalibur I had options.  You can walk right through to Luxor, and then through again to Mandalay Bay without even stepping outside (and if it’s fresh air you’re looking for, staying indoors is usualy the right choice in Las Vegas).  There’s a tram between those hotels, which I was going to use to get back if I went all the way, but for the time being I decided to take the walkway.

With half a dozen travelators to get you from E to L, it’d be just like an airport if it didn’t connect a giant fairytale castle to an enormous black pyramid and just like an airport there are always people who just don’t get the concept of a moving walkway.

In Vegas people must think that the 2mph conveyor belt ride is a free attraction, so it’s only natural they would spread out to make themselves comfortable.

It’s not called a moving standway, is it?  Shift yourselves, family of five..

So glad you brought the kids to Vegas too.  Don’t get me started on that.

Except to say that despite Luxor’s attempts to de-theme and make itself "hipper", the faux-Egyptian cheesiness is still alive and well and living in the gift shop’s children’s clothing section.

I was only in there looking for socks, obviously.

I was done at Luxor about half past midnight and I wasn’t sure how late the tram would be running.  I didn’t fancy the thought of walking all the way back from Mandalay Bay to the car if I got involved in a long poker session there, but I wasn’t quite ready to go home just yet and I hadn’t brought my camera (otherwise I would have gone straight up to Mandalay Bay and taken the slow way home) so I wandered back to the MGM.

I’d parked over the road at the Tropicana.  You have to fight with taxis at their bottleneck of an entrance, but dumping your vehicle in valet parking is the quickest and most convenient way I’ve found to get down to the South end of the Strip.  You can jump out of the car and straight onto either of the escalators to the walkways across the street without even setting foot in the Trop itself!

But I did call inside after I was done with all the winning to donate a few dollars to the massage chairs before driving back to the hotel.  They were a great find – I didn’t think any casinos still had them.  Some people think them tacky, apparently.  The Tropicana either doesn’t, or doesn’t care.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to take – let alone post – this picture, but here goes anyway.

That grainy exposure from my camera phone in dim light really doesn’t do the shirt justice – it’s much worse than it looks.

“21” the movie

Here’s a rarity – I saw a movie based on a book I’d actually read.

I think the only other time this has ever happened before was with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

There’s no point trying to do an objective critique of the film because – let’s be honest – it was going to have to be a real turkey for me not to love it.  Just look at the ingredients: Vegas, gambling and maths geeks.  It’s already a winner on paper as far as I’m concerned.  Who needs exploding helicopters? 

Of course the little things bug me a bit.  Like how they walk into the Hard Rock and then they’re seen playing at Red Rock (it says so on the tables and chips, but you can’t really see it in YouTube-def) – even though those casinos are about 10 miles apart.  I guess having one word the same in the names is enough that we’re not meant to notice.

Then suddenly they’re inside Planet Hollywood in the same sequence (the interior is quite distinctive, even without the fake plastic jewels from the former Aladdin) and finally walk out of the Hard Rock into the morning sun (guitar-shaped door handles @ 1m59 in the trailer, if you’re bothered).

In one scene, the team have a discussion about whether you should split pairs of 8s and 10s, with some saying "yes, always" and others saying it’s a "sucker play" against a dealer’s ace.

This is a team apparently comprised of very clever individuals who have figured out how to make money by working the mathematics of the game to their advantage.  There’s just no room for debate on topics like this – the numbers do the talking.

Blackjack is a game played to a fixed set of rules with a finite number of possibilities (you can’t keep hitting for ever) so there can only be one right answer.  These guys would know the correct play for every situation or they wouldn’t be betting thousands of dollars of Kevin Spacey’s money on a hand.

In fact, you should always split 8s – even against an ace as long as the dealer checks for Blackjack first, otherwise you surrender if possible and hit if not.  You never split a pair of tens or face cards.  Unless you’re card counting, when a very high count can flip the strategy on its head.  Or unless you "have a feeling", of course.

Of course, we see the big player splitting tens in the movie – and winning big because the deck is rich in tens.  You see whenever the count is high, players invariably get 20 and the dealer invariably busts.  That’s just the way it works.

Perhaps including this uncertainty and – to some extent – misinformation about the game was payment in kind to the casinos where filming took place.  Or perhaps I’m a little too cynical.

Anyhow, I still enjoyed the movie and it’s always good to know I’m not as picky as some.  Several reviews have plenty to say about just how bad this movie must be because it’s not 100% true to life as every Hollywood movie obviously should be.  They’re taking it much too seriously, and they’re all wrong.

John Chang, the real Micky Rosa

MIT team member and poker pro, Andy Bloch:

Blackjack author, Don Schlesinger:

Internet legend, the Wizard of Odds:

Some dude called "Bootlegger" on Stanford Wong’s forum:;read=156592

Two pairs

Despite owning just about every pair of casino-branded or loosely Las Vegas-themed socks that are available (as well as some that you just can’t get your hands on any more, like the threadbare Orleans socks that I just can’t bring myself to throw away) I always seem to manage to find more.

This time we even managed to get his and hers.  The question is, can you tell which is which?

Hotel 4 of 4: Four Queens

If Les Dawson was still alive, completing the following might have won you a fabulous reading lamp or a candelabra.

"Welcome to the Four Queens.  We hope that you enjoy your… (blank)".

In case you’re stuck, there’s a visual clue.

The biggest problem with moving around several hotels in one trip is the difference between check-out time at one (usually 11am) and check-in time at the next (usually 3pm or 4pm).  At Harrah’s and Terrible’s they’d let us check in and then leave the bags with the bell desk until the room was cleaned.  At Four Queens they just stamped "early check-in" on our registration forms and said that the room might not be ready yet (which it wasn’t, and that was a bit weird) but at least we could dump our stuff there.

Although it was clear we were in an older part of the hotel than last time, the "recently remodelled" room was identical.  I could care less about the flat screen TV, but the coffee maker made mornings much easier.

I didn’t end up spending a lot of time downtown.  I quickly realised that the morning poker tournaments at Binions, which I expected – along with Krispy Kreme from The Fitz – to be a great start to the day, had been murdered.  The price has come down from $70 to $52 in the morning for a 3000 chip game with 15 minute levels.  Compared to how it used to be, it’s a slightly faster clock (4 levels for the price of 3) and they removed the single $40 rebuy.  I usually take the rebuy option as soon as another player at the table doubles up in those structures.

The evening game has a pretty good format now – 6,000 chips and 30 minute levels.  However, playing it after a late one the night before was a mistake and I could barely hold my head up off the table after a couple of hours.  The "no jitters – no crash – as seen on TV" energy spray I’d come prepared with just wasn’t working like it should.  Looking for any opportunity to double up (and hopefully energise myself) or go to bed I check-raised all in with a flush draw and gutshot straight draw and got caled by king-queen for top pair.  My ace was live too, but I missed everything and went to get some zeds.

A couple of dealers had said that the revamped tournament schedule was been bringing in more players to Binions, but it’s nowhere close to the three-figure fields they were getting a couple of years ago.  The 10am game I played in had 34 runners, and the 8pm game had 44.

There’s some other changes afoot now that Four Queens management have taken over Binions and hopefully they’ll get this casino back on track soon.  Most noticable was the removal of the Binion Dollar Babes stage, which they had already started to replace with more table games.  Kudos for not just wheeling in another bank of Wheel of Fortune machines, at least.

The Four Queens got enough video poker action from us (mostly from Claire, although her hot streak had come to an end) to ensure we would get invited us back.  Their best machines are 99.5% payback, but with 0.3% cash back it’s almost a break-even game.  Looks like we cycled through about $15k over four days for a theoretical loss of $75, but with $45 cash back and a bonus $40 free slot play from a mailer, they still ended up paying us to stay there!

The very best part though was the totally free "jeweled rat" gift for a belated Chinese New Year.  It’s almost impossible to say no to free shit, especially when you can’t see it beforehand.  So what the hell are we going to do with this?

Why do things like this bother me so?

A cafe menu at the Gold Coast.  They may as well have spelt it Duece’s.

Blowing it up

I was just getting ready to rack up and stop playing at the Flamingo. The table really didn’t seem that great and it wasn’t much fun.  I had one player two to my right who said he recognised me from Christmas (possible, I guess) and then as the game went on he said it must be me because how he remembered how tight I played.

Dude I appreciate you letting me know you’re paying attention, but I don’t think anybody else has really noticed so would you please STFU?

Then a new player sat down and everything changed.

"I’m just here to get drunk", he said, and he made sure we all knew it. I took this with a pinch of salt to start with, but my new best mate started bragging about how much he’d made from this guy the night before so I thought it might be worth hanging around a bit longer.

The clincher was when a dealer who was just passing, coming back off her break made a point of fetching him another cup holder.  One drink at a time wasn’t enough – he had a shot with every beer. "He split it all over my cards yesterday", she told us.

But our new friend was quick to set the record straight. "One card. It was one card!  It’s Vegas, dog. They always gotta blow it up. Like the World Trade Center, man."

While the bad taste jury was out, we carried on playing cards.

In a $300 max buy-in game, Snoop had bought in for $299.  He sent the chip runner off with $200 to start with but when the two stacks of red arrived he pulled out the rest of the notes from his gangsta wallet and counted them out.  "I’m gonna need all this" – it was everything he had.

"If I lose I’m going to the pawn shop.  I got about 5 ounces of gold on me".  He knew his bling.  "I’m from the hood – I pawn everything", he said and I had absolutely no reason to doubt this.

I thought now might be a good time to top up myself, which I did before waiting extremely patiently for my chance to get rich or die tryin’.  Others tried and failed as he bullied the table with $20 pre-flop raises and big aggressive plays with marginal hands.  Sometimes his king-rag hit and sometimes it didn’t.  Sometimes he got paid off by a very weak hand by other players who had spotted his wild tendencies but had got a little too greedy and a little impatient.

Me, I sat tight and waited for the nuts, and eventually there it was.  I limped with a jack-queen on the button in a 6-way pot and the flop fell perfectly: nine-ten-king.  With two hearts on board I wasn’t about to get tricky but the rest of the table took care of making life sweet for me.  The small blind led out for $10, the blingmeister made it $40 and I pushed forward one stack.

Apparently it wasn’t a complete stack as the dealer broke down the bet and announced $95.  Whatever.  "You know I’m calling it, right", he said – virtually jumping up and down at the thought of all that action coming back his way when he already had one pair.  I can see how the cards (sorry, card) got wet the night before.

The small blind, a local player who had been sitting pretty tight all night, eventualy folded.  I think he thought this was his payday too and hated to fold, but he could tell how powerful I was.  He later told me he laid down two pair (K9) but I expect he would have folded a set there too.  My hands had been doing that wobbly thing you do when you have a monster and I wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding it.

If they let him bet the bling I’m sure that would have been in the pot too, but all he had was chips.  Plenty of chips, more than me and I had already topped up to the max again not long ago.  He moved all in and obviously I called straight away.  His king-six was top pair at least, but he needed to cach two perfect cards to win, and they didn’t come.

I don’t remember the turn and river cards, nor do I remember exactly how much I won from him.  While the dealer did the business I took the opportunity to exhale and try to think of an unpatronising way to say "man you’re unlucky".  I definitely need practice in that area.

When I stacked everything up, I was looking down at $625.  Hardly a world record and it might not even be the biggest pot I’ve ever won, but it was the most satisfying.  Definitely worth hanging around for.

Temporary sign

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.