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Smallest game in town?

I think I have discovered, accidentally, the smallest poker game in town. Certainly the smallest on the strip. At the Excalibur, I put myself on a list for a $2/$4 game and I was given the option of a $1-$3 spread limit game whilst I waited. This is just ridiculously cheap. There’s just one $1 blind each hand, and everyone usually seemed happy to just limp in for a dollar and see what happened. When I did play a hand and check-raised $2 up to $5 I could feel the daggers.

I’ve only played spread limit once before, and it was the first time I played Hold’em in Vegas. That was a $1-$5 game at the Sahara, at a time when only about 3 strip casinos has poker rooms. I don’t really know the strategy, but I suspected I should treat the game like $3/$6 but without the big bets on the turn and river. That means that raising the flop for a free card is pointless and there’s never any need to slowplay the flop in order to win bigger bets on later streets. Whereas the equally odd $3-$6-$9 game at Sunset Station would have been all about winning those big river bets.

It’s amazing that such a small game exists, but I can’t understand how it can be worth the casino’s effort. I saw plenty of $5 and $6 pots getting checked to a showdown, with just a 50c rake being taken out.

911 Emergency!

I called 911 today. There’s something you can’t do at home.

Well it’s not that exciting really. There was a car on fire in the Cannery parking garage just as we were leaving, and a guy running with a fire extinguisher asked if I had a cellphone. I obliged, and then we left. On the way out we saw a fire truck pulling out of North Las Vegas Fire Station #52 just around the corner. That sounds like a lot of fire stations to me.

We were only at the Cannery to exploit a couple of matchplay coupons and we lost them both. The dealer was miserable as hell too. This was part of a coupon spree around North Las Vegas, which we began at the Wildfire with two completely free burgers and $15 in free slot play. We finished at the Speedway which must be the only casino left in town that has video poker machines that actually take quarters and pay out your winnings in coin. This alone made it worth sticking around long enough to earn 300 slot points so that we can go back any time this week now and spin a wheel for free money.

The Speedway is a bit of an oddity. It’s not really a neighbourhood casino, more of a truck stop right next to a ramp off the I-15. There’s plenty of parking for big rigs and a gas station, but they still have a slot club and free live entertainment. Sadly we were just leaving as the Mexican lounge band started to play.

World’s largest…

World’s largest picture of Tony Braxton on the side of a building.

Caesars 7pm Tourney

I’d decided to go and scope out some of the tournaments at the center-strip casinos, particularly because I’d liked the sound of the Caesars tournaments but couldn’t find any information online any more. I know it definitely used to be out there somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’ t know that I wanted to play it.

I hate driving on the strip, and I’m sure there must be a quicker way to get to Caesars without having to face the crawling traffic and the lights on the Flamingo Road intersection that seem to be on a fifteen minute cycle, but I haven’t found it yet. Once you’re in the hotel complex though, it’s impressively well organised. I flew around the service road and dumped the car in the Colosseum valet instantly. Celine Dion is on holiday and Elton John isn’t back until October so I imagine it’s usually busier here.

We’ve seen both of these shows. Celine Dion features lots of people walking round the stage slowly during most songs, for which the art value is lost on us. Elton’s show on the other hand is so good we’ve seen it twice. His show features lots of enourmous phallic inflatables and a big pair of breasts. Much better.

I finally arrived about 20 minutes before the start of the 7pm tournament so I paid my $120 and got 1500 chips. There’s one $100 rebuy allowed which gets you 3000 more chips and as most of the players at my table took the rebuy before the first hand was dealt I thought it would be a good idea to do the same. Things started well with a very loose payoff when my AK hit a flop of K33 – it was hard to see anything beating me here, I didn’t believe his check raise and got them all in against 99.

I was up to about 9k at the first break and then 25k at the second break thanks mostly to hitting a big hand against a big bully and letting him hang himself, but until then I’d recognised the need to steal pots once the running ante kicked in, and I seemed to have enough respect to maintain a stack this way.

The Caesars card room is really nice. It’s deteched from the casino and pretty big, but was busy enough to somehow keep a casino vibe. It feels odd to say this, because I felt that playing at the Rio Conference Centre, which was much bigger and much busier, was a really sterile environment. Caesars, on the other hand, felt just as classy as I’d imagined. Despite being a new room, the dealers were all very experienced and kept the game moving quickly. Little touches, like coffee being served in a real mug, went a long way too.

The biggest problem is that finding somewhere to eat on a 20 minute break is impossible. I just wanted some kind of sandwich or burger – very easy at places like the Plaza or Stratosphere – but the best I could find that wasn’t a restaurant with some kind of celebrity chef was a can of Pringles and a Twix. I’d seriously consider a packed dinner next time …

So at the second break I have over twice the average stack, there’s still about 70 players remaining and 20 get paid. I certainly don’t have enough to sit tight to money, and besides the difference between 20th place ($395) and 1st (over $12,000) makes it worth playing. I decide that with the blinds beginning to get oppressive to many players that I’d be looking for opportunities to take 50/50 or better shots against short stacks and hope to get lucky when the downside of losing is not that severe, rather than sit tight and get crippled.

With the blinds at 400/800 with 100 ante, I’m on the big blind and the button raises all in for about 8000. I’m looking at A8 and decide this is probably a better than 50/50 shot. It will never be much better than that, but against a random blind stealing hand, I’m probably slightly ahead. In fact he has A9 and I don’t improve. I’m still in two minds about this call. On the one hand, it looks like a steal, I have a better than average hand and I have enough chips to push a probable edge. On the other hand, I’m never going to be way ahead here and the button was not so short stacked he had to push in this situation. I still haven’t decided if this was a good call and a situation that I usually play too tight when it’s important to keep winning chips, or that I’d decided to gamble too much.

But it did all go pear shaped after that. I lost half my remaining chips to a hand I dominated, found a couple of big aces but got called by the exact same hand both times, and finally lost when I had to push with A8 and the big blind woke up with AQ. I finished fifty-something out of just over two hundred.

The tournament is excellent for the first three hours, and then goes a little mental. Some of the players were talking about the structure as the first break approached and I didn’t believe them at first, but someone decided to rip out the 300/600 level and that makes quite a difference. Even if you are way ahead, there are enough players struggling at that level that this is still about the time that you’re going to have to enter some coinflip confrontations and ride a lucky streak in order to make the money.

They have the same structure in the afternoon for $80+$50 and a faster tournament at 11pm for $70. I think I’ll be back for one of those.

Heat getting to ya?

Big Fun at the Stratosphere (part 2)

With 6 left, 5 of the remaining players wanted to make a deal but the chip leader thought that having about 12 big blinds was plenty to make sure he would take first place and said no. That particular idiot ended up third for a little more than $500, whereas a 5-way chop would have landed him about $650.

After one more player busted there were two large stacks and three that would be forced to move very shortly. Claire suggested a deal with the other two short stacks so that nobody goes home empty handed, basically to split the 3rd and 4th money into three equal prizes for the 3rd to 5th. Floorman Rodney calculated that it would make $228 each leaving the top two prizes unchanged. He yelled “put the cards in the air” and briskly walked off, clearly not caring much for having to work out a deal for such a small amount.

The dealer restarted the game and announced “The next player out gets $228. The player after that gets $228 and the next player gets $228″. Claire busted out the next hand, moving in with a small piece of the flop and getting called by a slightly larger piece. Needing to make 2nd place now to win any more money there was no point hanging about.

Claire wandered over to the floorman to get her winnings, only to be greeted by a bemused look and to be told “we’re paying four spots”. Why? Because one of the players didn’t agree to the deal, he said.

So we went home, empty handed and disappointed.

Like hell we did.

The dealer had announced the deal, and four of the five players and everyone watching thought that this was how the game would being played out. Three players were going to gamble and lose, but still take home more than they bought in for. The other two would probably end up splitting the 1st and 2nd prize money for about $1200 each.

So how did Rodney deal with this situation? His decision, he said, is final. There was no deal. What the dealer says means nothing. You’ve misunderstood and hard luck. Please keep your voice down. There’s nothing more to say. If you want to take it up with someone else…

Yes. We do.

But before that, we sat and tried to calm down a bit. We tried to figure out what actually happened. I remembered thinking that the floorman had walked away rather quickly after he said to restart the tournament, but with the dealer announcing so clearly what the deal structure was I couldn’t see how there was any doubt about the deal. He argued with Claire that a chop is a chop, and if three players agreed on money then they have to drop out of the tournament. Well, I’ve made that kind of deal before. I’ve made it at the Strat, too. Besides, that would be a horrible deal, giving up any chance of the big money in exchange for a share of only the lower prizes. However small your chip stack, you still have equity in the rest of the prize pool.

So did the player that apparently objected – a different player this time – know Rodney? Was there going to be a deal if she was 5th but not otherwise? Well that’s a little paranoid, but it makes you wonder. She didn’t say a word when the dealer announced the deal, but why not? She may actually have said no (even though nobody else heard it) but then decided to keep quiet and let the other players think they had made money and bust each other out whilst she clung on for 2nd or 3rd. Possible, but I don’t even think she had enough chips to be sure of doing that, even if we credit her with the ability to be that deceptive.

We couldn’t figure out why on earth it was being handled this way. We had a floorman who had already failed to communicate with the players and with his dealer, and was now stubbornly waving a “my decision is final” flag without even trying to find out why the dealer and most of the final table players thought the tournament structure had been altered. This man clearly has no people management skills – you’d think there are better career decisions for him than casino floorman.

One of the players made a motion that we should stick around, as if they were going to carve up the money anyway. But it didn’t take long for 4th place to go home, taking the original $171 prize money. He agreed that it was all bullshit, and then promptly left the building. So what do we do? Hang around and wait for a handout? Don’t think so.

The pit boss we approached found it amusing that we were asking to speak to the casino manager. He knew it wasn’t his ass on the line so maybe he just likes to see someone causing trouble. Or maybe he likes to see how people react when they meet shift manager Scott for the first time. Kinda scary, mediterranean looking with a nice bit of bling on his fingers. He’s probably connected, at the very least. And we’re bothering him for what seems like the sake of $200. Hey it’s the damn principle now.

Well we actually got a result pretty quickly, and our car didn’t blow up on the way out. The valet would have been the one getting whacked anyway, not us. Scary Scott spoke to plonker Rodney and to the dealer and the result was that Claire was getting paid the amount the dealer had told her she’d be getting. Scott went back to work, probably looking for cheats to take to a back room, whilst Rodney became very friendly, but still procrastinated and it took a good hour to get paid. He had to bodge it by putting the payout through as a high hand jackpot.

All in all, a ridiculous situation to be in. Claire finished 5th and ended up with a bigger payout than the 4th place finisher, for basically causing enough of a fuss to get paid to shut up and stop wasting the casino management’s time.

Technically it’s +EV but it just shouldn’t have happened.

Big Fun at the Stratosphere (part 1)

Oh we had some fun yesterday we did. That all comes in part two though, because I’m afraid this is a bit long. Let’s start with the actual poker.

We both played in the 8pm tournament at the Stratosphere, which is a $50 buy in with one rebuy and one add on. The structure is pretty brain dead really. You start with 2000 chips for the initial $50, but get 3000 for the $40 rebuy. The $40 add on gets a further 5000 but you can only take it after two hours, and then only if you also took the rebuy.

Overall it sounds like you’re playing with 10,000 chips and blinds starting at 25/25 which should great, even though the 15 minute levels keep things moving rather quickly. Except that because you have to wait two hours for the add on, it all gets a bit stupid. Two hours at 15 minute levels puts you on level 8 before the break – blinds are then 300/600 with a 75 ante. This is a three-table tournament, but with alternates it finished up with 40 entrants, although most of the 10 alternates were players who had already busted out and bought straight back in. This defies logic as you end up making a loss with anything less than second place.

Unless you have been very lucky in the first 90 minutes it seems to me that you have almost no reason to play a hand in the last two levels before the break. If you have an average stack of 6000-7000 chips, you have no room to manouvre (for Harrington fans, your M is about 4) so it’s push or fold time. And in that situation, if you move in and get busted the downside is much greater than the downside to giving up a few blinds and either having to rebuy for $90 or go home without being able to take the great value add-on. By sitting tight you might lose 1600 chips in a round but you can then pay $40 for another 5000 – still better value than the rebuy.

I’d said to Claire that if I was playing this tournament online, I’d be using maximum time bank every hand – often a great tactic in “turbo” tournaments! That didn’t really matter though, as the dealers only managed to get in about four hands every level at that stage so it did only cost one round to survive the last two levels. The 50 and 75 antes really slow the game down with at least half the players needing change every hand.

After open folding pocket 7s twice at the 300/600/25 level (tell me there’s a reason to get involved here – I can’t see one!) I managed to steal one round of blinds just before the break. I saw A8o on the button and it was folded to me. The small blind, one of three Danish guys in the tournament who were in town to report on the WSOP main event, was already making the motion to fold and I had the big blind well covered so I moved in. Even then, I wasn’t sure this was a great move.

After almost everyone added on, the push-fest took a one level break and then continued as normal. We both made it to the final table but I’m short-stacked, even after my crazy double-up with Q5o, and take a long shot gamble on my big blind with 67o. There is an all-in raise and a call ahead of me but I’m in for 3000, have 6000 left and don’t have much choice but to take just better than 4-1 pot odds and hope they both have unpairred big cards. I am against AK and JJ – the flop brings an Ace, the turn makes me a straight draw but the river is no help and it’s a double knockout. I finish 8th.

This structure is just bizarre. The first 6 levels play well, then when the add-on approaches it becomes wrong to play almost any hand. Then after the break you take a coin-flip to reach the final table and it just plays like a short-stacked sit-and-go to the end. It’s not terrible, but breaking after 6 levels instead of 8 would be a huge improvement.

Anyway, 6 players left and Claire is still in…

I must not buy any more poker books…

Claire had told me in no uncertain terms that we must not buy any more poker books on this trip. There’s already probably a dozen that I haven’t read back at home.

So today we went to the Gamblers General Store and Gamblers Book Store and we returned with a total 9 books and a magazine.

One of them – Killer Poker Online 2 – was even signed by author John Vorhaus, who apparently brought a few pre-release copies for the Gamblers Book Store to sell at the WSOP Gaming Life Expo – it’s not officially published yet, but these guys have juice. He wrote in it “Don’t play crap hands”. Top tip.

We met Vegas legend Howard Schwartz, a man whose life has been gambling books for nearly 30 years. He saw us as fresh meat when we walked through the door and a few seconds later he launched into his customer rapport-building spiel about where we must be from. The conculsion, eventually, was Pennsylvania. Something to do with my forehead, or something. Claire quickly pointed out that, even if he didn’t catch the funny way we spoke, it would have been much easier to just look at the England football shirt she was wearing.

Howard delighted us with the story of how he’d asked everyone’s favourite luckbox, Chris Moneymaker, whether there was a particular poker book he’d read in order to learn the game before becoming world champion. In his best Cletus from The Simpsons accent, he recalled the answer: “I don’t be readin’ no books”.

And then, we were given lollipops.

As if from nowhere…

… jackpots appeared.

In my video poker career I’ve hit just one royal flush. I drew it from a single held ace.

This trip I’ve hit two mini-jackpots – the two next biggest wins I’ve ever had – and they came in equally unlikely ways.

On a silly machine at Sams Town that I couldn’t resist, you paid 6 credits instead of 5 to always have an ace dealt to start with. The payouts seemed to be the same as a normal 5-credit double-bonus machine – i.e. they stiff you on a two-pair hand to build up some nice four-of-a-kind payouts.

I was, of course, dealt an ace in exchange for my sixth credit. Nothing else is any use, so I hold it and in pop three more aces. Woohoo.

Double woohoo. This machine has an extra bonus payout for four aces. Instead of the usual 400 or 800 coin payout, we’re talking 2000 credits – $500 tyvm. FROM NOWHERE!

Then at the Strat last night, we turned up looking for a $2/$4 game but the poker room is being redeveloped and they appear to only have $1/$2 NL now.

So as we’d valet parked we stayed for a while and found some “100% payback” video poker. Choice of three games, including Loose Deuces. I’ve hit four deuces before but not with the bonus payout – this game stiffs you on flushes but pays 2500 coins for quad deuces.

My four deuces ON THE DEAL. No hold required. No thinking required. Just $625, tyvm once more.

Wonder how long that’ll last :)

Self-proclaimed poker fun

The huge poster inside Binions poker room asks the question “Why play poker at Binions?”. Then answers itself immediately: “Because it’s fun”.

Valid as this is, there are better reasons specific to Binions itself. For a start, this is the real home of poker. Screw the Rio and it’s huge, sterile exhibition hall. For all of Harrah’s money and recently acquired powerhouse brands they just can’t compete with the real deal. The real Horseshoe, which made a name for itself instead of buying one, oozes history in it’s large, detached cardroom. It’s the quietest room in town, close enough to the casino that you can still tell you’re playing in a gambling den but not so close that you’re hearing to “Wheel … of ….. Fortune” louder than the guy next to you announcing his raise.

It’s great to see people coming back to Binions too. The casino has been pretty dead the last few times we’ve been here, and even last summer with the “free beer and keep your points” promo that kept us in Budweiser for four weeks it didn’t really feel like a buzzing casino. You can’t walk in with a suitcase full of cash (plus a second empty suitcase if you plan on winning) and set your own limits any more, but that was never really part of my travel plans this time.

I played in the Sunday night tournament with a $125 buy in. There’s a $25 optional dealer add-on, which isn’t really optional – it makes the difference between 2000 and 3000 starting chips. There’s also one rebuy or add on allowed which again isn’t really optional. You get 2000 chips more for $50. For my total investment of $200, I was playing in a field of 108 for a first place prize of $5800, plus a seat in their “tournament of champions” freeroll.

Even though the weekend tournaments with a higher buy in ($125 instead of $60) give you a few more chips and slightly slower levels, the structure still hit a wall with about 60 players to go. The leap from 100/200/25 to 200/400/25 blinds turned everyone into granite and by 300/600/50 the game became push or fold poker. I managed to push three times before going broke – losing with 55 against 22 leaving me with about 2500, picking up the blinds when it was folded to me on the next hand (I had 97o, not that it mattered) and then getting caught out at the 400/800/75 level when I didn’t really have time to wait, saw QTs in middle position and went for it. A6o called me almost immediately and I was done.

Seeing as I’m going to be in town for the Tournament of Champions on August 6th, I need to have another crack at a Binions tournament, but if entry into that freeroll is the target, an earlier tournament (in Feb the 10am tournies were struggling to fill 2 tables) would be an easier route in.

And yes, it was fun, and the ipod and shades count was low. Always a bonus.