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Sixty four and a half hours

You need wait no longer.  The long-anticipated results graph is here.  This is how my live poker experience in Las Vegas went.

As you can see, I was some way off my target of 100 hours played. In fact, I logged 64.5 hours, in 32 sessions at 14 different poker rooms.

Almost all games were $1/$2 no-limit Hold’em (only Caesars Palace and Palms were $1/$3, for a total of 2.5 hours).

Each point on the graph marks the end of a session – I only ever recorded wins and losses when I cashed out of a game.

However, because of the way I approached game selection and bankroll management, there won’t be many big swings within a session that aren’t shown here.

I always bought in for $200 and topped up whenever I dropped below $150.  Usually I’d just pull out another $100 bill if the table allowed it (some games have a $200 cap, some are $300) so I’d be playing anywhere between $150 and $250, except when I was winning.

If the game looked particularly soft and other players were already sitting deep, I’d bring another $100 into play as soon as I’d spotted where a big payoff might come from.

Usually, I’d hit and run after a win of $100 or more.  Spit all you like, but I needed a reason to stick around after taking down a big pot.  I especially didn’t like to be sitting with $400 when other players still covered me, and particularly if I thought those players knew what they were doing.

If a player was very drunk, or steaming after a big loss, or just plain awful I’d stick around.  Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always the case and when it wasn’t I was off to another game.

If I thought the table sucked, I’d always try to hang around for an hour for the experience, and to make sure I’d got it right before moving on.  But if I wasn’t getting action from a table of rocks – or just because I hadn’t seen a hand for an hour and the whole table went "oooooh" the first time I raised – I’d get the hell out at the first opportunity.

This "cardroom crawl" approach is pretty inefficient in terms of hands per hour, but that was my plan and I stuck to it.  In fact, until the last weekend, I hardly had to wait on a list at all.

At about 30hrs, I did indeed win over $400 in under an hour.  Pocket deuces, baby, and after hours of pain it was finally my turn to be on the right end of top two pair against a small set.

The graph does not include the $200 lucky seat jackpot I won at Palms.  I really didn’t know whether to put this in but decided against it.  I still have no idea what happened, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with my cards.  I may as well have won it in a swipe-and-win.

If I’d hit a high hand bonus, I would probably have counted those on the graph – especially if it was paid with chips that ended up in play.  After all, the $1 jackpot drop taken out of of every pot is included in those numbers above (as well as dealer tips and cocktails) so when it pays off I guess I should count it too.

However, apart from a quite exciting flopped open-ended straight flush draw at Luxor (the highest hand each hour wins $100) I didn’t get anywhere close.  I really wanted to spin the wheel at Excalibur one last time before the room closed, but it wasn’t to be.

So, the overall profit of $635 puts my win rate for the trip just ever so slightly under $10/hr.  My "career" win rate over 160 hours is a little higher.

Make of all this whatever you like.  It’s really not much of a sample size still.  All these numbers tell me is that I spent half the trip losing and then went on a heater.  Not as useful as I’d hoped it would be.

Day 29: The end of the road

"The business lounge is behind the Wheel of Fortune slots", they told us at check-in.  There’s surely not another airport in the world quite like Las Vegas.

Of course we didn’t get to use the facilities, only getting back to the airport literally about 2 minutes before the flight started to board after having one last decidedly economy-class tootle around town.  Almost missing the plane home is becoming a tradition.

We drove around Downtown and right to the ends of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Blvd that you never see on TV, taking pictures of some of the places we’ve yet to stay at.

These resorts have such enviable features as "color TV" "nice rooms" or even "clean".  You might have to slip them a $20 for that though.

Sometimes you have to squint a bit to figure out exactly what is on offer.

Of course, location is everything.

Although calling this section of Las Vegas Boulevard "The Strip" is a bit of a stretch.

Day 28: So long and thanks for all the ducks

Day 28, the end was nigh.  I just needed another couple of weeks to get even…

Video poker has been unkind to me.  No royal flushes.  No quad deuces on Deuces Wild.  But deuces came out plenty of times on Jacks or Better machines where it’s worth $31.25 instead of $250.  I also hit more $11 natural straight flushes and $6 quad aces playing Deuces Wild than I care to remember.

I’ve had several requests for graphs (even though they’re all from the same person) and the full 2-D horror in techincolor will follow shortly, but for now let’s just say I was running somewhat behind expectation.

Video Poker owed me.  Deuces Wild owed me.  The Palms in particular owed me.

I wanted to catch Podcast-a-palooza which just happened to be going on that day at the Palms.  Unfortunately, dull but necessary stuff like packing meant we were a bit late setting out and it was quarter past kick off before I got there.

I didn’t want to barge through the lounge to find somewhere to sit (it was pretty busy in there) while Tim and Michele were on air talking about bacon or foobs or Hall and Oates, so I lurked a bit at the back before realising I could hardly hear a thing from there and by now I may as well just wait and download the show so I could listen to it properly.

As a figure brushed by to introduce himself to Carrot Top, who had just appeared in the bar area behind me, I realised I was in the presence of greatness. 

I briefly turned into a teenage girl and sent a text to Claire, who was all of 20 yards away: "OMG Steve Friess just walked right past me!!".  I kid you not.

She brought me back down to earth with a crushing "who?", but I don’t care.  While other people bothered some red haired comedian for an autograph, I wondered whether I had the balls to pull out my camera phone to take my picture with a real Vegas legend.  Of course I didn’t.

And then the winning began.

I joined Claire on the multi-line video poker and was happy to only lose $100. This in itself felt like a win an going by past form.  The 3-play, 5-play and 10-play machines there have a positive expectation when used with at least a 3x points coupon, and it’s a fairly quick way to take full advantage of a multiplier (you can earn up to 40,000 free points – worth $100 – per day) but they’re pretty damn streaky.

Then I moved to Deuces Wild and the little bastard finally realised I was due.  Four Deuces should turn up about once every 5,000 hands, and I’d been dry for about 18,000.  Clearly it was my turn.

I took my $250 win to dinner and then decided to play some poker with nine cantankerous old nits.

How does that work? The Palms is meant to be a "hip" place.  They’ve got a rooftop bar, a Playboy club and a tattoo parlour.  It was Saturday night.  Young, apparently cool people were all over the place.  During the day and on most weeknights, Palms is pretty chilled out.  Tonight it was a total zoo.

Even the usual swarm of video poker pros had been frightened away.  In fact it’s the first time I can remember (apart from the occasional jet-lagged 5am session) that I’ve ever walked past the bank of Full Pay Deuces Wild machines and there hasn’t been a single person playing.  This was 9pm – prime time.

And yet the poker room was full of folks who were waiting to die, and not willing to part with a single chip until that happened.

I stole a couple of blinds and won one (relatively) big pot, with my ace playing on a two-pair board to take down $11.

Then an announcement revealed a lucky seat draw winner: table 8, seat 6.  I didn’t really know what the hell was happening, but that was my seat.

"What did I win?", I asked, but nobody would tell me.  They’d talk about me, but not to me.  "He’s won $250 I think".  "No, it’s $200".  "He just got here, how lucky is that?".

"How does this work then?", I tried again.  They’d stare at me with daggers, but they wouldn’t answer.

As the floorman came over to find the lucky winner, they all started trying to do some clever and amusing shit like counting the seat numbers in the wrong direction, or starting in the wrong place.  "Look, I’m seat 6!", said just about everyone. I did not LOL.

After I gave my players card, I looked directly at the old guy to my left, who was still mumbling something.  "Do you know how this works?", I asked.  "Yeah, you won $200 and now you have to give her $50", he replied, pointing at the dealer.

Then they all started to have a go and the price of poker went up.  "You gotta look after the dealer".  "You have to split it, half for her".

"So what happened?  How come I won?", I tried again.  I think some tumbleweed rolled across the table.  I still don’t know how I was chosen for free money, but I sure as hell know that the dealer at my table had nothing to do with it.

It’s not like I don’t tip – they saw that when I scooped that monster $11 pot.  If it was a high hand jackpot or something, I’d certainly throw her something.  I’d probably even have done it for this mystery win if I’d been left to my own devices.  Even a polite "don’t forget to take care of the dealer" wouldn’t be so offensive as this bunch of vitriolic old bastards who couldn’t stand to see someone else win.

For fuck’s sake, going halvsies?  You’re having a laugh.

But with anything less being clearly unacceptable to the table by now, I didn’t really have much of an option.  I racked up and left immediately.  Screw you guys, I’m going home.  With what you seem to think is your money.

Claire was about even on the multi-play machine – another great result – and decided to have a punt on $1 Double Bonus.  She stuck her ticket in, pressed deal, then pressed draw, then threw two fists in the air before I’d even fully realised she had started playing.

10/7 Double Bonus is normally a 100.2% payback game but the Palms has progressive jackpots for any four-of-a-kind or straight flush as well as a royal flush which makes it a little better still.  However the variance is high on a machine that costs $5 per spin and only gives you money back for two pair.  I’ve never seen a sniff of a win from the few shots I’ve taken at this game.

Claire’s 4 aces – on the very first hand she played – was worth $859.

"OK, let’s try $20 in Loose Deuces", she said.  I decided to do the same, calculating that if I actually hit four deuces (in this game it pays $625, but the other quads and straight flush payouts are reduced) then the sum of my two jackpots would just eclipse hers.

That’s about the only reason, and I only bloody did it.

Definitely not a bad way to end the trip.  And even after that I went out and played a bit more poker and won another couple of hundred too.

I could still do with another week to get even though…

Day 27: Bert and Keith do Metallica

Is there a less rock and roll name than Bert?

I’m not sure, but he and his mate Keith were shredding up the Octane Lounge at Excalibur as I was in transit between two poker games.

I know this because the banner on stage simply hailed them as "Bert and Keith – Dueling Guitars".

Basically, while you have a drink you can write the name of a song on a dollar and lob it on stage, then watch these two guys do your request karaoke-style, with a bit of added strumming and wailing.

It was entertaining enough that I stopped to watch a while.  When they launched into Enter Sandman I couldn’t stop myself pulling out my camera to capture the moment.

It’s not the greatest camerawork in the world, but hopefully you can appreciate the rock brilliance.  The juggling bartenders are an added bonus.

If you need something a little higher-def, I found their official promo video.

Day 26: Queen of the big screen

The latest light show on the Fremont Street Experience canopy is Queen.

It’s made up of 3 songs: Will Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, and then a bit more We Will Rock You for good measure.

There are lots of pictures of the band swirling overhead and various different clips of Freddie Mercury singing but all synchronized to the music at the same time, which is pretty effective.

At one point a Union Jack morphs into the Stars and Stripes as lots of pictures of (presumably) "champions" float over the top.  Maybe I always catch the wrong shows, but they usually seem to manage to work something schmaltzy like this in.

Of course, you can’t appreciate the whole thing in a video because the screen is just too bloody big, but one version I found on YouTube has a damn good go with two cameras edited together split screen style so you can see the entire canopy.

I only took a few pictures myself.

Day 25: Binion’s $13,960 display

The Binion’s $1,000,000 display is back.

This isn’t quite how it used to be. The $10,000 bills are long gone, now it’s a pile of hundies on a poker table, encased in inch-thick perspex.

At least, we’re meant to believe they are all hundred dollar bills. There’s just no way of knowing for sure.

Only 20 of them have Ben Franklin’s face facing out at the front, and another 20 at the back. That’s $4,000 for sure. The other 9,960 bills in the sealed display could quite easily be $1s, which would make it a $13,960 collection.

Without further proof, I’m going to assume it’s not quite the glamorous photo op they’re making out.

However, the promotion is still a good one.

For $20, you get one picture and either $25 in slot play or $25 for table games. The promotional chips look just like poker tournament chips – they’re plain purple chips with gold embossing which just says "5" (not even $5) and "promotion only – no cash value".

You get the same sort of thing at casinos which offer "win card" promotions, where you buy a set of strategy cards for $10 and receive $15 in promotional chips.

I think it must be the first day today, as I took the promotional chips to a pit only to be told at first "they’re roulette chips". Then, after two pit bosses got their heads together and read the embossing they concluded, "they are promotional chips with no cash value".

I was quite surprised how little anybody cared that I was apparently trying to pass off the equivalent of monopoly money. Maybe it happens a lot, but you’d think they might have words with someone who tries it.

After I finally found a table that would take the chips I spun the $25 into $73 with a dealer who apparently just could not make a hand. An very impressive return, as I never raised my bet from the $5 minimum once.

The rules say you can get the photo and free play up to five times per week, which is well worth doing when they’re basically paying you $5 to have your photo taken. In fact, you don’t even need to turn up for the photo to get the free money.

I will definitely have another go at the free bet, and I might try to get another picture too.

Here’s the first attempt. Apparently I’m taking a piss on fourteen grand.

Days 23 and 24: Oops

I’m so far behind now that catching up on a daily basis seems impossible. I don’t even know where Day 24 went, I seem to have totally missed it in the notes I made.

So I’m just going to skip these two days where I most likely played a few more blackjack matchplays, some video poker for another shot at the Four Queens promotion and some live poker.

Once all the gambling is over I’ll tot up the results for all this, probably with some lovely graphs.

Meantime, here’s a few photos.

Day 22: Free posh food

The one slot club sign up offer I always tell people they must take advantage of is at Wynn Las Vegas. It’s very easy to earn a free buffet for two people which, depending on when you decide to eat, could otherwise cost you in the region of $70.

It’s a great buffet, but somewhat overpriced if you pay for it the regular way.

This new player offer has changed since I last did one of these, but it’s still great value.

You still get $10 in free slot play just for giving them an email address, but now once you have earned 25 points you get to "spin a wheel" for a prize.

It isn’t a real wheel though, it’s a video screen with a wheel that shows prizes ranging from $10 slot play to $10,000, and other prizes including, of course, two free buffets.

Even though it looks like the eight different segments are the same size, the odds of winning each prize are rather different to 1-in-8. In fact I didn’t see anybody spin anything other than the $10 in slot play while I was watching.

But still, there’s apparently a chance you will get a buffet for two after just 25 points earned, and even if you don’t you can use the bottom prize of another $10 slot play towards earning it the hard way, by earning 150 slot points.

It takes $9 of coin in to get 1 point, so that’s $1350 of total action, which if you play on a 99.5% game costs a theoretical $6.75. They pay you to eat!

You only get that payback on dollar video poker or 25c spin poker, but even if you play the 7/5 bonus poker game for quarters you can get 98.0% making the expected loss $26. Remember they give you $20 of that to get started so you’re looking at $6 to feed two people there.  Still a bargain.

We ended up earning and redeeming two buffets on Vij’s player account for Sunday brunch, which is $28.95 or $34.95 with champagne. Unsurprisingly, you don’t get champagne included with the comp. We had to pay for the third buffet (I haven’t yet found a solution to the dining in odd numbers problem) but this offer made the price digestable, theoretically about $5 each.

Here’s the menu:

Brunch seemed like a good option when eating with a vegetarian because, if all else failed, there was an omelet station.

Even if this part of the menu made me get my red pen out:

Really, one expects so much better of the Wynn…

Day 21: Tripling down

The best thing I heard all day was a trainee cashier at Texas Station being told:

"Now these black chips, they’re worth a hundred".

Indeed, I had black chips. Plural. Apparently nobody else had had black chips. And I’d only come in to play two hands of blackjack.

One of the supplements in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago was the MyStation magazine from Station Casinos, and this contained one $25 matchplay coupon for each of their casinos. In fact, Boulder Station offered two $25 matchplays – each one valid for half the month.

Seven casinos and eight coupons makes $200 in total matched bets. That’s a lot of free money to get inside a $2.50 newspaper, before you even take into account the other seven coupons for each casino for points multipliers, buffet discounts, free games of bowling and the like.

You can understand why it was worth the effort to hunt down and capture a second copy once we’d realised this, so that Claire and I could go on a romantic bonus whoring cruise together.

Unfortunately this was when we were staying on the Strip at Flamingo, and thanks to Harrah’s "cost cutting" decision to no longer sell a newspaper that exposed their cost cutting building practices neither that casino nor any of the adjacent ones were prepared to give me the good stuff.

I also couldn’t find a shop common enough to sell a newspaper in Bellagio, but eventually got one in the Mirage. A lot of late night walking for sure, but I wasn’t going to pass this one up.

So we both sat down at a new table at Texas Station and played the coupon with a green chip. I’d lose $25 or win $50.

Claire stood on 20 and I was dealt a 9 and a 2 with the dealer showing a 7. I reached for my wallet and pulled out another $25 to double down.

"You can double for $50 if you like", said the dealer.

This has never happened before, and I’ve never even thought to ask. Why would they let you make a double down on money that isn’t yours? It’s effectively a triple-down!

I didn’t need asking twice, whipped out the $50 and watched the dealer turn over a ten for a total of 17.

I needed a big card – a 6 to push or 7, 8, 9, 10 or face card to win – more half the deck in my favour, but far from a certainty and the dealer did a great job of keeping the tension by peekng at my face-down card, making a sad face and saying "aw, six".

Then she flipped up an 8 for the win and the crowd went wild.

Claire’s $25 bet won $50 with the coupon and my original $25 bet was tripled to $75, paid at even money plus an additional $25 for the matchplay. $150 profit, thank you very much.

Clearly if doubling down on a hand is a good play, tripling down is even better. Just how much better, I didn’t really know at the time.

According to the Wizard of Odds, the expected value of doubling down on eleven against a dealer seven is about $0.46 per $1 of the original bet. He doesn’t show his working, only a table of numbers, so I’m going to assume that tripling down has the effect of adding another 50% to that value, making it an additional $0.23 per $1 of the bet. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So for a $25 bet, and forgetting about the coupon, being able to triple down made me a theoretical $5.75.

I was fairly certain this was a dealer mistake, and I tipped $5 because of it which made it much less valuable, but of course it meant in future whenever I had to double down on a matchplay I was going to ask about this, just in case.

At Palace Station my $25 coupon was uneventful but I had another $5 coupon with a double down, but the dealer said I could only play another $5. Similarly at Tropicana, where I had a $15 payoff for $10 bet coupon (apparently you can pick up one of these every day) I pulled out a $20 to double down but the dealer gave me $10 back in change.

However at Suncoast, another $5 matchplay, I asked if it was $5 or $10 to double down and the dealer checked the table sign, said "it’s single deck, so you can double for $10".

I don’t understand why a single deck makes the difference (nor do I understand why he had to look at the sign to know how many decks he was dealing) but now I know that it’s always worth asking, just in case you can find a dealer that allows it!

Day 20: All the eights

I’m writing this a little bit late and backdating it, but let’s try to pretend that it’s still Friday 8th August, 2008.

The eight of the eighth, oh eight. Gimmicks ahoy in Las Vegas.

There were plenty of food and drink deals like $8.88 buffets and 88c beers.

For live poker, Station casinos offered an $8,888 jackpot for anyone hitting quad eights that day, or the same prize for bingo if you won in certain games with a full house on ball B8.

But the promotion I was most interested in was an 8x points multiplier at all Coast Casinos properties. It ran between 8am and 8pm of course.

There are no points multiplier coupons for these casinos and since they introduced the new tierred slot club scheme the benefits have been sliced to a fraction of what they used to be – unless you are in the highest ranking tier.

As you only retain your status for 6 months at a time, there didn’t seem to be much point in me going mad and trying to cycle through $125,000 just to be able to increase the comp rate (only for anything I played above this level) and get a line pass to the buffet.

Occasionally, Sam’s Town has one-off 6x points days which usually make it worth a special trip to play their full pay deuces wild machines.

However this 8x day added a new dimension of value.

When you play video poker with a payback greater than 100%, you only earn slot points at half the speed.

The earning rate for comp is then a paltry 0.083% (one twelfth of one percent), whereas the normal rate if you play on a "negative" machine or any slot machine is 0.167% (one sixth of one percent).

Multiply this up, and the 8x day gives you an extra 0.67% back on positive games, but 1.33% back on negative games.

So you could play full pay deuces wild (FPDW), and turn 100.76% payback into about 101.4% (almost doubling the expectation), or the slightly negative 9/6 Jacks or Better (JoB) and turn 99.5% into a roughly 100.8% game (turning a losing game into a decent winner).

Clearly FPDW is still a better game dollar for dollar. However, that bank of "positive" machines has the speed control locked way down whereas "negative" JoB deals almost twice as quickly. With this in mind, JoB was the game of choice to start with.

However, the multiplier even made it profitable to play 8/5 Bonus Poker (99.2% payback, now worth 100.5%). This game is available in $1 denominations as well as 25c triple play, which was a particularly attractive option.

Being able to pummel money through the system more than three times as quickly at 100.5% than at 101.4% actually gives this game a slightly better hourly rate than Full Pay Deuces Wild, and that’s before you take into account the progressive jackpots for a royal flush. A bottom line royal was worth a a massive $2200 and the others stood around the $1200 mark (vs the usual $1000 payoff).

On a 6x points day, the 99.2% Bonus Poker is effectively worth 100.2%. 8x points doesn’t seem like that much better deal, but it actually makes that game more than twice as profitable.