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This blog's last hurrah

This is likely to be the beginning of the end of this blog.

Certainly if either of my readers have been paying attention, they’ll have noticed a distinct lack of noise coming from this direction recently.  In fact, until I posted this one, there was still an entry visible on the front page from my last Las Vegas trip – which was over three months ago!

That’s just not good enough.  I always told myself if I can’t be bothered to update it at least once a week it’s not worth carrying on with.  I already censured myself once.  And then dismissed another a month’s silence like it really wasn’t a big deal.

I could claim that I have less to write about because I haven’t played online poker at all this year (yes, that’s actually true!).  But as I’ve said before, I lost interest in play-by-play poker reporting quite some time ago.  In any case, those online encounters don’t tend to be punctuated by anything valuely worth remembering.

Go all in. Lose a 60/40. Type “nh” sarcastically. Who wants to know?

So I really wanted to make it through to this summer’s trip report.  And I’ve got there, in a fashion.  I’d started writing this earlier in the week but finally finished it on the plane.

Considering the lack of hype for a change, it might be surprising to hear that I’m on the way to Las Vegas. Right now.

I’d been planning to write something every day, just like I have the past three years, and I probably still will. But I did also think I’d also be posting a little bit of pre-trip excitement now and then.

Here’s the thing: even yesterday, T-1, just one ace left on the wall, packing looming, an excited Claire and an even more excited Vegas virgin friend (who doesn’t join us for another two weeks), I was considerably more meh than I would have expected at this late stage.

OK, to be fair, an email I had today from Terrible’s which told me I could earn a “floppy hat” got me a little bit excited, but nowhere near the usual levels.

Consider this: I can’t remember the last time I went between two trips without needing to watch Ocean’s 11 at least once.  It’s just not normal.

Now I know this will change. It’s Vegas, right? And it’s me in Vegas for fuck’s sake. I’m coming back for the 25th time, and it’s yet to disappoint.

But right up until the minute I got on the plane – while I was still trying to cram in some last minute tweaks for a customer – I’ve had my work head on almost 24/7 and barely been able to justify the time to look forward to it.

This is surely a good thing. Well, the 16 hour days and terrible sleep pattern isn’t great, but I’m working on that. And the fact I’m eating roughly half what I used to (without even trying to cut down, I’ve just stopped being able to finish meals) is probably a mixed blessing. I expect it’s nothing a good all-you-can-eat buffet won’t sort out. Especially if the casino is paying for it.

But I have a level of motivation I’ve not known for some time, I’m driven to create awesome things like never before and – despite what it’s pretentiously said on my business card for more than ten years – it feels like the first time I’ve actually been doing a little bit of managing, and a little bit of directing.

Business, of course, is a gamble – and so I’d like to think that now it seems to have become my game of choice, I’ll apply myself to it with the same dedication and commitment I’ve given to learning how to eek out an edge at video poker, or finding online casino bonus that are so good it’s worth borrowing my mum’s credit card so I can play them twice.

It’s not that I’ve completely dossed away the past ten years of working for myself. But there’s been a certain amount of plodding along, doing the same tired stuff, no focus, no growth. Not to mention the delusion that online poker could actually be a sustainable source of income, or the pipedream of writing about gambling for a living.

Understanding what it takes to be an advantage player I can relate many of the same concepts that are involved in winning in a casino to winning in business.

Do I have the best of it?  How do I maximise my edge?  How do I reduce variance?  Can I actually handle the swings?  What happens if I run bad?

Was that really a free lunch?

Right now, I am finding this more exciting than I ever imagined.

So where does taking a month off to go and gamble fit into my business plan?

This is a very good question. It really doesn’t. But I’ve always taken these extended summer trips on the basis that I’ll have a base in a house away from the action, set up an office and be able to stay in touch, and to work as much as I need to.

While that sounds great in theory, it’s not proven that effective in the past. I’ve probably spent more time in my makeshift office blogging than working the past few years. Which is why I’m just not sure how things will pan out this time, when I know I won’t be able to detach myself completely (boy did I have a panic when I thought I’d lost the US sim card for my iPhone yesterday) and I’m still struggling with the idea of taking a small step back to have some fun for a while.

There’s a balance to be found between spending a month in fantasy land and keeping my real life ticking over the way I want to. It might take a few days, but I’m going to find it!

I really hope I’ll be able to keep on blogging too. After all, it’s the only way I’ll ever remember the stuff that – well, the stuff I choose to remember 🙂

And so, for anyone that made it this far, the trip report finally begins. Expect somewhere between 1 and 28 more entries, and then I’m probably done.

Heads up

I have to admit I’ve been really slack about capitalising on betting offers for this year’s World Cup.  It’s one of the best promotional times for bookmakers and I just haven’t been scouting for them, or pretending to be various members of my family, as I rightfully should.

In fact, I even received a similar offer to the one I’m playing this weekend before now and completely let it pass me by.  I’m a disgrace to the profession of bonus whoring right now.

Sporting Index miss me so much that they’ve given me 25 quid to bet with, and this time I’m going to use it.  I still have a bit of a balance left with them from previous offers, and although they said this is promotional money for a free bet, it’s actually been all lumped together into one balance.

Such is the fun of spread betting that you can think you’re gambling with £25 of someone else’s money and end up owing them much more of your own if things don’t go your way.  With a stop-loss limit of five goals, a £25 per goal bet on the winner of the World Cup Final – which is what it seems like they’re offering at first – is far from a risk-free opportunity with this offer.  You could lose the free £25 and have to cough up another £100 out of your own pocket.

It would appear that it’s similar to their previous promotions that give you a refund on losses, except instead of give you the money back when you lose, this time they give it to you first to bet with, then take it away at the end if you win.

However, with no interest in or knowledge of the football whatsoever this year, I clearly didn’t want any more exposure than the free £25 this weekend.

Which was quite a challenge, if you want to place a no-risk bet that actually has the chance of a significant upside.  Obviously, I do.

My selection process involved looking down the list of markets for small numbers.  Assuming that I could buy low and hope for some kind of miracle that would result in at least a two-figure payoff.

Buy total goals a@ 2.3?  To limit the risk to £25, that’s £10.87 per goal.  A three-goal match wins £7.61, four goals £18.48, five goals £29.35.  That doesn’t sound so great.

Multi-corners, buy @ 27.  This used to be a regular favourite of mine when I wanted to bet on a match and didn’t care who was playing.  Spending 90 minutes cheering for nothing but corners makes for quite an interesting game, and as the result is based on number of first-half corners multiplied by number of second-half corners, if things got busy early on it made things really exciting.  But this time, I’d have to buy at less than £1 per point, and we’re looking for a result of at least 50 to make things worthwhile.  That’s more than 7 corners needed in each half before things get interesting.

The winner, though, came in the form of one of the most ridiculous bets I’ve done yet.  Headed Goal Minutes.  The result is the sum of the minutes on the clock for all the goals scored by headers.

I don’t remember ever seeing this market before, so I don’t know if it’s fairly new and available all the time, or just wheeled out for big games.  If I can actually be bothered to watch the game, this bet will bring a whole new energy to my support for both teams.  Buying @ 22 means I can put more than a quid per point on it, and all I need for a decent win is one headed goal in the second half.

Two or more headers in the back of the net, and I’m totally laughing.

Easy money, right?

The best selling book in its class - fact!

The Gambler’s Book Club wants to re-order supplies of The Ultimate Video Poker Pocket Book!

This means that, depending on their re-order level, the number of people who have already discovered the joys of having pages and pages of gambling strategy tables in a handy, take-anywhere format could be as many as twelve.

That’s a pretty solid average of nearly two copies per month flying out the door since I sent them the first batch last November.

Actually, it’s slightly more than that.  At least one copy has been sold through Amazon.com – and it had even had such an impact on the reader that he left a review:

Try reading that aloud without doing air quotes.  I bet you can’t.

But wait – the iPhone version is doing even better!  I’ve sold a whopping 44  units.  And only one of those, as far as I know, was accidentally to myself 🙂

It’s surely only a matter of time before my mug shot is used to endorse some shady off-strip casino.  (Anyone interested: I’ll accept food comp or matchplay coupons for the image rights).

If you don’t already have a copy of what must surely be the best selling small format video poker strategy guidebook in the world (just show me another one that’s doing better) what are you waiting for?

Visit http://www.ultvp.com/ for more information.  If I sell another dozen copies, I might even finish that web site…

Cheap Trick baseball cap arrives…

… cleverly disguised as a CD.  (Courtesy of Paris Las Vegas)

I still think it’s a bit weird that this is even a thing, but it’s actually quite good.

Here’s a taster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhvItRb13yU

Dream home

Claire just found our dream Vegas house.  5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms (is that enough? really?) on a fifth of an acre, and a steal at just $149,000.

The icing (terrible pun, sadly intended) on the cake is that it looks like someone got whacked in every single room.

“Needs some restoration”, reads the description, perhaps understating it ever-so-slightly.

Anyone know where I can find the CSI report?

More photos and less-gory details here: http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/284–Seal-Ct_Henderson_NV_89074_1119676035

Betting on the World Cup for the totally clueless

Here’s my tip: use someone else’s money.

BedFred just waved a free £5 bet in my face.  It’s really rude to say no to such things.

I don’t know the first thing about football these days.  In fact, I think the last game I watched was probably the last time England played in the World Cup.

So, here’s how I’ve almost certainly managed to turn a massively +EV proposition (taking someone else’s fiver) into the least profitable play possible (stupid accumulator based on guesswork).  I just clicked around a bit until it looked like there would be something worth cashing out.

I don’t feel quite so clueless after seeing things like this though.  Matt Goss and international football on a boat.  Just one of a million things that makes Vegas great.  But they could at least try to find out a little about which team the USA is actually playing…

Caesars did quickly correct this in their next post.  And then went on to brag that in addition to Guinness the 9am drinking party would feature such other speciality English beers as KilkennyHarp and Smithwick’s.

So grab a lucky shamrock and cheer for O’England!

And come on whoever the fuck else I picked above too…

Americans worse than average at poker - official

This week, I’ve been working on processing the World Series of Poker results to generate some stats for discussion on a well known poker web site.

All the information is out there if you want to try this at home.  You can get the full player lists in a PDF file for every event, and the list of winners is on a web page.

The challenge is that the player details are prone to mysteriously change from one list to the other.

For example, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi appears to have moved from Miramar to Miami in between buying his ticket and picking up a $1.5 million second place prize.  A whole bunch of players also seemed to suddenly move to Las Vegas from all over the country as soon as they picked up their cheque.

I expect their occupation also changed overnight, to “professional poker player” (or “adult movie star”) in anticipation of an inevitable Full Tilt (or Ultimate Bet) sponsorship deal.

Even having to contend with these delusions of celebrity, I don’t think I’ve done a bad job of getting some talking points out of the data.  A handful of players will have their wins recorded against someone else with the same name (but that happens to the best of us!) but mostly it’s a decent set of figures.  I’ll link to the full thing once it’s live.

But for now, the item that caught my eye the most is actually one where the player’s names don’t even matter, so I’m pretty confident in these stats.

In aggregating the entry fees and winning, and then calculating a return on investment by country, we can see that players from the USA are, as a whole – gasp – long term losers.

It’s not really any surprise to see a loss here.  Americans make up about 80% of the field and it’s a negative expectation game.  There’s juice of 6%-10% taken from every buy-in, no prize pool guarantees, no sponsor money added.  So, having the largest number of results available by far, you’d expect to see Team USA’s ROI tending towards this range sooner than any other country.

But it’s much worse than that.  After 16 events, they’re down a cool five million (about $350 per entry), with a combined ROI of nearly 20% in the wrong direction.

Across all players, the ROI comes in at roughly -9% (it’s skewed towards the top end of the range by the massive field sizes in the cheaper events, which are taxed more heavily).

Here’s the soundbite: Americans lose twice as much money at poker than the global average.

Sample size, yada yada yada.  Yes, possibly – but most of these events don’t have seven-figure prizes to quickly turn around that $5m national deficit.

I just thought it was an interesting number, and I’ll be watching it to see if the trend continues.

Las Vegas iPhone apps suck balls, save lives

It looks like it is becoming the norm that every Las Vegas casino has to have it’s own promotional iPhone app.  It’s such a shame that the ones I’ve seen so far have failed to live up to the hype.

I’ve already let my thoughts be known about the Caesars Palace app, and I still keep on checking back to see which of their customers’ pictures they’ve passed on to total strangers lately.  It’s disgraceful that this is still going on.  Be it man, child or dog – they don’t discriminate.

MGM Mirage have now entered the fray with apps for three of their hotels: MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and New York-New York.

They’re all much the same.  The brief probably read: “like the web site, but more iPhone-y”.

Well it mostly meets that brief, and where it wasn’t possible to make things iPhone-y enough, they just ship you off to parts of the web site instead.

Like for reservations, which has a special mobile version just for this screen size – although it comes at the expense of no longer looking like it’s part of the app.  That’s more than can be said for the player’s club link.  Below is as much as you can see at any one time (you can’t pinch to zoom out).  I don’t think they got the memo about Flash not playing on the iPhone, either.

You have to include Twitter these days.  It’s the law.  Here’s how:  first you pretend everyone cares about this junk, then you assume that they don’t already have a more convenient way to read it.  Loading each little nugget of crap separately is just about perfect.

Finally, throw in an unscalable, nastily-compressed copy of the floor plan and you’re good to go.

Maybe I am just a little too picky about this kind of stuff.  Or maybe I’m just jealous of whoever got this job, and annoyed that the contract went to someone who doesn’t appear to care about the image their corner-cutting is portraying for the resorts involved.

I’ll admit that I don’t really give two hoots about NY-NY, and if I was developing this it would be tough not to include a hysterical laughing sound if someone tapped a button that said “I want to eat here”.

But MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay are – like Caesars – primo properties.  Huge, huge Las Vegas brands.  They deserve so much better than this.

So do I have anything nice to say today?  Not about these apps, but MGM Mirage did release one other iPhone app last week – an “augmented reality” browser for the Las Vegas Strip.

Or at least for the half of the Strip that’s dominated by their hotels.  Although it includes the neighbouring Tropicana and Paris, once you get north of Flamingo Road, you’re on your own.

Even though I haven’t had chance to try this out on site yet, I like the concept and, assuming it works just as well in reality as it does when you simulate being there, I like the way it behaves. I know my way around town pretty well but I can still appreciate this as I still haven’t got my head around which part of CityCenter is which.

Veer is the one that looks like it’s falling over.  Harmon’s the one that actually might.  Beyond that…

The simulation mode virtually puts you on the Tropicana Avenue intersection, and from there you can spin around 360 degrees and see what hotels would be in view.  In this case, It showed me a bunch of casinos out there, in the corner of my office, just behind Summerfest Bear.

It might not seem like a big deal at first, but showing the distances on here is brilliant.  These buildings are so huge, you can lose all concept of size and distance.

When you think, “What’s that big pyramid thing?  It can’t be far away – let’s check it out!”, this app can help to put things in perspective.

And when the sun is beating down with triple-digit heat and you still think walking from Bellagio to Luxor sounds like a great idea, it may actually save lives.

How to not sell timeshares

(I just found a few half written blogs that should have been in the last trip report.  Pardon me while I catch up.  The photo below was taken on April 4th 2010.)

I’d love to name and shame, but I didn’t catch his name. So a photo will have to do.  This guy is my nomination for Worst Timeshare Seller ever.

If you’re a male walking around Las Vegas, you have to expect to get cards and magazines for (let’s call them) strippers pushed in your face.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, many porn-slappers don’t discriminate on gender.  They just want to get rid of as many of their flyers as they can so they keep a pretty open mind about who might want to use their clients’ services.

But although their bright orange uniforms can make it look like some sort of brothel-sponsored chain gang littering up the streets, they’re not really that invasive.  They don’t stop you when you’re walking and they don’t cause a fuss if you ignore them.  They slap their wares to get your attention, hope you take one and then move on to the next punter.

If you’re a couple walking around Las Vegas, timeshare sellers are a much bigger pest.

Notably, they have never approached me when I’ve been walking on my own.  In fact, I’ve seen them turn away if I walk towards them.  But when I’m with Claire, it’s like they’re ants and we have our faces painted with jam.

Although I don’t usually give them chance to finish, if you’re a couple in Las Vegas and someone comes running after you to ask if you’d like to see a free show, I’m sure this is the catch 100% of the time.

Yes, you will get show tickets, but you’ll have to sit through hours of hard sell to earn them.  And who wants to spend their valuable Vegas time doing that?

It’s not even that I don’t have an interest in vacation property ownership in Las Vegas.  For how often I go there, it would actually make sense to invest in something, and a timeshare could be an affordable start.

But I’ve run some numbers on a few resorts.  Regardless of how much the timeshare itself actually costs, and ignoring comped or discounted hotel nights based on casino play, the amount you end up paying in maintenance fees each year exceeds the cost of a comparable hotel.

Here’s a quick example I just found: a week’s timeshare in Polo Towers (a decent location on the Strip, between Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand, opposite Monte Carlo) currently costs $1,016 in annual fees to maintain.

You might not get the best rate from a general reservation, but if you can’t find a promotional rate for a week at one of the neighbouring hotels for under a grand, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Alternatively, you could purchase 1/52nd of a room in the Grandview resort (technically “on Las Vegas Boulevard” but way South, several miles past Mandalay Bay) and get a bill for $677/year.  This place is near to the South Point, where they’re currently promoting a $42/night rate for summer weeknights – and it seems to be widely available too.  If this is the location you want to stay in, expect a typical week to cost about $400.

Hotels win, even before you take into account the five figure downpayment that’s needed to secure the privilege of staying in the exact same room for the exact same week of every year.

So, yes, I’ve done some research and I’m quite certain I don’t want a timeshare.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t buy if from some scumbag who gets in my way when I’m walking.

The trick is to spot them before they spot you.  Or, to just not care about being rude to the fuckers.

I like to avoid confrontations on holiday.  I’m there to chill out, after all.  So these are my two strategies:

If I see them well in advance, before they’ve had chance to lock onto us, we’ll split up and pull a cunning flanking manoeuvre, passing them as two individual units on either side and regrouping once back in neutral territory.  We’ve done this enough times that if one of us just says something like “You go left” or “Quick! Split!” we know exactly what to do, and it’s pretty effective.

If it’s too late and we’re already firmly in their sights, I still try not to engage the enemy.  We simply walk past, both chanting “No no no no no no no no no”, progressively louder until they go away.  It’s usually enough.  Very occasionally, when they don’t get the message, I have been known to descend into abuse and expletives.

Which is what happened this time.

Our friend pictured above had a commanding strategic advantage with his location.  He stood at the foot of the escalator leading down from the newest walkway over the Strip – between Aria and Planet Hollywood.

From there, he has chance to see you coming a good 15 seconds before you get to the bottom so he can get into position ready to harass.

It’s pretty horrible.  You know exactly what is going to happen and can’t do anything about it.  Which is probably why things didn’t go down particularly pleasantly.

It’s been so long since I started writing this that I can’t remember the gory details, but it began with him trying to block my way at the bottom of the escalator.  I brushed past and said, “Oh go away, I’ve had enough of you lot already”.

Or words to that effect.  In fact, I think I actually was that polite to start with.

Apparently he thought by engaging us he still stood a chance of selling an overpriced piece of real estate.

“Hey man?  Why come to Vegas with a bad attitude?”.  And from there it descended into little more than a discussion of who actually was the ignorant dickwad.

Well, I’d argue that causing a scene on the very street where you’re hoping to entice happy holidaymakers by to sign up for a lengthy presentation is quite possibly the worst sales tactic you can employ.

This is Vegas.  Take a tip from one of the gazillion card players you must come into contact with every day.

Once you know you’re beat, just muck your cards and move on to the next hand.

Hello (again) there

Apparently it took a momentous win for me to start blogging again after an unexpected month off.  (If I just say “work commitments”, will that do?)

It was like one of those moments on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire when you can tell they know the answer to a big money question well before the four possible answers are revealed.

Only this time, the prize was even better: a Cheap Trick baseball cap.

This competition had my name written all over it.  I just happened to notice an older Facebook post by Paris Las Vegas saying there’d be another competition any minute now to promote the new show by Cheap Trick at their hotel.  I thought two possible things could happen: they’d ask the only possible Cheap Trick-related question that I would actually know the answer to, or it’d be a mad Google scramble while dozens of Facebook fans fall over themselves for the privilege of wearing some free advertising.  I kept the page open, just in case.

Sometimes it’s just your lucky night:

Actually I was later than third to answer, I saw a number of other wrong answers drop off the top (including, I’m sure I didn’t imagine it, one from FHBM’s Tim Dressen – dude I can’t believe I beat you on this) but I was quite amazed nobody else got it right.

Perhaps Rock Band really is for eight year olds, and I really am having a mid-life crisis with this pretending-to-be-a-drummer phase.

But whatever.  It was one of those moments that was meant to be.  This song makes up 50% of all the Cheap Trick songs I could name, and I haven’t played another video game (unless Lego Rock Band counts) in over two years.

I think I was just due a win.

Even with my limited knowledge of this band though, I’d actually quite like to see their show in Las Vegas.  It’s doing a stint at Paris this summer and some of the dates collide with mine.

It’s an odd concept: they’re playing through the entire Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album.

It’s not a Beatles tribute band, it’s Cheap Trick.  But playing The Beatles.  Followed by a bunch of hits I’m probably supposed to know.

But after some deliberation, I’d already decided to decline Ticketmaster’s kind offer of securing two tickets for the price of three and take a risk that there’ll actually be some available at the hotel when I get into town in July.

It’s a calculated gamble.  There’s significantly less hype for this show than for Matt Goss playing twice a week to 200 people, and they can’t give those tickets away.

But if it doesn’t happen, well meh.  I can always listen to the real Beatles while wearing my Cheap Trick cap by the pool….