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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….

Classic sign deathwatch

I’m saddened to think that I may have seen this sign on the Las Vegas Strip for the last time.

It’s the end of an era really. The Tropicana has, as far as I know, the last remaining good old-fashioned letterboard sign on the Strip.

And while it appears they don’t have as much to say these days since the titty show finished, it’s still a classic sign.

There is still one of these at the back of the Riviera, but it’s way behind on Paradise Road. There’s another at Bill’s which is a Strip casino but the sign is far enough along Flamingo Road that it doesn’t really count. If you were driving from one end of the Strip to the other you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

I’m by no means an old timer but in the ten years I’ve been coming to Las Vegas I’ve seen quite a lot of these signs bite the dust.

The imploded Stardust, New Frontier and Westward Ho are still basically just rubble, but I can’t imagine either of the projects planned for these sites having anything so awesome as this or this, if they ever actually get built.

Caesars and Bally’s both had splendid old-fashioned signs that have been replaced by, basically, big TV screens.

They’re cool enough but I still kinda like the old style and it’s a shame there’s going to be none left.

There’s just something magical about knowing a guy with a ladder climbed all the way up there to spell out Gladys Knight’s name (or even just to let you know they have clean rooms).  It certainly beats watching adverts for Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld on perma-loop.

This is what’s happening to the other sign, just round the corner on Tropicana Ave.  A billboard and a video screen,and no doubt it’s going to be topped off with some representation of the Trop’s dreadfully indifferent new logo.

Just two of the great things about Las Vegas

The legendary shrimp cocktail and free beads, obviously.

Not really the right vehicle for the job

Off-road driving in the desert. In a little Toyota Matrix.

Shhhh… don’t tell Alamo :)

I don’t know what imma gonna do

I’ve never been so glad to fly a slightly inconvenient route. I think my plane from LA to Heathrow was the last one allowed in before the UK closed down to all air traffic this afternoon.

Volcanic ash. There’s something new to blame all kinds of shit on. Jump on it while you can.

If I’d flown “normally” with BA I would still be stuck in Vegas. At the international terminal, which has not much more than half a dozen wheel of fortune machines and a Pizza Hut. That flight was one of four full screens of arrivals showing as delayed or cancelled when Ianded.

If I had managed to get a handy connection for Manchester, Which I considered instead of driving to Heathrow (and again across the Mojave both ways), I would be stuck in London.

Any other route with a transfer in the US and the transatlantic flight would have departed late enough that it never would have taken off.

In fact, my flight was actually 20 minutes late taking off so we were already cutting it a bit fine. I guess the pilot put his foot down to make sure we weren’t forced to land in France.

Possibly the biggest win of the whole trip.

www dot what

File this one under “you really couldn’t get a better domain name than that?”

Stinking up the table

The player to my left had begun standing up while playing and was walking away from the table in-between hands.

A new dealer came to check in and asked him, “what’s up – does he smell or something”.

Apparently I actually did, and this guy and his BFF in the next seat had found a non-confrontational way to express their feelings about it, by wafting each other with a newspaper (it wasn’t hot inside) and wondering aloud – in a whisper that I wasn’t sure if I was meant to hear – whether or not it was shower time yet.

But, of course, their passive aggression had limits. When asked directly by the dealer, they denied everything.

I should admit that I’m certainly not blameless here. I had spent part of the afternoon climbing over mounds of rocks in the desert (that’s for another blog) and, thanks to a major accident on the freeway which held me up for more than an hour, I didn’t even go back to the hotel before running out to play poker after dinner. I may indeed have been pretty ripe, and if I offended your nose tonight, I apologise.

In mitigation though, it’s hardly uncommon to have a smelly fat guy sit next to you at a poker table. The “sport” does nothing to discourage those of a larger physique and, in Vegas, to get from one game to another you usually have to walk outside in quite warm weather.

These two twats were locals and regulars at the Flamingo, so I have to wonder whether this is a comedy double act they do on a regular basis to kill time between playing (in the case of the older guy at least) two hands an hour, or if I really was the most disgusting thing they ever smelt.

After I got to the bathroom and put my head in my armpit, I couldn’t see it myself. But I suppose that’s the point.

I guess if someone has BO that is really bothering you, and you don’t want to cause embarrassment by saying something to their face, what else are you going to do other than laugh it off by ridiculing a stranger behind their back (or at least as far behind my back as you can practically get when you are sitting less than a foot away)?

Not really something I expected to see in a gentlemanly game of poker, but I get it.

What really pissed me off though was that the cocktail waitress was in on the joke. It took me a while to realise as I happily minded my own business while she chatted to these guys that she clearly knew quite well. (In fact this whole thing was a good exercise to reassure me that I can ignore distractions and just get down to business at the table. I got my money in good and I stuck around as long as the table was juicy).

When she returned before with their drink, she also brought them…

A magic tree air freshener.

Seriously go fuck yourself.

Now this puts me in an awkward situation. This waitress is almost always serving the poker room in the evenings, and I am about to move to the Flamingo tomorrow. But I ain’t ever tipping her for a drink again.

We’ll just have to see whether or not it’s bad karma to stiff the bitch.

Location:S Highland Dr,Las Vegas,United States