Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"I didn't come to Las Vegas to fold."
Me, at the table.

2004 WSOP Trip Report.

I wish I could do this trip report justice, but I truly can't. I'm not a good enough writer but the blame mainly lies on the vast amounts of alcohol consumed. There were far too many hilarious moments that are lost in the drunken ether. So I apologize up front for this terrible post.

Go read Hank's take at Cards Speak. It's much more funny than this.

Suffice to say, I had an incredible time. I've done and seen many things, but the insanity of this WSOP and the drunken good times I enjoyed with Hank and his posse (thank you Mrs. Hdouble and M!) are right up there. I've been heading down to Tampa for spring training the last four or five years, but from now on I'll be heading to Vegas instead.

A little backstory, I moved to Vegas in early 1992 and lived there until 1995. They had just finished building the MGM Grand and the Luxor when I left. So it was amazing to see the massive casinos that dominate the Strip now. Somewhere around nine new major places. I felt like a slackjawed yokel driving down the boulevard.

So let's give the abridged version of this tale, shall we? I'd recommend you skip it and come back for a typical Guinness and Poker writeup, not these demented ramblings about drinking in Vegas. It was such a crazy scene that I feel stupid even trying to capture it, but I suppose I must write up what I can.....but still, I would recommend Hank's blog for a more accurate and coherent writeup.

First off, I saw every damn poker celebrity there is to see. It was incredible at both Binions and the Nugget. It helps if you hang with someone knowledgable like Felicia & Glenn who are on top of the scene and can show you what's going on.

Here are my top three NON-poker celebrity sightings, in no particular order:
David Spade
Marilyn Manson
Keyshawn Johnson

Also, after ten years away, I had somehow forgotten that the women walking around in Vegas are not like the women walking around in Cincinnati, or anywhere else for that matter.

So I arrived around 9pm, Thursday. Now let me ask, is there any better place in the world to fly into than Vegas at night? The excitement is palpable as folks see the Strip in the distance. They begin shifting anxiously in their seats, chattering excitedly and gearing up for the fun times ahead. I've always loved watching that behavior, but this time, because I wasn't a local - I was stoked too.

VEGAS baby!

Felicia and Glenn graciously picked me up from the airport and we immediately set off for the Bellagio. I was lucky to have these two smart folks as my tour guides upon hitting my old stomping grounds because everything had changed a LOT, including the airport.

Back in my day, the ritziest casino was probably Caesers & the Mirage. And the Bellagio put those two places to shame, imho. The card room was nestled in the back by the sportsbook, and I quickly realized the impending weekend poker insanity after seeing how deep the table lists were. Felicia knew I really wanted to meet Linda from PokerWorks and scouted out the room for me, to no avail. Doh! So we sat at the bar for a few (I needed a beer or two to celebrate my return) before deciding to head downtown to Mecca. Binions.

By the way, the Communists have assumed control of both the Bellagio and Binions and don't allow smoking. Go back to Russia, damnit!

Binions was nuts, to say the least. You'd have to see it to believe it. Both upstairs and down. It was so packed that Binions was running out of chips and were encouraging players to play with cash on the table. I decide to play the cash games because the satellite lines were outrageous and I just wanted to jump in and get my feet wet. I sat in a fishy no-limit game (obese Georgia guy says to me as I initially sit down and begin pulling my chips out of my rack - "You look like a thin Travis Tritt") - I am mortally offended after learning who Travis Tritt is and decide to rob him in the parking lot later.

It becomes apparent that perhaps one or two players are decent and the rest are terrible. Felicia, after sweating me for a bit, wisely decides to jump in the chummy water and we have a fun little run. I get rivered for a big pot at the end of the session but still book a win. Very enjoyable evening with plenty of big name player sightings.

Even though my hotel is out of the way, Felicia and Glenn still drove me there. Thanks again, you two. You rock.

I get up early Friday morning and cab it over to the Bellagio. It takes me forever to find the damn poker room without my aforementioned guides, but once I do, it's only a 30 minute wait and I'm suddenly sitting 8.16 with a table full of tired drunks. Most of them are stuck and talking about online poker. I wisely keep my mouth shut until I am asked about it directly by the table loudmouth. I tell them I am a HUGE winner on Yahoo poker and take a big guzzle of beer. Four hours later I cash out with a nice win and head back home to await Hdouble and his posse.

When Hank, his lovely wife Mrs. Double and good friend, M, show up, they walk right by my country rock star ass in front of the casino. I'm happy cause now I'm two for two - Felicia didn't recognize me either. Both tell me the goatee threw them off. But Hank wisely was thinking I'd be in the bar so he didn't pay attention to the riff-raff in front of the casino.

At this point, things start getting hazy. I didn't drink very much the prior evening because Felicia & Glenn are mature, intelligent teetotallers and I didn't want to offend them.

But now things were going to change.

We hit Binion's around 4pm and were STUNNED at the lines for the satellites. The $50 and $225 super-sats are chock full of dead money, but who wants to wait in line for four hours?

Instead, I wait in line for over two hours waiting for a single table 1k satellite. I had aspirations of wanting to play several of these but the lines were simply too long. But hell, I had to play at least one. While waiting, I had the good fortune of meeting Mike and ShaynaMouse, thanks to Felicia. Shayna was beating up on the 6.12 game and I was actually very surprised when she told me she reads my blog. Mike was an incredibly nice guy - a very infectious personality and I'm long overdue to link up his site, No Limit Poker Club.

The next best thing was when a large Middle Eastern man cut in line and several people called him out. He became irate and security was called as a fight nearly occured. For the next forty minutes, these guys made thinly veiled threats to each other and basically behaved like 5 year olds. Finally they told the Middle Eastern guy he would receive a 24 hour ban if he didn't leave immediately. Because he had already had a seat in the Big One, he waddled away quickly, entourage in tow.

Side comment: poker is a common denominator, it's true. But still, poker usually puts me at a table with random guys who I would normally never want to associate with.

Anyway, my ONLY goal in this satellite is to not get knocked out first, which I promptly do.

Oh the humanity.

In a perverse perspective, however, I'm happy I was knocked out by making a move at a nice pot rather than a bad beat. All the same, I played the hand poorly but it didn't bother me - it was a fun situation trying to move the best hand off a pot when the scare card came. I was stared down for who knows how long by one guy who finally folded and the other fellow shrugged and called with a straight versus my two pair. Doh! Representing the flush was fun but minus EV.

Incidentally, checking back on my table almost 90 minutes later only saw THREE players knocked out - they were still seven handed! Very tough table and next time I will scout out one table satellite competition much better. Actually, one big lesson I learned was to hit Binion's several weeks earlier when the room isn't packed to overflowing. Next year I'll be visiting 3 or 4 weeks before the main event so I can actually play some satellites with impunity. Also, they were already up to 2200 players qualified when they announced the cap of 2400 players, with the rest being alternates. The last thing we wanted to do was sit in line for 4 hours, play for 4 hours, only to be told that we were now an alternate.

By the way, when we walked into Binions that afternoon, the new poker magazine ALLIN was everywhere and it was too cool to see HDouble's six page article about our humble poker blogs. I was now riding shotgun with a poker celebrity! A big congrats to HDouble on an excellent article. ALLIN should be giving it away as free content on their website. Why they don't is a mystery to me.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Felicia and Glenn decided to head home and we say our good-bye's. It was great to meet my first fellow poker bloggers, thanks again for all the help and I hope you guys had as much fun as I did.

And now things get hazy. As in 'I don't remember things' hazy. But I'll try and recap the next few days as succinctly as I can.

The next thing I remember is Hank and M teaching me basic strategy at a $10 craps table in Binions. I'm pretty sure it was here that I went on a huge run (after getting chastised for shaking the dice with BOTH hands on my first roll) and we all won a couple hundred bucks.

At some point, Mrs. Double found us and we wandered over to the Golden Nugget. It was packed house as well. There were a ton of railbirds watching Doyle in the Big Game and Johnny Chan strolled right by me to play in it, too. He's shorter than I had expected. I tried to talk Hank and M into combining our bankrolls to go sit and post one hand in that game to no avail. ;)

We had a fine meal at the Nugget, laying the foundation for what would prove to be a true binge. It's funny to think back on that, because I was actually pretty toasty at this point, but in the overall picture, we hadn't even started drinking yet. I need to mention that I really enjoyed all three of these fine people's company. Is there anything better than smart, down-to-earth people, good conversation and beer? I can honestly say that's one of my favorite things in the whole world and I had it in spades with this group.

Geez, the rest of the evening is really nothing but random moments of memory now. There were tons of online poker room parties going on, I remember that. I stopped into the Party Poker ballroom for a moment but it, like everything else poker related, was packed to capacity. Hank, through his close personal friend, Phil Gordon, had an invite to the Full-Tilt private party at a new Casino I can't remember now. I know we went there. I think we also went to the Bellagio.

See? I shouldn't even be writing this drivel up.

Long story short - we ended up at a casino called Terrible's playing craps. Damn, we had fun. The table was rocking and rolling all night as we sunk further and further into savage drunkeness. I'm not sure what did it, but we ended up tilting out the craps boss. I had some help from M, who nicknamed the guy Don Rickles, which the entire table quickly picked up on. It was too damn funny because this guy was openly rooting against us.

I suspected he was just bitter about us winning because he was, in reality, the casino owner just slumming it at the craps table.

M broke out his Cuban cigar, Hank started getting hot with the dice and I started ordering us shots. Things quickly disintegrated. My favorite craps term - "4 5 hop!"

In a weird twist, at the end of our run, I ended up making friends with the cranky old dude by besmirching Becky Binion's name. He didn't care for her one iota and directed his vitriol at her instead of us, for a change.

I faintly remember watching Hank and M play blackjack around 4am. I think they just needed a place to sit down. Speaking of which, I got away with sitting at a chair at the craps table for over an hour before the pit boss demanded I stop. Hopefully I'll remember to bring a cane so I can get away with it next time.

I was staying next door at the Key Largo Casino upon Hank's excellent recommendation. He had told me it was interesting because there were always an interesting mix of tourists and locals there and boy, was he right. After saying goodbye to my drunken friends at Terrible's, I stumbled over to Key Largo's bar and stayed there till noon the next day. There was an extraordinary group of Europeans and locals drinking heavily and cheerily chatting everyone up. There was one couple, an Irish fellow (Ray) and his British girlfriend, who were both bitingly funny and completely soused. It turned out he was playing in the Big One that day. And I mean he was RIPPED - when they finally left to go play, they were both literally hanging onto each other for support to stay upright. I have no idea how he did but it had to be ugly.

Only in Vegas.

This is already too long and feeble of a post. I could have saved everyone a lot of time by just saying: I WENT TO VEGAS, DRANK AND HAD LOTS OF FUN.

So allow me to wrap this up. In classic Vegas fashion I slept all afternoon and hooked back up with Mr & Mrs HDouble and M around 9pm the next night at the Hard Rock. We were all moving at about 20% capacity. Mrs. HDouble was happy to report she had never seen Hank so drunk in her life so if I accomplished anything over the damn weekend, that was it. I am one sad little monkey.

So we drank and gambled again, yadda yadda yadda. The highlight of this evening for me was when M, after losing at craps, went and put it all on roulette and came back a big winner. There's nothing like the sheer joy on a winners face.

Poor Hank was hurting and was ready to call it a night at one point. We were all pretty damn tired. But amazingly, my man had not played a single hand of poker yet! Heresy! He knew of a game at the Excalibur that he referred to as "Retard Poker" so we cabbed it on over. It didn't take long before all three of us were at the same no-limit table. To keep the game "friendly" they only allowed you to buyin for $100, which sucked.

This was an entertaining game, for the most part, as we had several wankers playing. The type of guys who stand up, pump their fist ala Moneymaker and bellow "YEAH!!" when they scoop a $50 pot. Oh the humanity. I dimly remember asking one guy, after his voracious cheering of a winning hand, if that meant no Ramen for him that week...

I had fun cracking up a dealer or two with some of my comments and picked on the player to Hank's left, a complete goofball. He had been a huge lucky winner thus far until he accidentally mucked the winning hand and tilted all his money away, a nice chunk of which went into Hank's pocket. This goofball actually asked the dealer, "So are you going to give me that pot, or what?" after he had mucked. It was like watching a car wreck once he realized that no, he wasn't going to get that pot, and he gave away prolly $400, a full rack of red chips.

Both Hank and M won in this game as I pathetically donated $200 with my last hand being KK getting cracked by a9o. In a fitting sendoff, the guy stood up and cheered like he had just won the WSOP. I think we played till 9am but you'd have to check with Hank for a more accurate time. I bid Hank and M adios as they were leaving that day and I headed back to the Key Largo watering hole where the same crew of Euro's and regulars were hanging out. Hell, I even got a job offer during this drinking session.

It's funny, but I feel like I met more cool people in those four days than in the three years I lived there.

My last day was pretty uneventful - I ended up heading back to the Bellagio Sunday evening in hopes of finally meeting Linda but she still wasn't around, damnit. It was a mere 90 minute wait before finally getting a seat, once again in the 8.16. Hank had told me that the 15.30 is one of the softest games around, but the list for that game was 50 players deep. Ugh.

My table was tougher than any prior ones and even though I went up big early by hitting a few sets, I ended up giving most of it back, booking a meager $44 win. I sat next to an extremely nice guy who had been knocked out of the WSOP tourney that very day - he had plenty of funny stories and was non-plussed by his bad luck in the tourney, considering he bought his way in.

And that's it. I flew out Monday morning and have been slowly recovering since.

Again, thanks to F&G for picking me up and showing me the ropes. And a huge thanks to Hank for inspiring me to get off my ass and play some Vegas poker. Again, this post doesn't do the trip justice. Make sure to hit Hank's blog for a better write up.

I actually wrote out some thoughts on the Nature of Vegas, the depravity of it's "culture" and the transient nature of the people living there, but now it doesn't seem fitting. I'm too far removed from being a local for it to be relevant. I'm embracing the idea of heading to the WSOP every spring to reconnect with friends, both old and new, and possibly getting a chance to play in the Big One. It's a unique experience and one that I'd like to think I'll be doing the rest of my life.

I can't wait till next year.

Link of the Day:
Who better to read than Jesse May for reports on The Big One? Start with Day One and move along.
Championship Day 1

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Yup, I made it back. Post pending.

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