The Stratosphere was on my mind yesterday, for a pretty strange reason. As I woke up in the morning, my radio was tuned to public radio, and they had a story about fire safety. The Stratosphere was mentioned as an example of a new breed of tall buildings that rely on elevators to evacuate occupants in case of fire, rather than the instructions we've all gotten used to, telling us to use the stairs, not the elevators, in an emergency. See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18212200.
So when I couldn't get anything going at Harrah's and was headed home, it occurred to me that it was probably a good day to check out the brand-new poker room that the Strat has been advertising lately.
I liked the old poker room there. It was small and homey, maybe six tables. It had consistently among the softest competition in town. The main thing that kept me from visiting more frequently was the inconsistency with which they had any action going. I hadn't been there since April.
The first thing I inevitably noticed about the new room is that it's a long hike from the parking garage. The old one was right at the base of the escalator, as convenient as it could be. Now you have to walk to the far end of the casino. A small point, but an annoyance. At least, though, they did change the signs, so it's easy to navigate your way there.
The new room is much larger, probably twice as many tables. I was stunned to see how many were in action--at least eight, including both the midnight tournament and several live games. This was more than the old room could have handled at full capacity. So in that sense, the move was both smart and necessary.
Fortunately, the competition appeared not to have gotten any better. There was a nice mix of frightened players that I could bluff and push around, calling stations who would pay off my big hands, and a couple of completely predictable rocks, who basically played with their cards face up. There was only one smart, tricky player who could pose a serious threat of taking my stack if I weren't careful, but I was lucky enough to tangle with him only twice, both of which times I had the second nuts, and was pretty sure he didn't have the joint. My kind of table, for sure. Uptick $348 in 2.7 hours.
One mildly interesting hand: I ended up on the bad end of another set-over-set situation (unusual in that it's the second time in a week this has happened; see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/news-flash-grump-hits-one-outer-on.html), and made money from it, even without sucking out. I had J-J and put in a raise. Two previous limpers called. Limper A was the smart, tricky player. Limper B was new to the table, bought in for the minimum, and didn't have much left. I had no read on his play. Flop was A-J-x, rainbow. It was checked to me, so I put in a bet of about 2/3 of the pot. Limper A called, Limper B went all-in for maybe $4 more than I had bet. With no straight possibilities, I had the second nuts and was not worried. The turn put a second spade on the board, but still no possible straight. I bet $50 when it was checked to me. Limper A reluctantly called. Same on the river, which was another blank--I bet another $75 and got called. I showed my set of jacks. My opponent nodded grimly and quietly mucked. (I'm guessing he had A-K or A-Q.) I was stunned as all get-out when Limper B flipped over the only hand that could beat me: pocket aces. But the $125 I got from the other guy on the turn and river far outweighed the $40 or so that I lost to the higher set. If he had started with more money, I would have lost it all to him, never suspecting in a million years that he was sitting on aces.
The other good news from the Stratosphere is that they have dropped the rake. This doesn't really matter much to me, though. My tight-aggressive style means that most of my profit (or loss) come in a handful of big pots in a session. If the house takes a max of $3 (Stratosphere, Palms, and I think a couple of other places) versus $4 (standard) versus $5 (Harrah's properties), it's an undetectable change to my hourly earning rate. Still, all else being equal, I'm happy to have an extra buck or two left in the pot.
They also have a dizzying array of promotions. Aces cracked gets you $25, 24 hours a day (most such promotions are only on slow days or during slow times of the day). There is a freeroll tournament for frequent players. There are high-hand and bad-beat jackpots. One that I've never seen before is that for all daily tournaments on the first Monday of the month the winner gets double the payout, because the house matches his share of the prize pool (if I read the sign correctly).
Unfortunately, the new poker room is open to the casino. The old one had walls on three sides, and was only open to the sports book on the fourth side. That made it one of the better rooms in the city for keeping down the noise and smoke. The new room just has a half-wall around three sides, and inconsiderate jerks in the casino lean right over the wall with their cigarettes, blowing their smoke in. There is also a lounge right next door, and the salsa music was loud enough that it was difficult for players at the table to hear each other, or hear the dealer. Dealers had tremendous difficulty getting attention from the floor (for fills, decisions, bonus payouts, or whatever), because they couldn't shout loudly enough to be heard over the racket. I had a headache within an hour.
I hate smoke and noise in a poker room. They are the two biggest deterrants for me (after a place being impracticably far from my apartment and being so slow that there is no game going).
Overall, the new Stratosphere poker room now reminds me of the Sahara in nearly every respect. It's a place I'll visit when I want an easy score and I'm willing to put up with the repulsive level of noise and smoke to get it. I preferred the peace and quiet of the old room, even if it meant I could only find a game at peak hours.