Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Y'know, that might make an intriguing first line of a novel. Somebody oughtta try it.

I picked that title because last night I did a study in contrasts. I saw via Twitter that my friend Grange95 was playing at the Aria poker room. It's always fun to share a table with him, and I didn't have any particular reason to select someplace else, so off I went. As I was getting ready to go, I noticed a handful of $5 chips from Hooters sitting on the table by my door. (Actually, there are chips from lots of different casinos; they kind of accumulate and multiply.*) I realized that Hooters is only a short distance from Aria, and I thought that that particular sequence might make for a fun comparison on this here blog. So I stuffed the chips in my pocket as I headed out.

It was true: the two casinos are about as polar opposite as you could make two places. But more about that later. First, let me review my session at Aria.

Stupid parking preference

The first comment-worthy thing I noticed on my way into Aria from the parking garage was that there were maybe 10 or 12 of the spaces closest to the door marked with these signs:

There's a whole bunch of stupid things about this. First, MGM Grand is in the business of making money. This kind of policy does nothing to enhance their bottom line, unless it's by some highly indirect way of making tree huggers think that that the corporation is a wonderful friend of the earth, and thus they somehow become willing to lose more money at the slot machines, which seems dubious. MGM has no corporate interest in whether its customers arrive in a Prius or a Hummer. Worse, it offends some (like me). I had already parked farther away before seeing these spaces, but as I walked past, I noticed two ordinary vehicles (both minivans) start to pull into one of the spots, then see the sign, back out, and go elsewhere. I suspect those drivers were annoyed. It is not good to annoy your customers.

Then there's the whole question of what the sign actually means--does your car have to be an alternative fuel vehicle, or a low-emissions one, or both? And what standard is being applied? Does a flex-fuel car count? If I drive a 30-year-old diesel Mercedes that I've converted to run on used vegetable oil, but it smokes like an oil well afire, is that OK? Is a hybrid GMC Yukon OK? If so, how does it make sense to allow that but not a gas-sipping little Toyota Yaris, which is conventional in its fuel system but extremely frugal? One has no way of knowing what the powers that be at the Aria will deem acceptably green to occupy these premium parking spaces.

Next problem is that I seriously doubt the threat is real. Along the lines of not annoying your customers, are they really going to lose your business forever by ticking you off by having your car towed because it wasn't on their preferred list of models? I don't think so. The Hilton has a bunch of parking spots reserved for players who accumulate points on their member cards, with dire threats of towing violators. However, when my car was stolen from their lot, and I checked with security to see if perhaps it had been towed for some inadvertant violation, the security guy in charge confided with me that they never tow for such things--only if a car is abandoned or parked in some way that blocks traffic. I suspect that all or most casinos follow similar policies. It's hard to get a customer angrier than by towing away his car for some trivial infraction. In apparent confirmation of this theory, I took time to notice the cars parked in these alt-fuel spaces as I left, and it was a completely random assemblage, including some notoriously inefficient SUVs and one pickup truck. I'm not sure which is stupider: to have this parking policy and actually enforce it, or to have it and not enforce it, but I think Aria is choosing the latter route of stupidity.

And, FWIW, I still have serious doubts about the whole fossil-fuels-cause-global-warming hypothesis. (Sorry, Al Gore.)

Dogs playing poker?

My friend Michael Hamai, of fame, just two days ago posted this picture of a dog accompanying its owner to a poker room, with the message, "Only at Boulder Station." It was a wonderful coincidence, then, to spot last night the only dog I've ever seen in a poker room:

My guess is that dogs are not generally allowed, but both of these two have somehow been legally designated as "companion animals" and are thus given access privileges equivalent to those of seeing eye dogs. The most common reason for little lap dogs getting this label is for "treatment" of some sort of anxiety or panic disorder. The owners claim that having the dog nearby calms them down. If you ask me (and I realize that nobody did), the vast majority of these are just scams by people who like having their pooches with them, and/or drama queens seeking and getting attention for their "disease." I can't believe how many doctors will sign off on such nonsense. I don't really mind having well-behaved dogs in public places like casinos, but they should allow anybody to bring them, not just those who wail, "I'm sick! I need Muffins with me every minute of the day or I can't cope!"

Stupid rule

Early in my session, I noticed the dealer just sitting there after a hand was over, with nothing happening, and no apparent reason for the delay. Just as I was about to ask what the holdup was, the green light flashed on the Shufflemaster, he exchanged decks, and went on with the next hand. I thought he was just being too lazy to do a hand shuffle. But then I noticed the same thing happen with each of the next two dealers when a hand ended quickly, so I asked the third one if that was a house rule. Indeed it is. He informed me that there are no hand shuffles allowed at the Aria unless the game is four-handed or less, and even then it requires the supervisor's approval.

I have never heard of this being a policy anywhere else, though when I sent out a Twitter message about it, somebody responded that they have the same rule at the Bellagio. I can't see any convincing reason for it. It slows the game down, without any meaningful advantage to compensate. I suppose there is some tiny reduction in risk of the dealer manipulating the shuffle for the benefit of some particular player, but is that really a serious concern? If there is some good reason for this policy that I'm not seeing, please let me know in the comments. Absent that, I'm declaring it to be just plain stupid.

Winning lucky, winning smart, winning strange, and winning ugly

Most of my profit came in three hands. In the first, I cracked aces with 5-5 when I flopped a full house. In the second, I correctly called down a three-barrel bluff by a tight player whom I had not seen bluffing in the two hours I had played with him. I had only top pair with a mediocre kicker (J-9 on a jack-high flop, to be exact). I just got the strange sense from him that he didn't really like his hand as much as his bets represented, though for the life of me I couldn't pick out any one thing in particular that was giving me that vibe. I was glad to discover that I had been right.

I took one pot that I didn't expect to. I raised pre- with something junky like a 7-8 offsuit, got one caller from the blinds. The board missed both of us, and it was just checked down. By the river, I had not improved at all. But to my surprise, my opponent just checked out (i.e., mucked instead of checking) on the river, saying, "I missed." I won without having to show that I had just 8-high. Who knows--maybe it was the best hand, but there's a decent chance he threw away the winner for no reason.

The biggest pot I won last night, though, came, unfortunately, at the expense of my friend CK, of the BWOP blog, who had also come to share the hilarity with Grange. He had to leave for dinner shortly after she arrived, though, so that didn't really work out. In this hand, I had K-K, and she was the only one to call my raise, with J-10 and position. Flop was J-10-x. I bet, she raised. I thought for a while. I was trying to decide, (1) Did she have something like A-J, and was probing to see if I would fold A-K or A-Q or a middle pair to a raise? (2) If she had two pair, J-10 was the obvious candidate, and could a reraise make her sufficiently convinced that I had flopped a set that she would fold? (3) If she had a set, would she raise here or just smooth-call? Well, by some series of mysterious mental machinations, I concluded that there was enough chance of either being ahead or getting her to fold two pair that it was worth pushing. I did. She called quickly, though with a pained look that, in retrospect, I take to mean that she suspected a set and called with top two pair anyway. I was in bad shape. But the turn and river were both 7s, landing me a better two pair and the roughly $500 pot. That is truly winning ugly.

We have now played two large pots (previous one in December, written up here and here), each of us winning one. But not only was hers the bigger of the two, both times she got her money in good, while I got mine in bad. That's not something I'm terribly proud of.

CK left after that hand (it being only the last in a series of ugly ones for her), and the table wasn't much fun without my friends there, so I cashed out less than an hour later, up about $400.

I headed over to Hooters to complete my self-amusement by contrast. But I've now taken long enough to write up the first half of the night that I need to get going on other things, so the second half of the story (that's the "worst of times," to give you a foretaste) will have to wait until tomorrow.

*Why? Well, sometimes I'm in a hurry for some reason and don't want to take the time to cash out, so I just bring the chips home and use them on the next visit to that casino. But the most common reason is that I pocket some special commemorative chip to add to the collection, get home, find that I already have one of that issue that I had forgotten, and then it goes by the door to be used again next time I play in that room. With Hooters, there are so many different chips, each with a pretty girl on them, that it's really hard to remember which ones I have and which I don't, so on my last trip I ended up with 10 or 15 that turned out to be duplicates, and were waiting to be recycled into the poker economy.


BWoP said...

To me, the most interesting part of that hand was that the folks at the table pegged one of us for a set. Someone even said, "I didn't expect to see those two hands." I guess we're not as straight-forward as we may seem . . . :-)

Wayne W. said...

Ignoring the meat of your post for the moment...

I have no idea what the crime levels are in your neighborhood, but do you really keep quantities of $5 chips by the door? I mean, you frequent a lot of casinos, so we could be talking a good chunk of change for an enterprising crackhead...

Anonymous said...

I am more than willing to bet you lunch that ALL of the vehicles that park in those spots have the same emissions.....NONE! They are parked :-)

Greylocks said...

Since the post-Moneymaker poker dealer hiring boom, approximately 1 in 11 Las Vegas poker dealers can do a decent hand shuffle. The rest are just rearranging the clumps.

But the main reason they require it the Bellagio and Aria and probably should at any room that spreads higher stakes is not the dealers. It's because the machine counts the cards and this is an effective deterrent to the #1 form of single-player cheating, namely the holdout.

Freight Train said...

I'm thinking of bringing my well behaved turtle into the poker room next time I play. It really helps to calm me down.

Michael said...

I find it a bit ironic, that the close parking spaces are reserved for the low emissions cars. If MGM was being environmentally responsible, shouldn't they be putting the worst emission cars in those spots, in order to limit the amount of times they have to drive around?

Great post though, enjoyed the details of the night.

John said...

green parking was prehaps a condition for City Center recieving Government assistance

Kunt said...

Did you not realize that it's the same dog in both your photo and Hamai's?

Glenn said...

I've seen the "green" parking spaces in Pallazzo too. I'd make a solid bet that there is some government incentive for new construction to feature such spaces. I'd also bet they are basically never enforced.

Rakewell said...

I not only didn't recognize that it was the same dog, I didn't believe it when I read that comment, and was prepared to dispute it. But looking at the two pictures again, I think you're right. Michael's photo is pretty blurry, and my brain registered that dog as quite stocky--maybe a French bulldog--while the one I saw was probably a Llasa Apso. But on second look, I agree that they're the same critter.

hylen said...

What's your science background?

NerveEnding said...

No joke, I did have a patient once ask me to write a letter certifying her kangaroo as a service animal!

Grange95 said...

As usual, I enjoyed both of our sessions that we got to play this week, even if you (again, as usual) owned me and the table.

Re the guy with the dog, I have played with him several times in the past, always at Wynn prior to two sessions this past week at Aria. The first time I played with him, I made a few jokes about his dog playing better than he did, which he took in good humor. The explanation he gave me for his dog is that he (the guy) has a blood/metabolic disorder (maybe diabetes, but not certain), and he is unable to do regular blood monitoring because of some health risk from repeated needle sticks. The dog is trained to lick him every 30-60 minutes, and is able to sense via the sweat he licks whether the blood disorder needs medication. I have no idea if this is a legit explanation or a bluff.

Rakewell said...

I have never heard of such a thing before, but a couple of minutes of Googling found this, in apparent confirmation of the concept: