I had a good time at the Palms tonight. It's been several months since I was there, and I can't really conjure up a good reason why. It remains generally one of my favorite places to play, and I can't put my finger on what has made me pass it by for the last while. It has been so long since my last visit that they have issued at least five new chips (pictured above). Plus, I got lucky and collected a handful of older ones that have been missing from my collection.
Keepin' me wai-ai-ai-ai-aiting
It didn't start off well. I arrived at 5:30, and was put at a table with three others, anticipating getting a second table going soon. It didn't happen. Three people soon left the main game, and the three ahead of me got put in. But then it stagnated, and nobody was leaving. I ended up waiting 90 minutes before a seat opened up. It's almost unheard of for a table to go that long with nobody leaving, but it happened. I did a whole New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle (I usually carry one with me for just such occasions), plus read the whole new issue of Poker Player newspaper, caught up on Twitter by cell phone, and still had to twiddle my thumbs for a while before getting a seat.
There's a reason for this that I had no trouble identifying. Since I was last there, the Palms has added two incentives to keep butts in chairs. There is a weekly freeroll tournament, requiring just six hours to qualify. Plus, for every eight hours of play, you get a free ticket to their buffet, in addition to the regular $1/hour food comps. That's worth up to $25 or so (depending on when you use it), so effectively quadruples the food comp rate. The net result appears to be a substantial increase in locals punching the time clock.
I watched the table while I was waiting, and there were four players who spent as much time away from the table as playing. All were locals. Also, all were Asian, if you want to read something into that fact. One of them did the dreaded "walk around for an hour then come back and cash out without playing another hand" thing. It is so incredibly rude to tie up a seat when you're not going to return to play. I don't know what makes people think this is OK.
Unfortunately, the Palms has no mechanism in place to prevent people from abusing their giveaways like this. They are not clocked out for time away from the table, and there is no "third man walking" rule.
Management there has got to get a handle on this, or it's going to kill what I have usually found to be one of the most action-packed games of its kind in the city. It is incredibly short-sighted to let their games get nitted to death. The nits will not reward the room with long-term loyalty once the promotions go away; they'll just move on to whatever other casino is offering them the most freebies, having given the room a bad reputation as dullsville in the meantime.
All that changed at 8:00 p.m., though. The nitty locals left and were replaced by action players. That's because I had unwittingly stumbled into the Thursday night "Juicy Game," a fairly recent new promotion. The regular $1-3 game gets modified: They change from 10-handed to 9-handed (for reasons that are unclear to me; I still prefer 10). They up the maximum buy-in to $1000. They add an optional button straddle, your choice from $6 up to all-in, with the button having last action regardless of how many raises have gone before.
These changes definitely get any game out of the gutter. It rapidly turns into LAGtown, and the pots build rapidly. It is high variance and not for the faint of heart. It will make a nit's eyeballs bleed.
I decided to get into the spirit of the game and joined in the button straddlers (though only for the minimum). Glad I did--I tripled up doing so once, after an UTG raise to $15, followed by every player calling, I screwed up my courage and shoved with 8-8, got called by the original raiser (he had A-J) and won the hand, including the dead money from the callers who all folded. Another time I doubled up by limp-reraising all-in to a button straddler after he raised to $25 or so. I thought he had nothing and was just trying to take the many $6 calls, but he apparently had enough of a hand to call me. My A-J offsuit won. I don't know what he had.
It's not the style of game in which I'm most comfortable, but I buckled my seat belt and made the best of it. I guess I did OK, because when I racked up to leave, I not only had a tidy profit, but got a compliment from the most aggressive player there: "You're a good player. Every time you were in the pot with me, I was scared!" I smiled and said, "That's the effect I was going for."
While I was waiting for my seat, a bit of news was passed on to me by Linda, who now works at the Palms poker room, but whom I have known since my Hilton days; in fact, she was the first Vegas poker-room employee to greet me and learn my name, and her attitude was so welcoming that it was a major reason the Hilton caught my attention and affection early on as my poker "home." The news she gave me was that Annie died within the last several days. I know nothing more about it, the hows or whys.
Who is Annie, you ask? Well, Annie is one of the most colorful characters among the Vegas local poker players, a tiny, 50-something Asian woman with a propensity for swearing, dirty jokes, and inappropriately young men. If you've spent much time at the tables here, you've probably played with her. I have written about her at least twice: here and here.
Her style was Rocky McRockerson--top five hands and not much else. Frankly, it made it very easy to play against her most of the time, because she might as well have been playing with her cards face up. But it was sufficiently effective against tourists who hadn't figured her out, and she usually left with more money than she came in with.
The first time I tangled with her in a big pot, I got extremely lucky and cracked her A-A with my A-K after all the money went in on a king-high flop. I rivered a third cowboy, and thereby earned myself a tongue-lashing in her broken English for being a stupid luckbox. She didn't talk to me for a couple of weeks after that, she was so mad. But we gradually developed a mutual friendliness and respect in spite of that rough beginning.
One time at the Hilton, by fourth street there were three 8s on board, and from her body language and betting I was about as sure as I could be that Annie had the case 8 for quads. (She did.) But my two hole cards plus one of the eights and whatever the other card was (can't remember the details now) gave me an open-ended straight-flush draw. She eyed me quizzically when I called, which I did because she would absolutely have lost her entire stack to me if I hit (as anybody would in that situation). I missed. I asked her later if she would have been mad at me if I had made my hand and felted her. "No way," she said. "It's just poker." I laughed out loud, because I knew it wasn't true. I was never sure whether she was deliberately lying there or just had a horrendously misguided concept of how she reacted to bad beats, but everybody that knew her well with whom I shared that story agreed that she would have delivered a rant that would have put Phil Hellmuth to shame if she had lost with quads to a straight flush on the river.
I'm sad that I won't get to run into her at the tables any more. She was one of a kind.