Saturday, May 05, 2012

Two quickie restaurant reviews

I played at Binion's tonight. About an hour in, I made a bad read, got all my money in bad, but got rescued by a five-outer to more than double up.


Poker has been brutal lately. I've had seven losing sessions in a row. I don't think that beats my record, but it's coming close. It has been starting to get to me--as in, I start to think not just that I've forgotten how to play, but that maybe I never knew how to play in the first place.

I was confident there was more money to be made at the table, and I didn't have any particular reason that I needed to cut the session short. However, psychologically I really needed to be able to enter a W in the ledger for the day, after seven L's in a row. I think Ed Miller gave great advice on this point once:
Go ahead and book a win. I know a lot of people think booking wins and setting stop losses is hogwash. But playing top poker (particularly no-limit) requires confidence in yourself and your decision-making. And if you lose seven days straight, your confidence is likely going to be in the can no matter who you are. So if you start a session and you’re up a few buyins after bit, wrap it up. Book the win. And pat yourself on the back. You’ll be more confident during your next session.*
So that's just what I did. I ended my losing streak, and hopefully tomorrow I can go back to attacking the game with my usual state of mind, instead of with the cowering and confusion and second-guessing that comes from an ugly string of losses.

Anyway, I was in no hurry to get home, and decided to get something to eat. I mentioned late last year that a place called the Heart Attack Grill opened between my apartment building and the downtown casinos. It has been in the news lately because two customers have had to be taken away by ambulance mid-meal. They're not kidding about the name.

It's not really the kind of place I frequent. In fact, I've been eating fried food generally and hamburgers specifically a lot less than I used to. I have been making some modest efforts to make my diet healthier, as I feel the ol' arteries hardening with age. (Having a vegetarian girlfriend also tends to push one in this direction.) So it has probably been two months since I last had a burger. I decided I could stand one indulgence.

But they wouldn't serve me. I declined to wear the silly hospital gowns that they hand out at the door. I assumed that this was a "fun" gimmick that most customers decided to participate in as part of the ambiance. I had not anticipated that they would consider this a requirement, like the way some fancy places make you wear a jacket and tie. I was floored when the waitress told me it was mandatory. I told her I'd like to eat there, but I wasn't going to wear a gown to do so. She had me talk to the manager. I assumed that the manager would waive the requirement if I asked. After all, they surely want to sell me food more than they want to enforce their stupid rule, right? Nope. "You have to have on a gown to be in here," the manager told me. I said, "That's the stupidest rule I have even encountered in a restaurant. But if you don't want my money, OK, I'm sure somebody else does." I'm still stunned that a restaurant of mostly empty tables would turn away a customer eager to do business with them in the middle of a recession. But hey, there are probably 30 eateries within 100 yards of that spot, and I figured that I could pick one of them and not have to argue with a manager and beg them to take my money.

I stopped into a place that I have walked by dozens and dozens of times, always thinking that I should try it, but never had. It's a Cuban/Mexican place called Mamita's, just a block from my house. I had noticed previously that its customers were about 90% Hispanic, which I thought was a good indicator. In fact, it had nearly all the markings of a place where one could find good food at a good price, as argued recently by economist and foodie Tyler Cowen. Besides, it was Cinco de Mayo--how could I not have Mexican food?

Before I even sat down, I noticed that this place had the ultimate marker of an authentic Cuban restaurant: Fidel Castro sitting at one of the tables. Seriously!


The picture doesn't do him justice. He really is a spitting image, uniform and all. In fact, I think he is there just to provide a touch of Cuba. He was there when I arrived, still there when I left, and he wasn't ever doing anything. He didn't eat, didn't read a book, didn't talk to anyone. Maybe he makes a little extra scratch letting people take his picture for tips. It's not every day that you get to have your picture taken with the world's longest-reigning dictator. (I suppose that Joe Biden would insist that Castro, like Hosni Mubarak, is not a dictator, but I think anybody who doesn't swallow the current administration's delusions on foreign policy would judge otherwise.)

The music they had blaring was deafening. As soon as I sat down, a waitress rushed over with a menu, smiled, and asked how I was. I told her I would be better if my ears weren't being assaulted. She immediately said, "I'll see if I can get them to turn it down." She stepped away, spoke to somebody, and it worked! It was still louder than I would have liked, but it was tolerable.

Wow--catering to a paying customer's special request. What a concept! Maybe the Heart Attack Grill manager should walk down the block and take a lesson.

Anyway, I've dragged this out long enough. I had a carnitas burrito, and it was just right. Whole meal, including side dishes and tip, was less than $14. I should have been coming here long ago.

Summary: Heart Attack Grill sucks. Mamita's rules.



*As quoted here. I could not find the original source to link to.

Seeing red









I was at the Palms tonight--the poker room's first day in its new location and under new management. The casino has contracted out management of both the poker room and the sports book to Cantor Gaming, which some industry observers think is a trend of the future. You can read a bit about it here.

The new room is just inside the doors from the west parking garage, adjacent to the food court.

The wall of televisions in the sports book has to be seen to be believed. It's enormous, sharp as a tack, and impossibly bright. (Notice in the photos above that it completely blows out the sensor in my digital camera, so you can't see any detail.) In fact, the brightness is so intense it's a problem for the poker room. You'll think I'm exaggerating about this until you go there and experience it yourself, but when the picture on the two biggest screens suddenly changes to something really bright--a little text on an all-white background for an ad, for example--it changes the ambient light level in the poker room so much that everybody turns to see what happened. It's like suddenly turning on an additional set of lights, or setting off a camera flash: even if you're not looking in that direction, you not only know it happened, but it diverts your attention, at least briefly.

The poker players spend a lot of time looking at the wall of sports action--far more than they used to with a couple of ordinary TVs on the far side of the room. The things occupy such a large fraction of one's visual field that it's pretty hard not to be distracted. This caused the games to lag noticeably more than they did in the old room, because people weren't paying attention.

A related problem is the sound level. They don't play sports in silence--whatever is on the biggest screens has the audio track filling the room. And it is LOUD. It was so loud that it made it difficult for players and dealers to hear each other. It was so loud that it gave me a headache after an hour or so.

These two problems interact in an unfortunate way: Players are looking somewhere else when it's their turn, but the dealer can't get their attention by saying, "Sir," because nobody can hear what is being said at the table. I'm not just being hypersensitive about this--the games were at least one-third slower than has been my experience at the Palms before, all because of this combination of overwhelming sight and sound from the sports book.

My final gripe is that the room was cold--one of the coldest I've experienced in a long time. And wouldn't you know it, this was one of the rare times I didn't take a sweatshirt with me. I saw "Titanic 3D" this week, and the Palms poker room made me appreciate what it must have felt like to jump off the ship into the icy North Atlantic. No--scratch that. I would have welcomed the chance to go swimming among those frozen corpses so that I could warm up a little.

These three problems are serious enough that if they aren't fixed, my time in the new room is going to be severely limited. One of the things I most appreciated about the old room was that it was small, quiet, and isolated. The new room is none of those things. The room launches a multi-faceted assault on one's physical comfort.

On the plus side of the ledger, the appointments are plenty nice--assuming you like your red juiced up on steroids.

The new tables don't have built-in cupholders, however, which annoys me. I dislike having to find one of the portable ones and jam it under the rail.

In one of the pictures above you can see a single table inside a glassed-in room, which I assume is for private and/or higher stakes games.

They finally have the Genesis Bravo system with card readers at the table, instead of logging in and out at the desk.

No poker magazine racks are in evidence. I'm told that that will be remedied in the future.

The entire sports book area has been designated no-smoking. That surprised me, because I can't think of another sports book in town that is smoke-free, but I'm sure not complaining. When I first saw that the new poker room was actually inside of the sports book, one of my first thoughts was that there would be a lot of smoke infiltration. I was wrong. I never caught a whiff of smoke in 3 1/2 hours of play. There's also a set of restrooms inside the sports book, so you don't have to penetrate of wall of smoke to get to them.

To sum up, the place looks really nice at first glance, and it's far more smoke-free than one would guess from the layout. However, the combination of the problems of player distraction, painful noise levels from the sports book, and a temperature that made me yearn for a big dose of global warming are daunting to me, and are likely to make me choose other venues when I would have hit up the Palms if they had stayed with the old room.

The Palms used to have a poker room. Now they have a few poker tables inside a sports book. The sports-book environment is so intrusively, unrelentingly oppressive that you are unlikely to forget even for a single second that that's where you are. This is a wholesale change in the character of the place, one that I deeply wish they had not made.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Winner, winner--no chicken dinner

One of the earliest submissions in the win-a-chip contest was my favorite, and I thought was unlikely to be surpassed. From "k9dr":

I personally believe that I should win the chip because U.S Americans are unable to do so because uh, some people out there in our nation don't have chips and I believe like such as South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that Oshea's here in the U.S should help South Africa and the Iraq and the Asian countries so we can build up our future for our children and I can win the chip.
If you don't understand why that's funny, you may be the only person in the world who hasn't seen the video clip it is parodying.

But a last-minute entry snatched away the win. I'm afraid it exposes that my sentimental streak is even stronger and deeper than my snarky streak. From "Andy":
I can't believe this place is closing. It has a very special place in my heart. Here's my story.

I was playing blackjack there in 2003 with a buddy. We were sitting at a table with 3 girls from CA. We started a conversation with them and I was pretty quickly smitten with one of them. We ended up handing out with these girls the rest of the night and I ended up spending most of the rest of my trip with this one girl.

To make the story short, we ended up having a long distance relationship(I lived in NC, she in CA) for two years. We tried to see each other at least every 3 months and for the most part, we did.

After two years, we decided we didn't want to live apart anymore and she moved to NC to live with me. We were married a year later and will celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary next month.

We go back to Vegas at least once a year together and always go back and spend some time there. I am going back in July for the WSOP main even and it will be strange for that place not to be there anymore.

I would love to give that chip to my wife on our anniversary next month. I know she would love it.

OK, Andy, you win, and I hope your wife will like getting the chip. (But, HINT: You might want to sweeten the anniversary gift package with something else.) Now, however, I have to find out who you are. Please submit a comment to this post with your full name and address (I won't publish the comment, so don't worry about exposure), and I'll pop the thing in the mail within a few days.

I hope the story is true. But if it's just a giant bluff (which I clearly indicated was OK), well-played.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Answering a question from Dad

After my post with the pictures of the new O'Shea's chips, my father asked me via email about the colored sections along the edges of the chips. I told him that I didn't know much about that, except that they are called "inserts" by chip collectors, and apparently make the manufacturing process more difficult to duplicate by would-be counterfeiters. He replied, "I have the impression that for the same chip design, the edge markings might vary from day to day or week to week, maybe. In most of the chips I’ve seen in your blogs the edge markings seem to be pretty irregular and sometimes somewhat sloppy."


I dismissed this at first as a not very interesting observation. There always seems to be one player at the table who, out of boredom or compulsion, stacks his chips with all the edge markings lined up neatly. I've never seen chips with which one could not do that, so they must all be the same.

And they are. Pretty much. But it finally occurred to me that right now I have means to see just how identical ostensibly identical chips are. After all, I have in my possession four brand-new ones that at a glance sure look like peas in a pod.

On closer inspection, though, not so much.

First I lined up the faces to see how much offset they were, as judged by the edge markings:



This didn't surprise me. I had noticed years ago that the inserts do not have a consistent relationship to what is printed on the faces of the chips (AKA the "inlay"). I assume that this works something like mints for coins: the chips are first made as blanks, with the obverse and reverse added later, and that as a result the orientation of the inlays is essentially random with respect to the inserts.

So then I carefully lined up the dividing line between one pair of blue and lavender marks on each of my four O'Shea's chips:


If you look closely (click on photo for larger version), you can definitely see variations in the markings.

Next I carefully turned the set of chips about 120 degrees in order to photograph the next set of inserts:


There's even more variation in this set.

Finally, I did one more 120-degree rotation to capture the last set of marks:



Again, one finds easily noticeable variations from one chip to another. Not huge, but it doesn't exactly require a microscope to see the differences.

This is obviously an artifact of the manufacturing process. It's hard to find online much detail about how casino chips are made, presumably due to trade secrets and desire to keep information from counterfeiters. This Wikipedia entry tells as much as I've found anywhere, plus having a nice photo of a broken chip so you can see what its guts look like. With respect to what causes variations in the inserts, this seems to be the key passage:
The edge spots, or inserts, are not painted on; to achieve this effect, this area of the clay is removed and then replaced with clay of a different color; this can be done to each chip individually or a strip can be taken out of a cylindrical block of material and replaced with the alternate color before the block is cut into chips.
So now you know as much as I do about the whole matter--which isn't a lot, but maybe more than you knew five minutes ago.

Slim

News reports are saying that Amarillo Slim died a few hours ago. This is not surprising, as he has been on death's door for several days now. On April 17, Doyle Brunson tweeted, "Looks like Amarillo Slim is I'n critical shape. For the record, no way was he ever a child molester." (From what I've been able to gather from public reports on the incident that led to his plea deal, I'm inclined to agree that he was wrongly accused.) Then on April 19, Brunson tweeted, "Just talked to Amarillo Slim. He is I'n hopice but is fighting hard. Tears came to my eyes as we said bye." And, further, "Amarillo Slim had faults as we all do, but he started the poker boom as we know it. Look him up on google."


Well, Doyle, I don't need to look him up, though I agree that today's players should know more about him than they seem to. I wrote a post about him, and how strange it was that a good player I ran into had never heard of the man. I'll point readers to it as my little tribute to his passing: