Friday, December 21, 2007

Another dealer injecting himself into the game

This month I've had a few posts about dealers who just can't resist becoming part of the action:;;

In response, Short-Stacked Shamus, who writes the excellent "Hard-Boiled Poker" blog at, emailed me a similar story that occurred a couple of years ago at the MGM Grand. I post it here with his permission:

Have been enjoying your other posts regarding table etiquette here lately, as well. I haven't a great deal of live experience (only really played a handful of times), but one of my most vivid memories involves a dealer inappropriately commenting on the action. It was my very first time playing live, and I was a bundle of nerves. Had a hand where I turned a straight and like the novice I was I involuntarily reached for my chips before the action got to me . . . and THE DEALER POINTED IT OUT TO EVERYONE. "He's already reaching," he said. Don't think it actually affected the other players' decisions on the hand, but I couldn't believe the dealer had said that.

The poker gods show their displeasure

At the Rio the other night, I'm one of three or four players to call a pre-flop raise. I have suited 5-6. The flop is 3-4-7 rainbow, giving me the nuts. One person checks. I lead out with a bet about half the size of the pot. The guy on my left immediately moves all-in, a huge overbet. It gets folded around back to me.

Here's where I made the mistake. I made the kind of semi-snarky comment that I usually think, but keep to myself: "I guess when you have the nuts, you're supposed to call." With that, I turned over my cards and pushed my chips in.

My opponent was bluffing with an A-Q offsuit. He could not win the hand. He could only tie and get a split pot if the turn and river were exactly a 5 and a 6, to put on the board the same straight I already had.

Turn card: 5.

River card: 6.

I got my money back, as did the bluffer.

The poker odds calculator at tells me that I had a 99.09% chance of winning the hand when the money went in, with a 0.91% chance of a tie. The worst possible suckout in hold'em is flopping quads, and an opponent hitting the only two cards in the deck that can make a straight flush. In that situation, it's 99.9% to 0.1%. So this wasn't the absolute worst suckout imaginable. But it was probably as close as I have ever come, with an opponent needing one of six cards on the turn and then one of the remaining three cards on the river just to get a chopped pot.

See what happens when you make rude or arrogant comments at the table? The poker gods hear it and snap you back into a state of humility.

Poker gems, #60

Matthew Parvis, editor-in-chief of Bluff magazine, in his "Editor's Letter," December, 2007.

I want to close it out this month by giving a shoutout to BLUFF's own managing editor, Chris Vaughn. Not only is he instrumental in getting great content each month for the Virtual Felt, but he is not too shabby at the tables himself. This past month he won both the Full Tilt Million and the Poker Stars Million in back-to-back weeks, an accomplishment nothing short of amazing. Oh, and the money doesn't suck either. Congrat, Chris--everyone at BLUFF is proud of you!

[Poker Grumps notes that this tribute was obviously written before a Poker Stars investigation revealed, and Vaughn himself subsequently confessed, that he cheated, that he wasn't actually the one who finished the Poker Stars tournament. See His prize money was confiscated, and Bluff magazine shortly thereafter fired him. I wonder if they're still "proud" of him.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Poker gems, #59

Bob Ciaffone, on the underrated value of calling bets from an aggressive opponent, rather than raising and reraising, in Card Player column, December 19, 2007, Vol. 20, #25, p. 84:

We know you can fight fire with fire, but what is wrong with fighting it with water sometimes?

Could I have found a new poker home???

Ever since the Hilton closed down, I've been adrift. I haven't had a default place that would tend to top my list of choices of where to play. I've just been wandering, hoping that someplace would strike my fancy enough to settle in.

The Venetian was coming closest. It's clean, well-run, good mix of locals and tourists, profitable, reasonably easy to get to (i.e., I can get in the back way without fighting Strip traffic), skilled dealers, quiet, smoke-free. So there wasn't anything to gripe about, but for whatever reason I just couldn't fall in love with it.

I tried Treasure Island. I really did. It shares many of the things I liked so much about the Hilton: Small, friendly, quiet, mix of locals and tourists, easy access. But for reasons that I never figured out, I just didn't make money there, despite trying and trying and trying. Maybe it was just strange statistical variance, or maybe it was something about the style generally played there that I couldn't ever put my finger on. But I can't keep playing at a financial loss.

I've also tried to love Mandalay Bay and the Monte Carlo, but can't. Suncoast is a place I like a lot, but it's a long drive for me, and there isn't a no-limit game going on with enough regularity. Caesars is OK, but, like the Venetian, bigger than I really care for, and fairly difficult in terms of parking/walking.

So basically I've been a bit depressed. I just can't deal with the fact that such a nice, cozy, profitable place like the Hilton closes while awful, abominable, atrocious, aggravating places (and that's only using the "a" adjectives!) sprout up and never die. The world ain't fair.

But tonight I have a glimmer of hope.

I've only walked into the Rio poker room once before, and I didn't have a great first impression. I had read largely negative reviews of the room at, so maybe that predisposed me to not liking it. I parked in the wrong garage, and it's an exceptionally long walk if you do that. Then, after the long walk, they only had one game going, and it was limit, and that day I just wasn't in the mood to play it, so I left. That was late last year sometime.

I gave it another shot tonight, and was pleasantly surprised about nearly everything. When I parked in the west ("Carnival") garage, the poker room was a shorter walk to get to than most places. Of course, there is the added pleasure of turning away from Strip traffic when coming off of I-15.

They had two no-limit games going and one $3-6 limit. Restrooms were very close, a fact of which my gradually enlarging prostate gland took special note. The poker room was open, or, I guess, sort of semi-enclosed, but it's not stuck among the slot machines and table games. Rather, it's next to the little bowling alley, the buffet, and the sports book, which gives it a completely different sound and feel than the rooms that are too close to the ding-ding-ding of the slots and the whoops from the craps tables. I detected no infiltration of cigarette smoke (and I have a sensitive nose for it), and it was pleasantly quiet. The room is about the size that I like.

The staff was attentive, friendly, and helpful. The dealers were outstanding--and that's something I'm pretty fussy about. Every one of the four on duty tonight was well above the industry average. Every one of them was fast, efficient, good at enforcing rules politely, and I saw not a single error made. Highly impressive.

During one hand, one player asked another to move his hands so that his chip stacks were more visible. An uninvolved player eyeballed the stacks in question and said, "Looks like $180 or $190 or so." This happens all the time, even though it shouldn't. I've never even once heard a dealer say anything about it--until tonight. This dealer politely said, "One player to a hand, please." The dealer was absolutely right. It's a minor thing, but unless a player asks the dealer to count down an opponent's chip stack(s), how he estimates the number of chips left is his own business, and an integral part of no-limit decision-making. Other players shouldn't stick their noses into it. As regular readers will know, I love strict enforcement of the rules, because that's how the game is most fair. I wanted to kiss that dealer--except that his moustache would have been a little bit scratchy, I think.

A poker room's cocktail waitresses are about eleventy-billionth on my list of priorities for reason to pick a place to play. But it was impossible not to notice the outfits these girls were wearing. I can't remember any other casino where the uniforms looked so much like a nightie a young woman might wear to bed on her wedding night. See for more photos and comments.

The Rio poker room also has massages available at the table. This surprised me, because it's something I've previously seen only in the largest rooms (e.g., Venetian, Caesars, MGM) and in the Palms. I don't know how they can make a good living in rooms as small as the Rio and Palms, but I'm happy to have them there. It makes for a nice break in a long, tiring session.

I also learned that there is a weekly freeroll. Spend 15 hours at cash games Sunday through Thursday, and you qualify for a tournament the following Wednesday evening. The room puts up $5000 in prize money, but this gets pushed up, because people who don't qualify for free can buy in for $230. The shift supervisor told me that they average about 30 free entries and 20 buy-ins, so the prize pool gets to $8000-$9000. That may work out to more tournament equity per hour of qualifying play than the Hilton's monthly freeroll did, and that was often considered the best deal in town.

I was amused by the felt on one table, pictured above. Just in case you forget what beats what, it's right there on the table for you. I've never seen that anywhere before.

Three of the old regulars from the Hilton were there, so apparently I'm not the only one noticing that much of what was likeable at the Hilton is embodied at the Rio, too.

Another little touch I liked was the wide variety of commemorative chips. I like having a bunch of different chips in play. It gives me something else to look at and think about, because, let's face it, poker can have long boring stretches, and nobody can maintain focus on the game all the time for hours on end. I also like keeping a collection of the different unusual chips that casinos put out. Yeah, I know, that makes me a sucker, because I buy for $5 what the casino pays about ten cents to have made, but it's a little thing that makes me happy, having a few hundred different chips at home to play with. The Rio must have an enormous number of different ones, because I found the 12 pictured above just in what I had in my stacks when it was time to cash out. (You can click on the photo for a much more detailed view of them, if you're interested.) I usually only expect maybe two or three different ones the first time I visit a room that is new to me.

Last but not least, it was incredibly easy to make money. Of course, this is a sample of one night, which doesn't say much for the long run, but it was a promising start. I basically got run over by the deck, and made a profit of $225 in about 45 minutes of playing $3-6 limit while waiting for a no-limit seat. That is completely unprecedented in my experience. Then I bought in for $100 at the no-limit game and left with another $158 profit an hour later (not including the chips I kept as souvenirs, which I don't think the IRS needs to know about...), mostly coming from a three-way all-in when I had flopped a set of tens and they held up.

It's only one visit there so far, but kind of like you feel after a first date that went well, I'm a bit giddy, and having fantasies that maybe this is the place for me. I really liked everything about the room. Or, to put it another way, I can't find anything to be my usual grumpy self about. I can't wait to try it again and see if first impressions hold up.

Plaza: Another stinky dump

Since I got on kind of a roll of finally knocking down my list of poker rooms not yet visited, I decided to hit two more of them in one night. The Plaza, downtown, was the second stop, but I'll talk about it first.

They've moved the room sometime in the past year, because I once stopped in there when they had no game going, and the tables were out in the middle of the casino floor, roped off. Now it's near a corner, with a little half-fence around its perimeter.

There are four regular tables plus one small one that I assume is for stud games. (In seven-card stud, every player gets his own seven cards, so it's rather difficult to play ten-handed, there being only 52 cards in the deck. So stud tables are smaller, to hold just seven or eight players.) There was only one in use, for a $2-4 limit hold'em game. Ho-hum. But I dutifully played for my hour.

The strangest thing about this room, as you can see from the first image above, is that it has limited hours. I don't recall seeing this in any other poker room in the city. I was there, and they really did shut down the game at 1:45 a.m. so that they could close up and get the employees out by 2:00--even though the game was still going strong (well, with seven players anyway). Very peculiar.

The other notable thing was how smoky it was. I'm home now and I positively reek. Leaving out the couple of places where smoking at the tables is allowed, this is absolutely the highest concentration of cigarette smoke I've yet encountered. It's strange because the casino was nearly empty, yet there was always a visible haze of smoke in the room. It's as if they had installed a diabolical ventilation system that sucked all of the cigarette smoke from the casino floor and blew it out into the poker room. I don't know how else there could have been that much of it. It was truly awful. My eyes were burning, and that hasn't been so even at Arizona Charlie's and Boulder Station, where people were smoking at the table.

I might have guessed it would be that way from the third peculiar fact: there's a cigarette vending machine right inside the poker room! Kind of a hint, eh?

One notable, memorable thing happened there that was unprecedented for me, though it had nothing to do with the room per se. I got bored and threw in a straddle, which I do maybe once out of, say, four or five whole sessions of poker--which is to say, very rarely. And this time I picked up pocket aces! Of course, the story isn't allowed to have a happy ending. I didn't improve and got sucked out on by a guy with 5-6 offsuit who flopped two pair. Oh well. At least now I can say that I've had the experience of pocket aces on a straddle bet.

The Plaza is one of five poker rooms that is within easy walking distance of my apartment (others being the El Cortez, Fitzgerald, Golden Nugget, and Binion's). I wish it had some redeeming quality, but I found none. As with most badly-run rooms, players were allowed to talk openly about the hand in progress, with not even a hint of disapproval from any dealer. I hate that.

In fact, let me list the qualities shared by a whole bunch of rooms that I've played in once, and don't expect ever to return to: Out in the open casino floor, with no shelter from smoke and noise; rarely any no-limit game going; only the lowest limit game(s) going; only a handful of tables; horrible quality of play; mostly inhabited by life losers; players primarily there to socialize and/or try to hit a high-hand jackpot or bad-beat jackpot; mostly players who seem generally unhappy with life, with few smiles and laughs ever seen; marginally competent dealers; little or no effort to enforce even basic rules; physically dirty, dingy, icky places to spend time.

That roster of dismal qualities is basically shared by the following places: El Cortez, Plaza, Gold Coast, Arizona Charlie's, Jokers Wild, Rampart, Texas Station, Tuscany, as well as the now-closed Fiesta Rancho and Stardust. They're all just dreadful, worthless places. There are a bunch of others that I don't like much, but at least have some redeeming value that I can point to, so that I can give them a C- or D+. But this list of eight (so far) are the dregs, the crap that sinks to the bottom in an ocean of poker rooms.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I feel a bit guilty every time sombody posts a comment saying that they like my blog, and I don't reply with a personal "thank you." I'm torn between being polite and being repetitive. So here's my compromise: One big and totally sincere "thank you" to all such notes, past, present, and future, whether in the public comments or by private email. When my interest in writing flags occasionally, it is the knowledge that there are about a hundred people a day checking in to see what I'm thinking that motivates me to dig deep and force myself to try to come up with something that is worth their time to read. Your patronage and kind words keep me going.

Incidentally, the comments are essentially wide-open. I have it set up so that I have to approve each one before it gets posted, but that's only to keep out spam; I'll approve anything else (even the anonymous guy who said that the blog sucks). In fact, I especially appreciate those who express disagreement with an assertion or opinion I've stated. It takes a lot of thought and care to say, "I think you're wrong, and here's why." Several times I have been led to revise my thinking based on such comments, and I'm always happy to exchange an erroneous thought for a correct one, or a more nuanced or refined opinion for an overly generalized one.

Thank you all.

Poker gems, #58

Gabe Kaplan, on GSN's "High Stakes Poker," December 17, 2007.

Do you think Patrick Antonius ever has a bad hair day?

Rampart poker room--what the city hasn't been needing

The most recent poker room to open in the Vegas area is at the Rampart casino. I decided to give it a try tonight, thus reducing to five the number of card rooms I have not yet played in.

Sadly, the place is pretty worthless. There appear to be only three poker tables, and they're stuck out in the middle of the casino floor, not separated at all from the blackjack and craps tables. It would be easy to walk by and not even notice them.

They had one table going, never full, and it was a $2-$4 limit hold'em. Miraculously, I managed to book a win, which is pretty rare for me playing ultra-low-limit. (It's not that I exactly suck at the game; it's just really hard to keep ahead of the loss from the rake and tips.) I netted a $4 profit in an hour and a half or so of play. Wheeee!

Like most of the places that treat poker as an ugly stepchild, refusing to give it its own space, the Rampart poker room is smoky, noisy, and has marginally competent dealers. (One had no idea how to handle anything about the blinds that got even remotely out of whack, which was happening all the time as people drifted in and out of the game.) Like any $2-$4 limit game, the quality of play was just atrocious, really painful to watch and participate in.

(Story: I limped in with several others on the button with A-7 offsuit. Yeah, I know, it's a dog of a hand that I should have just thrown away. No lectures needed here. The flop was A-8-3. It was checked around until the guy on my right bet. I raised to find out where I was. He reraised, and he was a pretty tight player who I hadn't seen put in a reraise the whole session up to that point. That told me what I needed to know. I folded face-up, and he showed me A-8, for flopped top two pair. An elderly woman across the table from me scowled as she looked and me and scolded, "That's not a good hand to reraise with." I felt pity as I stared into her clueless, lifeless eyes, but I didn't respond. If I were inclined to give lessons at the table, I would have explained to her that I spent $4 to learn that my ace was not ahead. Had I just called, I would then pretty much have also had to call what would inevitably have been a second bet on the turn and yet another on the river before getting to the showdown and learning then that my ace was no good. That is, I learned this useful piece of information for $4, instead of the $10 that this fine player probably thought I should throw at it.)

There are scads of these crappy rooms all over this city. If you were taken to one with your eyes closed and tried to guess where you were by looking around, you'd have a hard time of it, because they're all the same. They have no character, no soul, no raison d'etre. I can't think of a single reason that I would go to any of them a second time.

But they did give me the lovely cap pictured above. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

(Bonus points for readers who catch and can identify the classic movie dialog reference in that last paragraph without clicking on this link to reveal the answer:

Casino club cards

This may actually be the most trivial thing I've found to complain about yet. But it annoyed me this week, so it gets a post.

All of the casinos have membership club cards. It's worth having them if you spend a lot of time in casinos, because they make you eligible for various prizes and discounts. Typically, they are also what poker rooms use to keep track of your hours of play for purposes of food comps, freeroll tournaments, etc.

When I leave the apartment to go play poker, I often don't know where I'll end up, so it wouldn't work for me to just pick up the one or two or three that I think I might need to use that day and take them along. It's much more convenient for me to keep them all on a keyring and just cart the whole mess of 'em with me wherever I may wander. (Downside: Presenting to casino employees a comprehensive collection of such cards bound together gives one the distinct appearance of a problem gambler.)

And therein lies the problem for some of these stupid cards. Note, for example, the one from the Silverton (top image). Notice that the only hole in it is a big ugly one that I had to gouge into it myself with a pocket knife. That's the only way I could string it onto a keyring.

Most of the club cards have a hole pre-punched in the lower right-hand corner. They don't intend this for the convenience of those nut-jobs among us who carry about 50 of the things at a time. No, they're made for attaching a lanyard so that patrons can wear the thing around the neck. You see them all the time, sitting at slot machines, with what looks like an umbilical cord joining machine and player. (I'm not sure which is the mother and which the fetus in this image. It's kind of icky either way.)

Surely there are a lot fewer cards accidentally left in slot machines this way. Which is why I can't figure out why the little hole isn't a universal feature for such cards. In addition to the Silverton, I've had to drill my own hole in cards from Orleans, South Point, Suncoast, Tuscany, and Wynn. It's ridiculous.

The second image above (from Sam's Town) is a partial solution. There's a hole along one edge of the card. (It might be a bit hard to see; it's on the right, next to the dice.) This certainly suffices for the lanyard folks, and would work on a keyring, if they all did it the same way. But this is a minority approach (I see the same pattern on Riviera and Venetian). It doesn't work on a keyring to have two different places for the holes, because the cards don't line up neatly. So for those, I had to drill a second hole.

The majority, fortunately, take the approach shown in the final image above (which I just picked up tonight at the Rampart). That's how they should all be. Neat and simple.

It's just a little hole in the corner, all you casino executives. I'm really not asking for much here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Card on the floor--a sad but true story

In a recent post ( I told the tale of a player who accidentally flipped a card on the floor at the showdown. In my view, both the dealer and the floor person handled the situation very poorly.

As I was writing up that blog entry, I was reminded of another dropped-card story once told to me by James Klosty, one of the shift managers at the now-closed Hilton poker room. James is not only an exceptionally fine dealer and floor person (recently hired as the poker room manager at Fiesta Henderson), but a great storyteller. I emailed him and asked him to recount his experience for the blog, even though readers will be deprived of the animation that goes with hearing the story in person. He kindly obliged. Thank you, James.

I hope it illustrates that when there are clear rules, they have to be followed and enforced, even when the outcome seems harsh for a given situation.



Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have known the Poker Grump for quite some time now and cannot think of a better writer of the game of poker then him. So, when he asked me to write a little piece pertaining to the rules of the game I was flattered. Who the heck am I? Nobody, really. However, I have been in the poker business for over 15 years and have seen many rules enforced correctly and many butchered beyond belief. No matter what anyone says, poker rules are and should be nothing more than common sense. What is best for the game and what is fair to all players involved should be the only things considered. Most card room managers and floor people govern to feed their own egos. As a card room manager myself I do my best to make sure all players are treated equally and fairly. Once we start making rulings that benefit ourselves and ignore the needs of our customers as a whole we are doing the game of poker a grave injustice. When I read the experiences of the Poker Grump it is hard for me to imagine how some of these places stay in business. Anyway, I am not here to preach the gospel. The Poker Grump has asked me to share an experience of mine which pertains to a recent article of his. Here goes:

November 1998.

I was a shift manager at the Napa Valley Casino in California. Back in those days Omaha hi/lo split was the game of choice. I walked into work to see three Omaha games, one of which was a $15-$30 game. In it was a heavyset gentleman who seemed to be rattling off chips like they were going out of style. It was nothing too odd, as you see this kind of thing anywhere you go. But as the hours passed the trips back and forth to the cash machine became more common. Once he had reached his limit, phone calls to his buddies for loans started happening. If you were to look up the word “stuck” in the dictionary, a picture of this guy's face would be the clearest definition you could get.

The end of my shift was approaching and this guy must have gone through at least a few thousand. I counted down my bank, signed my paperwork, wished all the players a good evening and went home.

I returned to work the next evening only to find this same guy sitting in the same seat. He had not moved since the night before. He was now even more stuck as well.

After being on shift for about an hour a young lady stormed through the door. She had a baby in one arm and suitcase in the other. She walked up to the guy who was stuck (let's call him "Stucky" from now on, OK?) and said, “Listen here, Stucky. You want to play cards for the rest of your life? Well then say goodbye to your son.” She dropped the suitcase at Stucky's feet and yelled, “Don't come home. I have changed the locks and you will be hearing from my lawyer soon!” She then walked out the door. Stucky started screaming at her as she was exiting. “That's just fine with me, woman!” he yelled. He never left his seat. He didn't chase after her. He felt no remorse.

The end of my shift was approaching. Stucky was now stuck more than a few thousand, plus had lost his wife, his son, and his self-respect--although I am not sure he had any of that to begin with. I counted down my bank, signed my paperwork, wished all the players a good evening and went home.

I returned to work the next evening and, that's right, Stucky was still sitting in the same seat. His five o'clock shadow was now almost a beard. He didn't smell that great and his clothes were more than wrinkled. And then, about ten minutes after I had finished my first cup of coffee for the evening, it happened.

Stucky was sitting in the five seat and I was standing behind him deciding if I should intervene in his life and talk some sense into him. As I was contemplating this, I saw that Stucky had just flopped nut-nut in this $15-$30 Omaha hi/lo game. He had six-way action and could quite possibly win his first big pot in two days. It managed to stay six-way action after the river card hit. Stucky's hand was going to hold up on both the high and low sides. There must have been close to a few grand in the pot. I was excited for Stucky. Stucky was excited as well. So much so that when it was time for the showdown, Stucky stood up. This could have been the first time his rear end left that chair in three days. As he stood up, one of his cards slipped out of his hand and slowly floated its way down to the floor. My chin hit my chest and my eyes rolled to the back of my head. I knew what was coming next. The dealer yelled, “Floor!” That was me--the floor.

With my head down I calmly walked behind the dealer and said, “What happened?” I knew what happened. I saw the whole thing. I guess I was hoping that the dealer would tell me something different. He didn't. Stucky reached down, picked up the card off the floor and opened his hand on the table. I looked at him sympathetically and said, “I'm sorry, sir, but your hand is dead.” Stucky flipped out and started coming at me. The other players at the table jumped into action and stopped him from tearing my head off. After all of Stucky's energy was gone, he gathered his things and left.

I guess the moral of the story is that players have to assume accountability for their own faults. No matter what the circumstance, if one or all of your cards leaves the table because of player error, the hand is dead. No ifs, no ands, and no buts. This rule is not open to interpretation. As unfair as it was to Stucky, it would have been just as unfair to the other players not to make that ruling.

Anyway, this story is a true one. My head is still attached to my shoulders and I would make that same ruling again, no matter how painful it was.

Thank you, Poker Grump, for allowing me to share this story.

A blue moon in your eyes (non-poker content)

About the title of this blog post--you either get it or you don't. You either excitedly thought, "Cool, a post about the Sopranos!" or you thought, "What the hell is 'blue moon in your eyes' about?"

There was a big gaming expo here a month or so ago. The only news from it that caught my attention was the announcement of a Sopranos-themed slot machine. Now, I could easily go the rest of my life without touching a slot machine and not feel the loss. But with the best television show in history now off the air, anything new related to Tony and the gang will get my heart beating a little bit faster. Upon hearing the news, I vowed that I would deviate from my usual abstinence from the slots and give David Chase et al. one dollar of my hard-earned money when I first found one of these beauties.

And tonight it happened. While playing poker at the Silverton, I noticed a banner announcing that the Sopranos slot machines were here. When I was done playing, I went looking for them. As you can (maybe) see from the blurry pictures (some day I have got to upgrade to a phone with a better camera), they are arranged in banks, with a big TV screen overhead. The screen rotates between playing the show's famous opening (the drive from New York to New Jersey, with the song, but without the credits rolling), the current jackpot amounts, and photos of the Soprano crew with quotations.

The machines use mechanical reels rather than video-simulated ones, but don't bother with an arm to pull--just a button to press. In addition to more traditional slot-machine symbols on the reels, there are photos of the main characters, plus a few locations, like Barone Sanitation and Satriale's Meats, that can line up.

As with most modern slots, there is a bewildering variety of ways the symbols can line up in various combinations to win, and if you really want to understand them, you have to crouch down and read about 30 paragraphs of fine print. I didn't bother. I inserted my $1, selected one winning line and ten credits (at $0.01 each) per line, which meant I would get ten shots at winning, for ten cents each. That's me, Mr. Big-time Gambler.

The first seven times I pushed the "spin" button, the only outcome was 10 fewer credits in my bank. But then....

I have no idea what combination I hit. It didn't look particularly special to me, but the machine started going crazy. In addition to racking up some credits, it gave me eight free spins. Unlike any machine I've played before (which admittedly isn't many), however, it started doing the free spins for me right then, just one after another, and it seemed that every one of them was hitting something and adding more credits and more free spins, which it also ran automatically for me. It felt vaguely like watching a nuclear chain-reaction in slow motion, and I was just hoping that it would spit out a "pay" ticket before it went all China Syndrome on me.

This went on for about two minutes. When it finally stopped ringing and dinging and spinning, it showed me having accumulated 430 credits.

Well, I know that this is as good as it's likely to get, so I cashed out my big $4.30 ticket and took it to the cashier's cage for my cash. I was willing to give the gang $1, but when they were nice enough (probably because I've been such a loyal fan of the show) to make me a winner by quadrupling my money, I didn't want to insult their generosity by just losing it back.

So I did what any good "wise guy" would do: I took the money and ran.

Thanks, T!

Silverton poker room

After an unbelievably lucky first half-hour at South Point (see post immediately below), I knew that it wasn't going to get any better than that, and I might as well stop playing before the luck shifted directions on me. I had to go almost right by the Silverton casino on my way back to I-15, it was still relatively early (midnight), and I hadn't played at the Silverton in about 18 months--since right after I first moved to Vegas. So I decided to see what was happening there.

They've re-done the roads and driveways leading up the casino, and I ended up parking in a different area than I had on my two previous visits, which meant I entered through another door--one right next to their giant aquarium. I had never seen this thing before. Maybe it's new, maybe it's been there the entire ten years the Silverton has been open. I really don't know. But I have to say, it's very, very nice. It's not as spectacular as the one behind the check-in desk at the Mirage, or the shark reef at Mandalay Bay, but it must be the third-nicest in town.

The poker room isn't what I remember. I liked it before, except that it's so far from my downtown apartment (which explains my long absence). It was small, quiet, cozy, isolated from the rest of the casino. Now, though, it's just a roped-off area, with the nasty smoke and noise from adjacent slot machines intruding. I hate casinos that treat poker that way.

Fortunately, though, when I asked what happened to the old poker room, I was told that it's being expanded, so the current digs are temporary. It must be a big remodeling project, though, because I was told it would be another ten months before they move into the new room. I guess I'll wait another year before heading back there.

Once in a while, the game just plays itself

For all the times that poker causes me great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I must admit that there are times it seems like the easiest way in the world to make a living. Tonight was one of those times.

Triple up

I sit down at in a game at South Point, having bought in for my usual starting amount, $100. On my very first hand, I'm in the cutoff seat (one ahead of the button), and look down at the two black jacks. An early-position player raises to $10 and there are five callers. I pop it up to $40 and get four callers. (I was to learn quickly that this was a calling table--it was not easy to shake these people off of a hand.) The flop is K-x-x with two spades. Everybody checks to me.

Well, when you've got jacks, you have to expect that the flop will have at least one overcard, and you just can't be scared of it every time, or you might as well throw the hand away before the flop. There's more than $200 in the pot already, and I have only $60 left, so the only rational action, when nobody else takes a first crack at it, is to go all-in. Even if somebody else has a king, they may figure me to have A-K or A-A, and therefore fold. Only one person calls. I show my hand; he doesn't. The dealer puts out the turn and river. I don't remember what they were, except that the turn was another spade, which I hated. I didn't improve, but I won. I have no idea what that guy called me with, because he mucked it without showing. I had very nearly tripled up on my first hand.

Double up

About 30 minutes later, I'm on the button and see two aces. The first player raises to $15 and four others call before it gets to me. I push it to $50, and get three callers--again, more than $200 in the pot before the flop. This is a rare occurrence, and for it to happen twice in 30 minutes, and to have me be the one pushing the action both of those times is quite extraordinary.

The flop is 9-4-3 rainbow. My opponents check-check-check to me. I have $218 left in front of me. With $200+ in the pot, once again the only sane move is all-in. One guy folds, but the other two insta-call. This worries me, because it sure smells like one of them got stubborn with a pocket pair and hit three-of-a-kind on the flop.

I show my aces. One opponent groans and turns over pocket queens. Whew--that's pretty safe. Then the other guy smacks the table, says, "I don't believe this!" and turns over--the other two queens!

None of us can make a straight or a flush with any cards on the turn and river. Neither of my opponents can improve to three queens, obviously. In other words, I have them both drawing stone dead on the flop!

To have just one pair after the flop and yet have two opponents absolutely dead--unable even to get a split pot--is exceptionally rare. It's not terribly difficult for a flopped straight flush, flopped quads, a flopped full house, a flopped flush, or even a flopped straight to have two opponents drawing dead with two cards yet to come. But a single pair??? It would be really difficult to calculate how often it happens, and I'm not inclined to put in that much effort. But I'll say this: As far as I know, I have never witnessed the situation in which a player holding just one pair after the flop has two opponents stone-cold dead.

The dealer recognized this a bit faster than I did, and raised his hands in a gesture of futility, as if to say, "What's the point of finishing out the hand?" Then he made a funny effort of it, just tossing the turn and river card sort of haphazardly at the table, because by then everybody recognized that it made no difference whatsoever what cards got pulled out.

I started that hand with $268 and finished it with just under $650, more than doubling up. (I had more chips than either of the players that went all-in with me.)

Like I said, sometimes the game just plays itself, and I get to just sit back and stack up the chips.