Saturday, January 31, 2009

Guess the casino, #42

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Monte Carlo

Friday, January 30, 2009

Taking pictures in casinos

I've been taking a lot of photos inside of casinos lately, and it has been an interesting experience. First, I've been impressed by how much nice stuff there is, at least in the classier joints. I tend to be pretty oblivious to decor and accoutrements that don't directly affect me. When I'm at a casino to play poker, I just beeline to the poker room and then back to my car, paying precious little attention to anything in between those two points or outside of my path. But recently, when scoping out interesting things to photograph for the "Guess the casino" posts, I've wandered around much more and actually paid attention to the art, the lighting, the decorations, etc. Turns out there's a lot more lovely touches than I ever knew, especially in the Bellagio, Venetian, Wynn, etc. Who knew?!

Just as interesting, though, has been the variety of reactions from casino employees. For the most part, I just get ignored, along with everybody else who is taking pictures. But once in a while somebody asks me to stop. So far, nobody has asked me to leave the premises or delete the photos I've already taken. (I would do the former. I would not do the latter.)

The most common place I have been asked to stop taking pictures is inside of poker rooms. This was prior to even thinking of the "Guess the casino" posts, mostly for comment on newly opened or remodeled rooms. Offhand, I can remember this having happened at Gold Coast, Sunset Station, Aliante Station, and Silverton. When a reason has been stated, it has always been the privacy of the players there.

But twice recently I have been asked to discontinue taking pictures in other parts of casinos. The first was a couple of weeks ago at Red Rock Station, then again this week at Green Valley Ranch. I am confident that it is no coincidence that these are owned by the same company--as are two of the four poker rooms in which I've been asked to stop.

At Red Rock, it wasn't even a security guy. It was apparently a maintenance man, judging by the tools on his belt. He didn't just ask me to stop; he had to throw in a little lecture about how if I went to the Strip, they wouldn't let me take pictures anywhere inside. (In retrospect, I believe that their rule is no photos on the casino floor, though elsewhere in the facility is OK, but he wasn't really making that clear.) Well, that's just completely false. I have taken many pictures now inside of virtually every major casino on the Strip, and haven't been hassled in any way about it.

I was with a friend that day, and the same guy asked her to stop with the pictures just before he talked to me. (We were far enough apart that he probably didn't know we were there together.) What he told her was even more bizarre. She was taking a picture of some piece of interesting interior design, and he said something like, "If the owners discovered that their designs had been copied by another casino on the other side of the world, they'd come back here and kill whoever took those photos!" Lovely way for employees of a service industry to speak to their guests and customers.

Wednesday night at GVR, I wandered around snapping shots for 20 minutes or so. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed a security guy in black walking towards me, but he stopped a short distance away. When I looked around, it seemed to me that he was trying hard to appear as if he were not paying attention to me. After the Red Rock experience, I thought that he must have been sent to stop me, but for some reason felt that he had to catch me in the act. I wandered maybe 50 or 70 feet. I didn't notice him following me, but I didn't look around to check. Clicked off one more picture, then, sure enough, he approached me. "There is no photography allowed on the casino floor." OK. I put my cell phone away. Of course, I already had 20 or so pictures, which is plenty for my purposes.

VegasRex is one of my favorite bloggers about what's going on in this city. He has a ton more experience that I do with the schizophrenic way that casinos deal with people casually taking pictures. Green Valley Ranch got him, too, though with an added touch that wasn't imparted to me (at least not in my presence):

I took pictures all over the casino, but when I snapped the shot above, a
(in)security lady came up to me, and told me that I could not take pictures. I
said “okay, and put my camera away”. [Sic on that misplaced quotation mark. PG.]

Then, she picked up her walkie talkie and said, “One camera warn at station
number 2571″. I don’t remember the number, but it either denoted her employee
number or the location of the “incident”.

Basically, every time a security person annoys someone, they proudly radio
it in so that they will get credit for pissing off a customer. I guess they get
a gold star or something after they annoy the hell out of a certain number of

I get this harassment all the time, but this was the first time I heard the
formality of radioing the “kill” back to headquarters.

As you can see, this is part of why I conclude that the Stations facilities are a lot more paranoid about this than other casinos.

Another time at GVR security followed poor Rex while he was taking pictures from the parking garage, but didn't actually stop him--which is why, combined with the comment from the guy who talked to me, I conclude that their policy pertains only to gambling areas, though they're at least suspicious of it elsewhere.

He also got asked to stop taking pictures at the Luxor:

As I was leaving, I stopped to take one final picture, as a security lady
came over and scolded me. I had taken about 300 pictures in roughly an hour, and
on my way out she finally told me that I could not take pictures inside the
casino. O …. K. So I didn’t get the 301st picture. Once again, that policy is a
complete and utter waste of time, and it’s patently unenforceable. Like Don
Quixote tilting at windmills. But at least it gives “security” something to do
while my bike is being stolen for the second time. I wouldn’t want them to get
caught up in preventing actual malfeasance. I doubt they get paid enough.
It happened again at the Hilton, after its poker room closed:
Don’t you just love what they’ve done with the place?

I went to cash out my Patriots/Eagles ticket today, and got this grainy
cellphone shot.

It is now “Wheel of Fortune World”. I kid you not.

I tried to take another one where the “Wheel of Fortune” is lit up (it
lights on and off from left to right), but the security lady came over and
started screaming at me for aiming my camera at the thing.

Something about Bin Laden using Wheel of Fortune slot machines to take over
the world.I always thought those things were evil.

Seriously, I don’t know what the lady was babbling about other than “you can’t take pictures here!”

At the opening of the Palazzo, the schizophrenia really showed itself:

As for photos …

The first Palazzo security person directed me to the best spots to take pictures, I was then encouraged to take pictures by the casino floor manager, another security person took a picture of me with the gaming machines in the background (”Would you like me to get you in the picture, sir?”), and the 4th security person ran up and told me that there were absolutely no pictures to be taken in the casino at all, and she shadowed me for awhile to make sure that I didn’t. By that time I had already taken several hundred pictures in the casino, so it really didn’t matter.

It just goes to show you that the whole “photography” thing is completely random and up to the discretion of the individual security person you may be speaking with. It makes little to no sense not have a crystal clear posted policy, and you can’t fault the tourists for not knowing what in the hell is going on.

3/4ths of the staff encouraged me to photograph, and one staff member was a real bitch.

And speaking of the whole terrorism angle, as the Hilton woman apparently did, one of his funniest stories is being told he couldn't take pictures of City Center, under construction, because other people seeing him do so apparently worried that he was a terrorist plotting how to blow the thing up. It's too good a story to reduce to an excerpt here, so just go read the whole post.

His strangest story of all, though, is the cocktail waitress at the Venetian who actually threw a glass at him because he had taken her picture, followed by Venetian security guys acting like complete morons about the whole situation. Again, too good a story to condense--go read here.

Over the following few days, however, Rex took pictures not just inside of the Flamingo and MGM, but had cocktail waitresses and showgirls cheerfully pose for him. The inconsistency from place to place and from day to day and from one employee to another even on the same day perfectly illustrates how completely insane the whole thing is.

Here's the core of Rex's comment on the stupidity being displayed:
There were no signs preventing photography, and as has been discussed before, taking pictures in such areas is not illegal. Some security people say “go ahead” and some ask you to stop. It is really just the luck of the draw. Taking pictures inside of any Vegas casino is not illegal.

99% of people really aren’t sure what the law regarding photography is in private buildings (although they act like they know), so here is a very brief primer. It is not comprehensive, but is just a general guideline.

It is not illegal to take pictures in the casino. It is illegal to keep taking pictures if they ask you to stop. If they ask me to stop, I do stop. But there is no posted policy in the casino, and if you ask around to the employees, you will get different answers from different people. Some employees have encouraged me to take pictures. One time a pit boss instructed a dealer to pose for me. It just varies day to day as to what the “policy” is. Sometimes you are invited to take them, sometimes they just ignore you, and sometimes they ask you to stop. I just do what they ask me to do, if they ask me to do anything at all. It’s a humongous “grey” area in which you might violate the wishes of certain people … but you violate no laws.


I have had my photo taken thousands of times in this town without my permission. It is part of being out and about in Vegas. And it almost always occurs on private property. I’ve had my picture taken at the Bellagio Conservatory probably 50 times while I was milling about. Nobody ever asked me if it was okay. Being in a publicly accessible place implies consent, and I don’t expect them to ask me.

I have a lot of pictures of the Rio performers. I never stopped the show to
ask if I could take their pictures, I just took them … along with hundreds of
other people. And most cocktail waitresses will gladly give you a smile. They
are part of the entertainment, and they (should) know it.

I have pictures of the Sirens of TI, Venetian gondoliers, Bally’s
Showgirls, ride operators at Circus Circus, doormen, cab jockeys, monorail
ambassadors, etc, etc, etc.

Hell, the girls at hooters smile and pose when they see a camera come


Because it’s Las Fucking Vegas. You are going to get on film, and it doesn’t make one shit’s bit of difference if you want to be or not. Big cameras, small cameras, pen cameras, cellphone cameras, everybody has some kind of camera with them 24/7 … welcome to 2008.

If you have an aversion to being on film … don’t come here. You may
know it, you may not know it, but someone is going home with a picture of you. I
hate to break it to Ms. Bad Aim, but she has been photographed eight bazillion
times, probably without her knowledge.

I could not possibly say it better.

Other than the sensibilities of certain delicate guests, are there other legitimate reasons a casino might want to prohibit photography on its property? Here are the ones I can think of:

1) I once heard a poker dealer tell somebody who asked about taking pictures that flash photography, at least, was forbidden because it could temporarily blind the video surveillance cameras. OK. If that's true, it at least makes sense, though I really think that it's an awfully minor consideration. But so far neither my experience or that of anybody else I've heard from or read about finds the casinos making a distinction between picture-taking with versus without flash.

2) There's the intellectual property theft angle, alluded to by the maintenance guy at Red Rock. That's completely bogus, because if somebody wanted to copy a design, he or she could. They are not copyrighted or trademarked (for the most part, and no other casino would want to copy the portions that are). Somebody could come in and sketch whatever he or she was interested in, or just memorize what it looked like and sketch it later. You can't prevent copying, as fashion designers see every year when knockoffs come out the day after a dress is worn at a runway show or Hollywood premiere. Furthermore, with the availability of tiny, completely concealable cameras, anybody who seriously wanted to photograph a piece of the interior of a casino would be able to do so with impunity, unharassed by security. It's only those of us who are casual and willing to be obvious about it that get hassled.

3) Could somebody be scoping out the place in order to plan a robbery, a la "Ocean's Eleven"? I suppose so, but the same considerations come into play as above. You can't stop a determined group of people from making their dastardly plans; you simply prompt them use other means, such as making sketches or using surreptitious photography.

If there are other possible justifications for prohibiting photography inside of a casino, I can't think of them.

Balanced against those pretty weak excuses is the ill will caused by stopping people from doing what they want to do, when it hurts nobody. People like to take pictures--especially people on vacation, having fun, visiting an unfamiliar new place. Hell, when they get home and share pictures of their trip with family and friends, and post them online, it's free advertising for the casinos. What's more, there are many attractions both inside and outside of casinos that seem like obvious invitations for visitors to take pictures: the Rio Masquerade show, the "dealertainers" at Imperial Palace, the "flair" bartenders you find all over the place, showgirls handing out flyers advertising the available entertainment, attractive young female dealers provocatively dressed (the Pussycat Pit at Caesars, the Pleasure Pit at Planet Hollywood, the Burlesque X girls at Flamingo, the Playboy bunny dealers at Palms), and so forth. Insinuating that people are doing something evil by taking photos alienates and annoys them for no good reason.

I wish the casinos would give up on this particular manifestation of insanity, and leave the craziness to the tourists, who pay for the privilege.

Guess the casino, #41

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Red Rock Station

Vegas pictures

While looking for something else entirely, I came across a collection of unbelievably gorgeous (IMHO, anyway) photos of Las Vegas here. It's really striking what somebody with an artist's eye and good equipment can do with places and objects that are the subject of millions of mundane photographs a year (mine included). Enjoy.

More about poker and porn stars

I'm spending the evening catching up on some blog reading, and came across Vegas Rex's story of playing poker with the porn stars. It's worth reading, if you enjoy that sort of thing. See here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Playing with readers

Tuesday evening I went out to dinner with a reader who wanted to meet me, and had a great time with it. We were at the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, so it was natural for me to proceed from there to the M.B. poker room. (My new friend is still something of a beginner at poker, and not feeling ready for no-limit cash games on a regular basis.)

As soon as I sat down, a guy at the other end of the table spotted me, identified himself as a reader, and started telling everybody about me and my blog--including the forewarning about any boards on which 2-4 would be a strong holding! It was all very amusing and flattering.

He joined other previous readers I've played with in expressing the worry that he'd do something stupid and have to see himself described in a scathing post here. The fear was groundless. First, he didn't do anything deserving of scorn. (I did take something like $100 from him in one pot where he had top pair with a good kicker and I had flopped bottom two pair, but that would have been hard to get away from.) Second, it's really not very often that I write posts about opponents playing badly; it's bad behavior that gets me riled up enough to vent here much more often than bad play. Third, I have a natural soft spot for my readers, and would be less likely to blow the whistle on something dumb one of them did in my presence than if the same thing were done by a random stranger.

But here's something I may not have mentioned before: When I know there's a reader at the table, I'm faced with the other side of the same coin. I never want to make stupid plays, but the dread of doing so is compounded by the possibility of being caught in the act by somebody who likes my writing. I feel the pressure to play my A-game as much as those of you on the receiving end of this-here blog, when we're sharing a table.

Fortunately, the cards mostly rolled my way that session, and I didn't do much of anything for which I need to fear being called out. I chalked up a $343 profit in 80 minutes, an hourly rate I'll be happy with anytime. My first hand in the big blind was A-K, two callers, flop K-Q-Q, $25 continuation bet found that nobody had a queen, and I took it down. Nice way to start. I also got A-A three times and K-K once in that short time there. Poker is all skill, you know.

I made one hero call. A very large pot had developed between me and the guy on my immediate left. It was one of the times I had aces in the hole. The flop had been Q-x-x. By his demeanor and the way he called my large bets on the flop and turn, I was confident I was ahead. But another queen hit the river, which I hated, because it was perfectly plausible that he had A-Q all along, and was suddenly ahead. I checked. He almost instantly declared himself all in, for his last $124. Ugh. The only tell I spotted was the rapidity with which he made that move. I thought that if he really had A-Q, he would have to take at least a few seconds to decide whether to push or go for a smaller value bet, as well as consider the possiblity that I had flopped a set and had just filled up. But I was not at all confident of that, because the pot was big enough that a smaller bet really wasn't much of an option. In the end, it just came down to pot odds. I calculated that I would only need to be right one in about three times for the call to be profitable, and the chance of him either bluffing with a busted flush draw or pocket jacks, or perhaps wrongly thinking he was ahead with pocket kings, was at least that high. So I called. He gave off a little wry smirk and looked at his cards again, reluctant to show them, at which point I knew I had it. He said, "Good call," and showed me A-K. Whew! Not only do I get the big pot, but I look smarter than I really am for the call, and avoid being thought of as somebody who is unable to tell when his aces are beaten.

But then again, I still might get that reputation from my last hand of the session, after I already had my chips in the rack. I got A-A for the third time. Never mind the details of the hand, but by the turn there were two kings on the board as well as a possible flush. I was playing to keep the pot relatively small, because it's so awful to lose a big one just as I'm preparing to leave--and besides, my opponent was a pretty tight, smart player, and I was out of position, so it was intrinsically a dangerous situation. Anyway, the turn went check-check. I checked again on the the river, which looked like a brick, and he bet $45. I convinced myself that he didn't have a king or the flush, mainly because he had checked the turn behind me, and surely he would have bet either of those hands there. But my focus was entirely on ruling out those two possibilities, and once I reached my conclusion, I stopped the analysis and called. Oops--I didn't even notice the straight possibility. I had given him the free river card that got him there. Rats. Oh well. These things happen, and, once again, the chance that he sensed weakness in my turn and river checks and was therefore either bluffing or value-betting a single pair lower than mine was, I think, high enough that the call would have been justifiable even if I had considered the possible straight.

I think my reader was away from the table for my biggest loss of the night. I gave away nearly $200 in a huge three-way pot with a new player who had replaced the one on my left (the one that I had caught in the big bluff) and the one who would later crack my last-hand aces. I had suited 8-9 on the button, so came along for the raise. The details have escaped me now, but I flopped an open-ended straight draw with no flush draws possible, and I was extremely confident that if I hit it would be good. At each step I rough-counted the pot, calculated the odds, looked at what my opponents had left, estimated what more I could take from them if I made my hand, etc., and decided that I had to stay in. It didn't work out, but even after watching the huge pot slide to the seat next to me instead of to me (he had K-K, and the other guy had J-J, so I was right about the outcome of hitting), I concluded I had played it within reason.

So, all things considered, I think I acquitted myself well enough to not worry too much about my reputation with one reader.

I packed up and left, intending to make a run at The Great MGM/Mirage Challenge, but got cold-decked at the Luxor, so gave it up and went home while I still had a net profit for the night.

As my new friend from dinner and I were parting before my night of poker started, he said that one of these days he'd be at the tables with me, and he'd be gunning for me. Well, to the extent that one specifically targets another player for personal reasons, it's always a mistake. But I don't think that's what he meant, exactly. I understood it to mean, "I won't show you any special mercy." That is as it should be, and as I would ask and want it to be. The reader sharing the table with me, in the middle of the one largish pot we contested, jokingly asked, when I raised him, "No mercy for a fan, eh?" No, sir. That's not how the game is played.

I've written before about the strange mixture of feelings that comes from playing a big hand against one of my readers--whether I win or lose--and nothing has changed since then. I think soft-playing is unethical (not to mention unprofitable), and I won't be doing it. But obviously I also won't be specially aiming to take down a reader. The poker gods present us with situations without regard for any sort of outside knowledge or relationship two players may have, and hands must be played similarly without such regard. So I say again: play your best against me, and I will be doing the same. However it turns out I'll be OK with, and hope you will be, too.

And if either of us does something monumentally stupid, let's agree in advance to just keep it between ourselves, OK?

Crying over spilled milk (and other beverages)

Last night I took my second shot at the $40 Wednesday night HORSE tournament at Green Valley Ranch.

I was the first one to take my seat. Then a woman sat down on my right. She had a beer in a large glass. She tried to set it in the table's built-in cupholder, but it was too big. It just sat precariously on the rim of the cupholder, in what was quite obviously an even less stable position than if it were flat on the table. As soon as she let go of it, apparently satisfied with her solution to the problem, I thought, "That's gonna spill, and it's gonna get on me." I almost said something to her about it, then suppressed it, thinking that I was going to have to be six inches away from her for a long time, and that wasn't a very friendly way to start things off. I hate being confrontational.

No more than 60 seconds later, she stood to take off her coat, and, sure enough, she managed to plop the whole thing into her lap. It was less disastrous for me than I had imagined, fortunately. I just got some splashed on my leg and on the chair. But still I had to take a few trips to the desk for tissues to sop it up. My friend Eric arrived just then, planning to enter the same tournament. I'm afraid I wasn't very good company, being plenty peeved at the moron who was sitting next to me and distracted by the task of trying to clean up just as they were getting ready to deal the first hand.

I mean, is this woman really so stupid as to not be able to anticipate what was going to happen with a full glass of beer perched in a manifestly unstable situation? Even if she has personally never spilled a drink at a poker table before, surely she has seen others do it. One of the benefits of a large cerebral cortex is supposed to be that in addition to learning from our own experiences, we can learn things to either do or avoid doing by observing the experiences of others. This is why we do things like buckle seat belts, even if we ourselves have never been seriously injured in a car crash. Maybe the woman I saw last night has had a lobotomy and has thus lost this capability, which evolution spent a few million years developing for us.

Look, I love it when my opponents drink. If you want to handicap yourself by voluntarily ingesting a chemical that will impair your vision, judgment, memory, and analytical ability, and then play poker with me, be my guest. I even grudgingly accept that drunk players occasionally toppling over their drinks in a stupor is a practically inevitable consequence of their excessive imbibing.

But this woman was, as far as I could tell, completely sober, having just received her first beer of the night. She can't write this off to alcohol-induced lack of coordination. No, it was just simple stupidity, an inability to foresee even the most obvious of short-term future consequences.

It's not that she's unique. Nearly every day I shake my head at the foolish obliviousness to blindingly obvious danger that some people exhibit--driving with a toddler in one's lap, sitting on the edge of the bed of a pickup truck going down the highway, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, composing text messages while driving, etc.

Oh, and while I'm ranting here, how about a dope slap for the casino executives who decided to have drinks served in glasses larger than the cupholders they have in their tables (or, to look at it the other way, who order poker tables with cupholders smaller than the glasses in which they serve drinks)? [Knocking on their heads like Biff in "Back to the Future"] Hello? Is anybody in there?

The annoyance of the whole mess is directly proportionate to how patently foreseeable and avoidable it was.


It has to hurt

In the original Star Trek series episode "Mirror, Mirror," several members of the crew get switched, via one of those frighteningly frequent transporter malfunctions, into one of the many parallel universes which is almost but not quite like our own. In this one, doppelgangers of our heros are on a ship identical to the Enterprise, except that they are all selfish, power-hungry, violent, and cruel. Oh, and they tend to wear goatees and/or have facial scars, sure signs of all that is wicked.

In this mirror universe, each crew member is required to carry a small device called an "agonizer." In case of infraction of the rules of military conduct, a superior officer will take the offender's agonizer, activate it, and apply it to his body for whatever length of time is deemed appropriate to the occasion, resulting in unspeakable pain being inflicted. For the most serious offenses, such as mutiny or assassination, the guilty party was put into the "agony booth," which we must assume was unfathomably worse than the little agonizer device. See here and here for much more than any sane person would ever want to know about these instruments. What you see above is the unfortunate alt-Pavel Chekov receiving his torture for having staged a failed coup on board the mirror-universe starship. Tsk tsk tsk. As Mirror Spock coolly notes, "The agony booth is a most effective means of discipline."

Yes, there is a poker connection here. I've had more than my fair share of cold-deck situations over the past week, and it has brought back to mind a bunch of painful memories. I remember keenly:

--the first time I drew to the low end of a straight, got there, and only then realized what a bad spot I had gotten myself into.

--the first time I flopped trips and lost it all to a guy who had flopped a full house.

--the first time I had a full house and lost it all to a guy who had quads.

--the first time I had an ace-high flush and lost it all to a guy who had a straight flush.

--the first time I misread my hand, thinking I had the nut straight, when I actually had nothing, and called off all my chips, only to be thoroughly embarrassed when I turned over my cards and saw what I had done.

There is something about the pain of these moments that sears them into our souls. Mike McDermott observes in a rueful voiceover in "Rounders":

In "Confessions of a Winning Poker Player," Jack King said, "Few players recall
big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with
remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career." It seems true to
me, cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I
can't stop thinking of how I lost it.

(Transcription taken from the page here.)

I recall that once when I was a small child my mother was preparing to do some ironing. The iron was standing idle on the ironing board. She was out of the room. I wondered whether the iron was on or off, so I did what seemed like the logical thing at the time: I reached out and touched its surface with my index finger. It was on. I cried, of course. When mom came to see what the fuss was about, and I told her that I had burned my hand on the iron, she asked, "Why did you touch it?" I thought that was the dumbest question possible. "I wanted to see if it was on." Of course.

It must have been somebody with a similar childhood experience who coined the expression, "Once burned, twice careful."

Some things do get better with time and experience--and some build-up of scar tissue. These days I am never as shocked at the kind of situations I listed above as I was the first time they happened. (Fortunately, I still haven't experienced the really horrendous beats--things like quads being beaten by a straight flush, or the low end of a straight flush being squashed by the high end.) Just the other day at the Rio I had 6-7 offsuit in the big blind, so I took the flop for free. I loved seeing it come 8-9-10, two-suited. I bet, got raised by the button. It was early in the session, so I was relatively short-stacked, and moving all in was a no-brainer. Of course I knew that it was possible he had one of the two hands that had me drawing nearly dead (7-J or J-Q). But on the other hand, he would raise me and be willing to call my reraise, probably, with any two pair or trips, and maybe something like a pair and flush draw, or a combined straight draw/flush draw, or even just the nut flush draw with no pair. It was not one of those situations where my all-in raise would get called only if I was beat. But this time he did, in fact, have the J-Q. The only way I could win was with a runner-runner flush or split the pot with a runner-runner J-Q, neither of which happened. Sigh.

The point, though, is that I have become considerably more callused to this sort of thing, and because I anticipated the possibility of being shown the nuts, it didn't stun me and send me reeling the way that those earlier stories did when they occurred. It's not that it doesn't hurt. It does. But my skin is thicker than it used to be, and I have learned to expect the unexpected. With anything short of the nuts, I'm braced to take whatever hit may come, and even with the nuts I'm mentally prepared to see my opponent turn over the same hand for a chop, when that is a possibility.

Before I started playing in real-money games online, I spent quite a bit of time with Wilson Software's simulator. It was, I suppose, useful in getting me used to the mechanics of play, and giving me some feel for what starting hands were likely to end up winners and losers, but I honestly can't remember a single hand I ever played on it. I think it's because none of them actually cost me anything. If I got knocked out of a tournament, I could say, "Oh well," and be in another one ten seconds later, with nothing lost--and nothing learned, I'm afraid, whether it was a bad beat or a bad play.

Simply put, if it doesn't hurt, it's a lot harder for the lesson to sink in. I'm sure there's some biochemical reason for that, related to neurotransmitters powerfully stimulating certain loci in the nucleus-of-whatever deep in the brain. But you don't need to know the physiology to recognize the truth of it.

Of course, the magnitude of loss it takes to inflict the kind of pain necessary for a long-term memory of the event to form will vary according to your means and past experiences. I remember reading a poker magazine story about Phil Ivey (probably in this issue of Bluff, which has an interview with him available online, but not the feature piece I'm remembering). His wife was just learning to play poker and was doing microstakes online. Phil came home on edge because he had had an unusually deep loss--a few hundred grand, as I recall. His wife was upset at her day, too; she told him that she had lost something like 70 cents, which is a lot when you're playing $0.01/$0.02 games. Talk about different pain thresholds!

Mike Sexton said it well during an episode of the World Poker Tour a couple of years ago, when somebody got knocked out of the final table on a one-outer: "If you don't like a little pain once in a while, poker is probably not your game, because as you can see, you're gonna get it."

Who needs an agony booth when you have poker?

Guess the casino, #40

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Answer: Binion's

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guess the casino, #39

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Answer: Sahara

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book review: Beat the Players

I just finished reading an unusual book: Beat the Players, by Bob Nersesian. He is a Las Vegas attorney who has carved out a niche representing people who have been (or claim to have been) abused or mistreated by casinos in various way, especially by casino security personnel. His cumulative experiences repesenting these clients have obviously given him a nasty taste for casinos and their security people, and that dislike pervades his book.

Most of his attention is focused on what he calls "advantage players," such as blackjack card counters. Obviously, such people have a much greater chance of having an unpleasant encounter with casino security than the typical tourist or local player who is just looking to get lucky. Casinos don't much like having the odds either reduced or turned against them, and Nersesian documents pretty well that they tend not to distiguish carefully between those who alter the game by perfectly legal application of skill and those who alter the game by cheating (marking or bending cards, using shiners, etc.).

Therein lies the problem. The author provides copious examples from trial depositions, police reports, transcriptions of surveillance video, and so forth, of security personnel, casino executives, police officers, prosecuting attorneys, and even gaming control officers who simply don't understand or don't care about the crucial distinction between cheating--a felony in Nevada--and taking smart advantage of the circumstances of the game provided by the casino--perfectly legal action.

He furthermore provides unequivocal documentation for at least a few cases of evidence being altered, destroyed, and suppressed by casinos in order to retroactively justify or cover up their illegal actions. In at least some cases, such conduct is at least tolerated if not out-and-out endorsed in subsequent review by the gaming commission and/or courts. It is not a pretty picture.

The book is marred, though, by several things. First is the author's inability to restrain his language. His sour feelings for the casinos make at least this reader question his objectivity. Second is the apparent lack of a good editor. Nersesian is not a horrible writer, but many sentences are awkward or unclear and could have benefitted from editorial oversight. Along the same lines, there is a lot of unnecessary repetition and wordiness throughout. Typographical errors abound.

Nersesian also shows some peculiar bits of thought. He seems to be the last person left on the planet who actually believes that the "lead" in pencils is literally lead, rather than graphite. On that basis, he concludes that possession of a pencil anywhere in Nevada may be a violation of the statutes governing lead (which were enacted to proscribe making of slugs to defeat slot machines). It's an utterly absurd conclusion, based on a simple misunderstanding of what an everyday object contains. That kind of dumb mistake necessarily makes me suspicious about the level of critical thought and research that he has applied to other areas.

A similar situation pertains to his repeated assertion that, while a casino has the legal right to detain a player suspected of cheating, it does not have the right to force such person to accompany security to a special holding area (the infamous "back room") while awaiting the arrival of police. But in an appendix he provides long excerpts from Nevada gaming regulations, and I learned that one of them specifically provides for exactly that. It's "Surveillance Standards for Nonrestricted Licensees," Standard 8: "The casino surveillance system...must possess the capability to monitor and record...the area of any security office or other room in which persons may be detained by casino security personnel.... A person is considered to be detained when the person has been detained by casino security personnel and confined in the casino security office in such a manner as to deprive him of the ability to leave voluntarily." In light of this, I can't figure out how Nersesian arrives at his advice to casino patrons that when they are told they are being detained they cannot leave the casino, but they can and should protest and resist being forced to the security office.

He has a whole chapter on the Griffin book. It is chilling to see how this company is frequently shoddy in how it collects, records, and distributes information about casino patrons--information that, absent a lawsuit, its subjects have no ability to know about, review, or correct. Somebody suspects you of being a card counter, you get entered in the book as a suspected cheater, that label gets distributed to all of Griffin's clients (which means basically all casinos), and there's nothing you can do about it, short of a defamation lawsuit.

There is a useful and interesting digest of many of the most important court cases involving disputes between casinos and their customers, as well as criminal charges of cheating, from both Nevada and other jurisdictions. As in most areas of the law, there are gray areas left, and cases that appear to contradict each other, and Nersesian understandably has to just throw up his hands and say, for some things, that it's impossible to predict whether a specific activity would be ruled to be legal or illegal. Fortunately, they are not things that anybody will do accidentally; they would require deliberate planning and attempts to exploit weaknesses in the game as presented by casinos. The casual gambler has little to worry about in this vein.

The only mildly interesting thing related to poker is my discovery that, by Nevada regulations, poker is a "card game," while blackjack is not. No game that is played against the casino is a "card game"--not that that really matters for any practical purpose.

From this book I learned a lot that I did not previously know about the statutes, case law, and regulations that govern gambling generally and casinos' interactions with and responsibilities to their patrons. However, very little of it will have any relevance to my life. Given my personality, my nearly exclusive use of casinos for poker, and my propensity to stay well clear of anything that might even look like cheating, all of my interactions with casino security personnel to date have been pleasant, nonconfrontational, and uneventful, and I expect they will continue to be.

But if you're a habitual card counter or you look for blackjack dealers with poor technique and try to sneak peeks at their hole cards, your mileage may--and probably will--vary. In that case, I suggest you pre-arm yourself with the relevant information and advice that Nersesian provides.

Guess the casino, #38

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Answer: Rio

Monday, January 26, 2009


Yep--another centennial post. It has been 35 days since post #1100, a rather short interval, largely because of slipping in an extra post nearly every day with the much-maligned (but also much enjoyed, all depending on your tastes) "Guess the casino" series.

Nothing important to add about this. Just needed to mark the minor occasion in my usual manner. It's an odd coincidence for this to occur the same day as Shamus puts up post #700. But he gives you quality; I just churn out quantity. :-)

Guess the casino, #37

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Answer: Sunset Station

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A little of the Divine

A friend got some free tickets to Bette Midler's show at Caesars Palace last night, so away we went. I'm not a huge fan, but she's OK. I have exactly one Midler CD in my collection, a "best of" sort of thing.

The show was all right, but not great. The filler to singing ratio was very, very high. Lots of fluff--kind of lame jokes (some old, some about current events), way too many remarks about how old she is getting to be (63), showgirls dancing around (strange sight of the night: 20+ showgirls in mermaid tails driving around the huge stage in motorized wheelchairs. Yeah, really.), and so forth. I'm sure she sang fewer than ten songs in the nearly two-hour show. There was nothing particularly terrible about the whole show, but nothing in it wowed me or made me want to go back and do it again someday.

The photo above is the same one that is on the $5 chips Caesars issued when Bette's show was announced. It always looks to me like she has a plant growing out of her head--especially when the picture is reduced in size to fit on a poker chip. I suppose it's supposed to be a showgirl headdress, but it looks weird.

Guess the casino, #36

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Answer: Mandalay Bay