Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guess the casino, #662

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

Answer: Luxor

Stratosphere stories

I played at the Stratosphere last night. There's lots of things not to like about this room, but the games tend to be much softer than average and it's one of the closest casinos to my apartment, so I go through periods of holding my nose and giving them some of my business. I'm in one of those cycles now, having played there three times this month so far.

Bluff, lose; big hand, lose

Soon after sitting down, it became obvious where the money was going to come from. Our table had a perpetual bluffer. He was burning through C-notes, repeatedly trying all-in bluffs and getting picked off.

I got lucky and twice made strong hands against him and had easy calls to make. Then, for what turned out to be his last hand of the evening, I called his pre-flop raise with suited K-J. Flop K-K-5. Ding! He bet, I called along with one other. Turn: 5. Although this gave me a full house, I didn't like it, because I thought it might kill the action. Fortunately, it didn't. He bet again, I called again. Third guy dropped out. River a blank. Fish bet yet again. I raised all-in, he called immediately. I showed the top full house. He flipped over A-A with a look of disgust.

You can just imagine this guy's level of frustration. He bluffs and bluffs and bluffs, desperately trying to win a pot with nothing, then finally, finally!, picks up aces, figuring that he'll get paid handsomely because of the table image he has developed, and CRACK!

He gave up and left the game. Sometimes it's just not your day.

Weird non-chop

I had an inexperienced player on my immediate right, as betrayed by his not knowing some basic mechanics of casino play. When the first opportunity to chop the blinds came up, I didn't wait for him to make the offer (which I think it slightly better protocol), because I thought he might not know about that option. I asked, "Do you want to chop?" He said, "I can't--I've got a pretty big hand here." And with that, he raised to $8. I showed him my 10-3 offsuit and folded.

He obliged my curiosity by tabling As-6s as he raked in his $2 profit, and said, "See? That's why I had to play it." There was not a hint of humor or irony in his voice or face or demeanor. He absolutely meant what he said.

Wow, dude--a suited A-6. Yeah, I can sure see how you couldn't possibly pass up a chance to play that.

I didn't say anything, but if a possible chop situation had come up again, I was prepared to explain to him that we were now committed to playing them all out, based on his precedential decision. As I've explained before, I'll either chop or not consistently with somebody, but I'm not stupid enough to agree to let the other player selectively choose whether to chop based on the strength of his starting cards.

I didn't get the chance to educate him on this point, however, because a few hands later I took the last of his chips with A-K on a king-high flop, and he left the table without another word.


Towards the end of my session, our game was joined by this gentleman:

He was in a wheelchair, obviously the subject of some sort of neuromuscular disorder. He had very limited strength and dexterity. But from some hiding spot on his wheelchair he pulled out the wedge-shaped wooden block you can see in the photo, and asked the brush for some Scotch tape to anchor it to the table and to prevent cards from jamming against its leading edge.

I was pleased with how nearly everybody reacted to his presence. The dealers made the small accommodation of carefully pitching his hole cards to the base of his ramp (which, by the way, had the words "Rock On" carefully engraved in script on its face), sweeping them away when he verbally declared a fold, and helping him with getting chips into the pot as required. Players, for their part, were patient about giving him the time he needed to slide his cards up the ramp to where he could peek at them before acting. Well, with one exception--there was an extremely surly Eastern European dude (when chatting with a friend who was standing behind him, the language sounded Slavic) two seats to his left who showed undisguised irritation at the delay, and routinely mucked out of turn rather than wait. Jerk.

I loved what I assume was the deliberate irony of this guy wearing a Superman shirt.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Guess the casino, #661

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

Answer: Gold Coast


My brother just sent me this scan of a picture taken of me with my two siblings when I was about four. Who would have guessed that a kid that cute could grow up to be such a degenerate?

For comparison, here's what we looked like a year ago at my brother's wedding:

Notice that I'm the only one who still has the same hairstyle 45 years later (even if there's a little less of it).

New computer

I just bought a new computer, thanks to Cardgrrl pointing out to me this good deal:

My current one is also an Acer laptop. I've had it for 4 years and 8 months, doing hard daily duty, and I have liked it. But it has been showing signs of age and possible failure to come. The case is cracked. The display has a two-inch vertical band that is lighter than the rest of the screen, which seems to be due to a wonky connection between the screen and the graphics card. The DVD player croaks sometimes. The battery no longer holds a charge of more than 10 minutes or so of work time--enough to shut down properly when the Nevada Energy blacks out the neighborhood, but worthless on a cross-country flight. It is subject to random crashes that are becoming increasingly scary, looking nearly lethal, and requiring more time and finesse to recover from.

It would be nice if computers sent an explicit message, like, "I'm going to die one week from today, so this would be a good time to shop for my replacement." But they don't. Which means that you have two choices: (1) Wait for it to die. This means frantically trying to do comparison shopping when you need the replacement now, plus the obvious problems trying to get precious files from old to new. (That's less of a problem for me, since I have both an external hard drive backup and Carbonite off-site backup. Kind of belt-and-suspenders, but it helps me sleep well at night.) (2) Buy a replacement when the old one is still functional, which means foregoing what would possibly be many months or even years of service from it. Given the age of the current machine, the amount of wear I've put on it, and the signs of trouble it is giving me, combined with my general aversion to risk, I think Cardgrrl is right that option (2) is wiser. I can take my time moving files and getting it set up and making sure everything works, while the old one is still holding in there, before I make the final jump from one to the other.

So now I'll have four times the hard drive space (though the current one is only half full, so it will mostly go wasted), a much faster processor, longer battery life, a card reader for my digital photos (no more hauling out the USB cable!), a built-in webcam instead of the clip-on one, a Blu-Ray player, and Windows 7 instead of XP. And it costs half as much as I paid for the old one. Seems like a worthwhile upgrade--maybe long overdue.

Palms reading

I had a good time at the Palms tonight. It's been several months since I was there, and I can't really conjure up a good reason why. It remains generally one of my favorite places to play, and I can't put my finger on what has made me pass it by for the last while. It has been so long since my last visit that they have issued at least five new chips (pictured above). Plus, I got lucky and collected a handful of older ones that have been missing from my collection.

Keepin' me wai-ai-ai-ai-aiting

It didn't start off well. I arrived at 5:30, and was put at a table with three others, anticipating getting a second table going soon. It didn't happen. Three people soon left the main game, and the three ahead of me got put in. But then it stagnated, and nobody was leaving. I ended up waiting 90 minutes before a seat opened up. It's almost unheard of for a table to go that long with nobody leaving, but it happened. I did a whole New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle (I usually carry one with me for just such occasions), plus read the whole new issue of Poker Player newspaper, caught up on Twitter by cell phone, and still had to twiddle my thumbs for a while before getting a seat.

There's a reason for this that I had no trouble identifying. Since I was last there, the Palms has added two incentives to keep butts in chairs. There is a weekly freeroll tournament, requiring just six hours to qualify. Plus, for every eight hours of play, you get a free ticket to their buffet, in addition to the regular $1/hour food comps. That's worth up to $25 or so (depending on when you use it), so effectively quadruples the food comp rate. The net result appears to be a substantial increase in locals punching the time clock.

I watched the table while I was waiting, and there were four players who spent as much time away from the table as playing. All were locals. Also, all were Asian, if you want to read something into that fact. One of them did the dreaded "walk around for an hour then come back and cash out without playing another hand" thing. It is so incredibly rude to tie up a seat when you're not going to return to play. I don't know what makes people think this is OK.

Unfortunately, the Palms has no mechanism in place to prevent people from abusing their giveaways like this. They are not clocked out for time away from the table, and there is no "third man walking" rule.

Management there has got to get a handle on this, or it's going to kill what I have usually found to be one of the most action-packed games of its kind in the city. It is incredibly short-sighted to let their games get nitted to death. The nits will not reward the room with long-term loyalty once the promotions go away; they'll just move on to whatever other casino is offering them the most freebies, having given the room a bad reputation as dullsville in the meantime.

Juicy Game

All that changed at 8:00 p.m., though. The nitty locals left and were replaced by action players. That's because I had unwittingly stumbled into the Thursday night "Juicy Game," a fairly recent new promotion. The regular $1-3 game gets modified: They change from 10-handed to 9-handed (for reasons that are unclear to me; I still prefer 10). They up the maximum buy-in to $1000. They add an optional button straddle, your choice from $6 up to all-in, with the button having last action regardless of how many raises have gone before.

These changes definitely get any game out of the gutter. It rapidly turns into LAGtown, and the pots build rapidly. It is high variance and not for the faint of heart. It will make a nit's eyeballs bleed.

I decided to get into the spirit of the game and joined in the button straddlers (though only for the minimum). Glad I did--I tripled up doing so once, after an UTG raise to $15, followed by every player calling, I screwed up my courage and shoved with 8-8, got called by the original raiser (he had A-J) and won the hand, including the dead money from the callers who all folded. Another time I doubled up by limp-reraising all-in to a button straddler after he raised to $25 or so. I thought he had nothing and was just trying to take the many $6 calls, but he apparently had enough of a hand to call me. My A-J offsuit won. I don't know what he had.

It's not the style of game in which I'm most comfortable, but I buckled my seat belt and made the best of it. I guess I did OK, because when I racked up to leave, I not only had a tidy profit, but got a compliment from the most aggressive player there: "You're a good player. Every time you were in the pot with me, I was scared!" I smiled and said, "That's the effect I was going for."

Sad news

While I was waiting for my seat, a bit of news was passed on to me by Linda, who now works at the Palms poker room, but whom I have known since my Hilton days; in fact, she was the first Vegas poker-room employee to greet me and learn my name, and her attitude was so welcoming that it was a major reason the Hilton caught my attention and affection early on as my poker "home." The news she gave me was that Annie died within the last several days. I know nothing more about it, the hows or whys.

Who is Annie, you ask? Well, Annie is one of the most colorful characters among the Vegas local poker players, a tiny, 50-something Asian woman with a propensity for swearing, dirty jokes, and inappropriately young men. If you've spent much time at the tables here, you've probably played with her. I have written about her at least twice: here and here.

Her style was Rocky McRockerson--top five hands and not much else. Frankly, it made it very easy to play against her most of the time, because she might as well have been playing with her cards face up. But it was sufficiently effective against tourists who hadn't figured her out, and she usually left with more money than she came in with.

The first time I tangled with her in a big pot, I got extremely lucky and cracked her A-A with my A-K after all the money went in on a king-high flop. I rivered a third cowboy, and thereby earned myself a tongue-lashing in her broken English for being a stupid luckbox. She didn't talk to me for a couple of weeks after that, she was so mad. But we gradually developed a mutual friendliness and respect in spite of that rough beginning.

One time at the Hilton, by fourth street there were three 8s on board, and from her body language and betting I was about as sure as I could be that Annie had the case 8 for quads. (She did.) But my two hole cards plus one of the eights and whatever the other card was (can't remember the details now) gave me an open-ended straight-flush draw. She eyed me quizzically when I called, which I did because she would absolutely have lost her entire stack to me if I hit (as anybody would in that situation). I missed. I asked her later if she would have been mad at me if I had made my hand and felted her. "No way," she said. "It's just poker." I laughed out loud, because I knew it wasn't true. I was never sure whether she was deliberately lying there or just had a horrendously misguided concept of how she reacted to bad beats, but everybody that knew her well with whom I shared that story agreed that she would have delivered a rant that would have put Phil Hellmuth to shame if she had lost with quads to a straight flush on the river.

I'm sad that I won't get to run into her at the tables any more. She was one of a kind.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nice start

I just started a razz tournament on Stars. Within the first few minutes, I managed to make three big hands against an opponent who either has no concept how razz is played or decided to spew off his chips and go do something else instead. Each of these three hands was played out with me raising at every opportunity, and him either calling me down or capping every street:

That's 23 big bets on the first hand, 14 on the second, 49 on the third. (The second hand was, as you can see, an attempted steal that just happened to break my way.)

Shortly after that hat trick, and after our fish went broke, I made a wheel and got called down on all but the last street, for another 7 big bets in the pot:

So 30 minutes in, I have more than doubled my stack (usually hard to do in a limit game) and zipped into the tournament chip lead. Now we'll see if I can hold on.


Sigh. Of course it couldn't last forever. Made final table, but out in 8th place (only 4 paid) after a series of four crushing suckouts.

Minor mystery/irritant at PokerStars

I continue to play a few HORSE single-table sit-and-go tournaments a week, mostly on PokerStars. I typically sign up for a $5, a $10, and a $20 game, and go with whichever one or two fill up first.

Something that bugs me every time I go to register is how the tournament lobby is organized:

Once you have clicked on "game" to sort by game type, the next level of sorting is apparently done by tournament number, which is a completely useless way of organizing things. You could logically make the next category of sorting either turbo/regular (because there are surely people who care more about that structure than the buy-in) or by the buy-in (because there are surely people who want, say, a $10 game but don't care much whether it's turbo or non-turbo). But sorting by tournament number--which is completely arbitrary and which nobody could possibly care about--makes no sense at all. In order to sign up for my three games, I have to hunt around for the right buy-in levels, while checking to be sure to avoid the turbo games, which I dislike.

Compare this to how Full Tilt has its tournament lobby:

It's perfect. The turbos are separate from the non-turbos, and within each category the games are automatically sorted into descending order of buy-in. It's clean, simple, logical, and as easy to navigate as it could possibly be.

Hey, PokerStars--why can't you do this as well?


Guess the casino, #660

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

Answer: Circus Circus

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuscany acting strangely

I received this flyer in the mail today. It has me puzzled.

It's not too strange for a poker room to close and then later re-open. It happened to the Hilton and the Rampart, for example (though both later closed yet again). I understand that the Tropicana will be opening a new poker room in December, two years after closing the old one.

But what's strange here is the timeline. I can't quickly find anything that tells me the exact date, but the Tuscany poker room closed only about two months ago. With the other examples I can think of (at least the ones that aren't just a temporary closing for remodeling or for moving the room), it was years between the closing and re-opening, enough time that the poker economy could plausibly have changed. It does not appear from this announcement that they have overhauled the room or moved it. (If they had, I would expect language about a "new" room, rather than the old one being "back.")

Nothing could possibly have transpired in the last two months that would make it a good business decision to not have a poker room then but to have one now. What did they accomplish by closing for two months? They gave their few loyal regulars a chance to find new places to play, so that they will have to build their customer base from scratch again.

I am forced to this conclusion: Either it was a bad decision to close the room in the summer, or it's a bad decision to re-open it now.

I have mixed feelings about the place. It's a horrid little room in terms of aesthetics and management and game availability. Their worst sin: Twice when I called asking if they had a no-limit game going, they lied to me and said yes, apparently hoping that either they would have one would be going by the time I got there or I would be part of a list that would start a game soon thereafter. But on the other hand, on the rare occasions that I have found a NLHE game going, the players just hand you their stacks. OK, not quite literally, but the Tuscany remains at the top of my list in terms of average dollars won per session. I'm willing to put up with a lot for the chance to get into that kind of game.

So I'll cross my fingers and hope that the planned resurrection works.

Guess the casino, #659

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

Answer: Aria

Poker gems, #391

Phil Laak, in Poker Pro magazine, October, 2010, p. 68, on discussing hands at the table.

If you spend your time learning and thinking about the game, what's the point in talking about it? It's like playing Capture the Flag, then having an open meeting about where you hid your flag and letting your opponents hear. Make it harder for them.... You don't need to impress friends or influence people and have them think you know poker. Your objective is to walk away with more than you started with.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not so Smart

I'm back from my trip to Utah.

I love my old Honda Prelude, but with 18 years and 171,000 miles behind it, I can't completely trust the old boy not to have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere, so I usually rent a car for these long trips. On three previous trips I've had a Toyota Yaris, a Toyota Corolla, and a Suzuki SX-4, and have been happy with all of them. The cheapest economy class is fine for me; my needs and tastes are pretty simple.

Well, maybe not quite as simple as Advantage Car Rental thought. This is their particular vision of an "economy" car:

That's right--it's a Smart car. I was surprised, because I didn't know anybody rented those. But I thought, what the heck. I've been kind of curious how they are to drive anyway.

This is one of those "It seemed like a good idea at the time" stories.

I can't remember the last time I drove a car this uncomfortable. Let me count the ways:

  • Harsh suspension--lowered and made harder still in this special "BRABUS" edition, which also adds low-profile tires to further degrade the ride (but look oh-so-stylish!).
  • No cruise control, combined with a heavy accelerator spring.
  • Non-adjustable steering wheel, combined with nearly non-adjustable seats.
  • Almost unpadded seats.
  • No armrest.
  • Terrible road and wind noise.
  • Car that gets catapulted sideways with every gust.
  • A shoulder belt that cuts across the neck (or at least did mine).
  • Seats that don't recline for a nap at a rest stop, because there's not enough space behind them.
  • An engine that hesitates badly on takeoff combined with an automatic transmission that lurches the car forward and back on every upshift, which together make acceleration to highway speeds a whiplash-inducing experience.

These features blend to make this the most awful, miserable, fatiguing highway cruiser I've ever been in. You remember how John Candy's car ended up in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"--roofless and on fire? I'd have rather driven that for 820 miles than this thing. Never again.

I honestly don't understand why anybody would buy one of these cars. No exaggeration here--I can't figure out what niche they serve, other than being able to park where nothing else will. Yes, they're good on gas. I got 40.1 mpg on this trip. But so what? I got 39.2 in a Yaris on the same journey, with far more comfort and far more room for extra stuff and extra people when you need it, for essentially the same purchase price. A Honda Fit would be comparable, with even more space. As far as I can tell, you're buying half a car but for full price. I just don't get it.

Would you like to guess how this vehicle's 70 horsepower, 3-cylinder engine did trying to keep up with the 75-80 mph speed limits going uphill in the Rocky Mountains? That's right--pretty damned poorly. That's about 35 hp less than either the Yaris or Fit, with no extra economy to show for it.

Just before I left for Utah, I had occasion to be reviewing the medical records of a woman who had been rear-ended by a oil tanker truck and was suing for her injuries. She had been in a Volvo. Here's today's piece of advice: If you're going to get rear-ended by a semi, do not choose to be in a Smart at the time, unless you like the idea of "Peterbilt" being permanently stamped into your backside.

I derived one other important conclusion from my trial of this brand: No matter how hard you try, you can neither look nor feel like a race car driver when you're behind the wheel of a Smart:

Here's what my favorite car magazine had to say about the Smart fortwo and the Brabus version.

Bonus section

As usual, the drive back was beautiful. I don't know how people make that drive without stopping to take pictures of the mountains. Today I got going earlier than usual, so didn't have directly overhead sun as on previous trips. Some light fog and low-hanging clouds combined for a rather spectacular display, the glory of which my little snapshots can only hint at:

Guess the casino, #658

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

Answer: Suncoast

Monday, October 11, 2010

Guess the casino, #657

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

Answer: Riviera

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guess the casino, #656

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

Answer: O'Shea's