A whole two weeks had passed since my last trip, and I was at it again during Fourth of July week. Bi-weekly Vegas jaunts aren't a normal thing for me, but my girlfriend wasn't able to go last time so we made up for it with a spur-of-the-moment trip. She wants to play poker someday but she's still a little too timid, so sometimes she's content to hang out in the poker room and sweat my action. She also doesn't mind shopping for a few hours while I play, and she doesn't go crazy with the spending. As I told you in my previous TR, I've run good in life.
I visited some of the same rooms as last time and came away with slightly different opinions, and I also played in a couple of rooms I'd never seen before. Here's a room-by-room breakdown:
SOUTH POINT: We stayed here, and it reminded me why I like to stay at an off-Strip hotel. Not only are the rooms cheaper, but you also avoid things like $20 resort fees, $8 beers and $25-per-person lunch buffets. If you have a car while you're in town, staying off The Strip is a no-brainer: You can go experience everything The Strip has to offer without being trapped there. Even if you don't have a car, South Point makes sense because they have an airport shuttle and a Strip shuttle.
South Point has a fairly big and comfortable poker room offering primarily low-stakes action. I have played the 1-2 no-limit and 2-4 limit cash games there a few times in the past. On weekdays, the player pool tends to be pretty local (read: tight). They're not exactly sharks but they're not going to spew.
South Point is home to one of the strangest poker room promotions I've ever seen: A free lantern. Like the kind you take on a camping trip. I'm not sure how you win it; I think it's a drawing. I noticed this on my previous trip (mid-June), and it appeared that there were only two lanterns left behind the counter. On this most recent trip, I failed to follow up and see if those lanterns had been given away to two lucky winners yet. So if you're only planning to play at South Point for the prospect of winning a free lantern, you might be sh** out of luck if you don't get there soon.
On my last visit I won the 2 p.m. $60 tournament, which is essentially a shove-fest. I made roughly $600 for about three hours of work. I played it again this time and made minus-$60 for about 20 minutes of work.
I bought in late during the second level with blinds of 50-100 and a starting stack of 4,500. The levels were 10 minutes. After a couple of preflop raises and unsuccessful c-bets, I was already teetering over a cliff. Before I knew it the blinds were 200-400 and I had 1,600. I should have shoved with anything before I even let myself get to this point, but the stacks are so shallow and the levels are so fast that it's hard to comprehend how much trouble you're in, especially for someone like me who hasn't played a lot of donkaments. I finally went all-in with A8o and got called by A9o. I lingered just long enough to make sure the board didn't help me and hit the road.
Strip, here we come.
MGM GRAND: Limit hold 'em is my game of choice, but it's slim pickins for a limit player in Vegas these days and I've been making occasional forays into NL. The MGM, with it's never-ending supply of inexperienced tourists, seemed like a good place to do this. There was a single 2-4 limit game going with two names on the list, and at least six 1-2 NL games with a dozen names on the list. By the way, last time I was pretty harsh on the MGM for moving the poker room. It's still in the sucky new location, but a dealer confirmed that the move is temporary.
They started a new 1-2 NL game and I was sitting relatively quickly. I bought in for $200 and steadily grew my stack to well over $300. About an hour into the session I'm sitting there thinking, "Why don't I play no-limit more? It's easy money! I bet good hands for value and they call. I bluff in the right spots and they fold. I'm having my way with these foo…HOLY SH** I JUST LOST MOST OF MY STACK!"
Here's how it happened: I'm under the gun and look down at JJ. I raise to $10. I don't have too good of a read on the guy to my immediate left, other than he seems passive. He's got $220-ish behind. He calls and everyone else folds. We see a flop of A-J-8, all hearts. I bet $15 with my set of jacks into the $23 pot and he calls. Turn is the 4d. I bet $40 into the $53 pot and he calls. River is a black king. I bet $100 into the $133 pot, he raises all in for like $60 more and I call.
He turns over… pocket kings.
I was too busy vomiting into my cupholder to see if he had the king of hearts, thereby giving him the nut flush draw in addition to his two-outer with the kings. I could have done some things differently on this hand, but nothing that would have changed the painful final outcome. I suppose I could have shoved earlier or made massive overbets on the flop or turn to get him to fold. But I don't really want him to fold, theoretically speaking.
I took a looong break, then lost another $120 in unspectacular fashion: Raise a good hand pre-flop, miss flop, c-bet gets raised and I fold. Limp with a speculative hand, miss the flop by a mile and check/fold. Bet the flop with air, get raised and fold. Everything that worked earlier was no longer working; I'd lost my confidence and I was getting tired. I walked away a $240 loser, with the donkament loss bringing me to a nice, round minus-$300 for the day.
BELLAGIO: I'd played at Bellagio last time and loved the atmosphere, so I figured it was the perfect place to erase the pain of my NL failures and get back to my limit hold'em comfort zone on Day 2. I ended up wasting about an hour without ever sitting in a game.
Allow me to digress for a quick travel tip for newbies. If you have a smart phone and you play poker in Las Vegas, you need to download these two apps: AVP and Bravo Poker Live. The AVP app gives you the same information as the website in a much more phone-friendly form. The Bravo app gives you live updates directly from the electronic Bravo systems in the rooms, such as what games are running, how many tables of each game are running and how many players are on the waitlists.
Of course, many rooms don't use Bravo or don't stream their information to the app, but that's where AVP comes in handy. It tells you what cash games and tourneys are regularly spread and provides the phone number for each room so you can call to see what's going or put your name on the list. It also links you to AVP room reviews so you have some idea what you're getting yourself into if you've never been to a certain room before. Together, these two apps can drastically reduce the number of wasted hours during your Vegas trips. You'll spend less time sitting in bad games and less time waiting for good ones.
I mention this in the Bellagio section because Bellagio does not allow you to make good use of either of these apps. Their information does not show up on the Bravo app, despite the fact that they apparently have Bravo screens. And you can't put your name on the list over the phone. You must sign up in person. It's even worse for 4-8 and 10-20 (the two lowest games they offer) because they don't use the electronic waiting list AT ALL for these games. The list is a piece of paper on a clipboard. This is how it was the first time I came, and I thought maybe there was something temporarily wrong with the system. When it was the same thing the second time, I started to feel unwanted. It seems like they won't deign to put the names of the low-limit riffraff up on the screen.
When I showed up there were at least eight names on the list for 4-8, there was only one game going and there was no hope for a new game because it looked like every table in the house was in use. I hung around for a while before hitting the road. Time to call a room that allows call-ahead waitlisting and actually seems to care, at least a little bit, about 4-8 players.
VENETIAN: By the time I got to Venetian I had a seat waiting for me. Despite my issues with this room, Venetian seems to be the only reliable option if you're going to play 4-8 on The Strip. Seems like they always have a game going. I also enjoy the free coffee station, which supplies real cream and milk instead of the powdered bird feces you get elsewhere.
I'm still not a fan of the must-move (read my last TR for more on that), and I still don't love the atmosphere, but that is supposedly going to change very soon. According to a dealer, the room will be renovated at the end of the month. She didn't go into too much detail about exactly what will change, but she said they will definitely get new tables and chairs. I hope they can make it feel less open to the main casino (without hiding it, of course) and improve the lighting, which seems a tad dim. She said the room would be moved over to the Palazzo during the renovation.
As for the poker, I was playing in a game I knew I could beat. There was just one problem: I was playing like an insane baboon. Loose calls on the flop, hopeless check-raises on the turn, stupid bluffs on the river, you name it. I think I was desperate to put the previous day behind me and was trying to force everything. My genius plays combined with a few tough beats put me in a $150 hole. I tightened up and played pretty well over the last hour of the session and made a half comeback, salvaging a $75 loss.
Time to spend some quality time with my ladyfriend and consider quitting poker forever.
MONTE CARLO: Quit poker forever? Crazytalk. It was a new day, our third and final day in town, and I was ready to play. Based on a recommendation from AVP'er Dap Poker (aka Dave), I decided to try the Monte Carlo. I was not disappointed. The room is small but well-appointed in dark wood paneling, gilded crown molding and portraits of lords and ladies gambling. The staff is absolutely terrific; they treat you like an old friend.
They offer a 2-6 spread limit game (you can bet or raise anywhere from $2 to $6 at any time). I used to play spread limit at Buffalo Bill's in Primm years ago, and it can be a great game when your opponents are loose-passive. When you're behind, they often don't bet the max, allowing you to draw cheaply. When you think you're ahead, you bet the max and punish them.
When I showed up on a Friday afternoon, the game was certainly passive but not as loose as I would have liked. A lot of seniors, a few of them local, just seemed to be killing time. I stole plenty of little pots but I couldn't win any big ones because I couldn't get anyone to call. Later on, the game got a bit younger when a couple of slightly nitty local TAGs showed up. Not the loose-passive types that can make a spread limit game really profitable.
In the early evening a burly 50-ish guy with a beard and a bass-fishing T-shirt sat down and folded before the flop a couple times. Then he called a preflop raise and folded to a flop bet. He folded another hand and then announced, "I'm done." He got up, gathered his $50 or so in chips and said "The cards just aren't fallin'." He was there for maybe 15 minutes. A real grinder.
The cards just weren't fallin' for me either, and I would have had yet another losing sesh if it wasn't for one relatively ginormous pot:
I limp for $2 under the gun with QT of spades. Four other people limp behind and the action comes to the small blind. He's an older gentleman who's not afraid to throw in a preflop raise but seems to play fit-or-fold after the flop. He raises to $6. The big blind, his wife, folds. I call, all the other limpers call and we have $38 in the pot with a flop of:
Wrong color, but I'm open-ended. I have eight outs against a made hand, the non-heart aces and nines will give me the nuts and I'm getting 7-to-1 on my money if the SB bets out, which he quickly does. I call and two others call to put a total of $62 in the pot. Turn is:
Yahtzee! SB fires again, and here's where I have to make a decision that's worth thinking about for a second: raise or call? There are two people behind me. With this two-tone board, at least one of them is likely chasing a flush. They could also have some kind of made hand; a pair or maybe even two pair or a set that they played passively on the flop. The bettor probably has some kind of monster: a set or possibly AK for two pair.
I am vulnerable to a flush or a boat coming in on the river, but does a raise protect my hand? Nope. My raise to $12 would put $80 in the pot. The player to my left is then getting 6.5-to-1. If she calls, the player to her left is getting 7.5-to-1. I think both of these players are decent and aren't going anywhere with flush draws, let alone sets. The only stuff they're folding to a raise is marginal stuff that I'd like them to call with. I have the nuts, so of course I'd like to get money in the pot. But if I raise, the worst-case scenario is that both people behind me fold, and the original bettor just calls. Then his aggression is blunted on the river and he just check-calls if he doesn't improve to a boat. Raising may actually win less money than calling.
So I call, they both call (yay!) and we have $86 in the pot as we see..... I don't even remember the river card. As soon as I see that it's black with just a few pips on it (three of clubs maybe?) I know I have the stone-colds. SB bets out again. At this point, pretty much the only thought in my head is "I have the nuts and there's no way I'm not raising the river!" I raise and both people behind me fold. The bettor calls and turns over JJ for a flopped set and I drag a $110 pot (minus rake).
I lost a chunk of that back when I flopped two pair and lost to a rivered straight, but I left with a $42 profit. Whoopty-doo, but I at least had one day in the black, which was enough to lift my spirits as we headed home.
PRIMM: Our Vegas trip was over. But for Californians, that's not the end. There's a couple more opportunities to stop along the 15 Freeway and gamble it up before you leave Nevada, the last of which is Primm, a place so close to the state line that they used to call it State Line.
I did some painstaking research (Wikipedia) and learned a few things I hadn't known before. A fellow named Pete MacIntyre owned a gas station at State Line in the 1920's. He had a hard time making money selling gas, so he resorted to bootlegging and became known as Whiskey Pete. He died in 1933. Another dude took over the area in the 1950's and built a Chevron gas station in addition to a lunch counter and a small slots casino. In 1977 a developer named Ernest Jay Primm built a casino/hotel there and called it Whiskey Pete's in honor of the old bootlegger. Today there are two more casinos, Buffalo Bill's and Primm Valley. The area was renamed Primm to avoid confusion with a place in northern Nevada called Stateline.
We stopped and ate at the Denny's in Buffalo Bill's as we were driving home Friday night, and afterwards my special lady suggested I play a little bit of poker before we get back on the road. You don't have to tell me twice! We walked toward the Buffalo Bill's poker room and … nothing but slots. Apparently the poker room has been closed since last year, maybe longer. The workers didn't seem to know for sure. But they said there was still poker over at Whiskey Pete's, which I hadn't visited since my mom and dad took me there to see the Bonnie and Clyde death car and bought me a hot dog sometime around 1986. Up for an adventure, we decided to check it out.
Whiskey Pete's is literally as old as I am, and I doubt there have been any major upgrades or renovations since 1977. It's dank, dark and depressing. The place was dead at 10 p.m. on a Friday. In one corner of the casino was a bar with a band playing barely recognizable renditions of classic and contemporary rock songs. In the other corner was a McDonald's and an empty cafe. We wandered around for a while and couldn't find anything resembling a poker room. Finally as, I walked in the direction of the McDonald's, I heard a funny sound rising above the din of the slot machines and guitar solos. It sounded kind of like the the riffling of poker chips, but it was much more metallic and clanging. At the end of a row of table games was a pair of roped-off poker tables. But instead of chips, the players were using silver dollars.
I went to the floor man, who actually appeared to be a pit boss for the table games in addition to his floor man duties, and he sold me a rack of silver dollars. The weight nearly broke my wrist when he handed it to me. My girl sat behind me and sweated my action during this short sesh, which is a good thing because I honestly don't think she would have been safe wandering around that place alone.
I made a whopping $19 in an hour of 2-6 spread limit; there was really nothing notable other than getting AA and having it hold up unimproved with two callers to the river. The competition was not exactly formidable, but I would warn beginners not to play here. Anyone who sets foot in a place like Whiskey Pete's is a gambler. That doesn't necessarily mean they're any good at poker, but they're not going to be a total noob.
The staff was reasonably polite and professional, and it was pretty cool to play poker with silver dollars. But I doubt I'll ever come back.
The band was tearing into an awful version of the White Stripes song "Seven Nation Army" when one of the players at my table asked another player about the food at the cafe next door to the McDonald's. "It's not too bad," the guy answered, with a hint of surprise in his voice.
In the grim world of Whiskey Pete's, "not too bad" is about as good as it gets.
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