Lately I find myself with all kinds of excuses to go to Vegas. This time, my girlfriend's 13-year-old son was leaving the state to see his grandmother, and sometimes the flights out of McCarran are cheaper than LAX or Ontario. Plus, my lady wanted to see a show featuring a "psychic and spiritual teacher" at the IP, which is not my thing. The plan was to go up there on a Tuesday night and take the kid to the airport the next morning. Then I'd play poker while she went to see the seer.
I played in two rooms I'd never seen before, so I took home a couple of souvenir chips because my girlfriend's son collects them. To get these souvenirs, I spend a lot of my time at the table searching through my chips, trying to find a pristine one. I find a good one, set it aside, then I accidentally put it in the pot during a hand and spend several more minutes looking for a new one. My opponents probably think I'm a lunatic.
LUXOR: I'd been here but never stayed here; I knew it was relatively close to the airport, and Expedia had a great deal on it. In my haste to book the room, I forgot about the bait-and-switch tactic used by many MGM-owned hotels: the resort fee. When I checked in, I was informed that I would have pay an extra $20 — yes, $20!
What is this 20 bucks for, you ask? For the privilege of basking in all the unique amenities of the Luxor, of course. It's totally worth it. I hear they even have a pool.
Of course we all know what the money is really for: It's for your room. They post reasonable rates on third-party sites like Expedia, and by the time you get to the hotel, you've already paid Expedia and it's too late to cancel. You're forced to pay the exorbitant resort fee, or walk away and forfeit the money you've already paid Expedia. In this case, the resort fee increased the price of my room by 50 percent. My first sick beat of the trip.
It was already after 11 p.m. when we arrived. I had worked an eight-hour day, packed and got the house in order, then drove three hours. I probably should have just gone right to bed and gotten some use out of my overpriced room without playing a hand of poker. But even though I've been to Vegas countless times, arriving there that first night still gives me a little spike of adrenaline that makes it almost impossible to sleep.
I headed down to the Luxor poker room, which was a morgue. There was a single 1-2 NL game and a 2-6 spread limit interest list with only one or two names. Luckily the Luxor is right next door to....
EXCALIBUR: I was surprised to see how busy Excalibur was at nearly midnight on a Tuesday, with at least two full tables of 1-2 NL and two more tables of 2-6 spread limit. The "room" is reasonably comfortable, despite being open to the casino and close to a karaoke lounge. The floor staff and dealers were quite friendly.
I took a seat in the 2-6 spread limit game, and the table was mostly full of tourists playing in the typical loose-passive style. But there were a couple of twenty-something guys who didn't fit in. They didn't look at their hole cards until the preflop action came to them. They seemed to handle their chips pretty well. And they displayed an important characteristic of people who might be decent at poker: They folded.
In low stakes limit hold'em, a person who plays tightly preflop sticks out like a sore thumb. These guys were tossing hands away left and right! One of them did not see a single showdown during the first 45 minutes; I saw the other show down at the river once, when he had the the nut straight.
In these games, I tend to think that tighter players are probably locals and looser players are probably tourists. Why? Because most people don't get on airplane and come to Vegas so they can sit down at a poker table and fold. Their time in town is limited, and they want to see some action.
When locals are sitting in low-stakes games, they're usually nut peddlers who are trying to collect a few bucks from the tourists while also racking up comp hours and maybe winning a promotional payout or two. They're pretty easy to spot. Because they fold.
I was sure these two guys were the locals at my table. When one of them sat down, he seemed to recognized the other and gave him a little head nod. They'd seen each other around town before.
At one point, one of them said something I couldn't understand; his voice sounded odd. Maybe a speech impediment? Poor guy. A little later he said something again, and it became clear that it wasn't a speech impediment; it was a British accent. I started to wonder if maybe this was some kind of regional Las Vegas dialect I'd never heard; maybe that's how they talk out in Henderson. ....OK, maybe not. But I figured if this guy was from somewhere else, he definitely lives in Vegas now.
After a while, one of them got up to leave and had a quick conversation with the other. And then I could no longer deny it. If these guys were from Vegas, they were from the Little Britain section of town (I think that's somewhere in Summerlin). Turns out one of them was from England and the other was from Wales; they just happened to meet each other during their respective "holidays" and struck up a bit of a friendship at the tables.
So my "tight local, loose tourist" theorem is not ironclad. Some people travel to Vegas to play good poker. Thankfully there aren't too many of them wandering around, or the games would really suck.
I played until about 3:30 a.m., much longer than I should have. I was slipping into delirium for much of the sesh, but I was lucky enough — and the game was weak enough — that I somehow came away with a $107 profit.
Don't ask me about notable hands because I don't remember any, except for one: I got pocket aces in early position, raised, and everybody folded. This got me thinking about Excalibur's aces cracked promotion. If you lose with aces, you get to spin a wheel. I'm not sure what all the prizes are, but you do win some cash (I think it's at least $25 and goes up into the hundreds). So as I was collecting my meager pot and throwing my AA in the muck, I started to wonder, "Should I have made a smaller raise? Or maybe even limped?"
I had bet $8, which is the maximum preflop raise in a 2-6 spread limit game. A smaller raise may have gotten me some callers and built a bigger pot for me to win. Or, if I lost, I'd be spinning that wheel. To really figure this out, I'd have to calculate the EV of a wheel spin and... Aww, screw it, I had AA and there's nothing wrong with raising.
That's the thing with aces cracked promotions and bad beat promotions; they can lead to weird thoughts and weird plays. This wouldn't be the last time on this trip that an aces cracked promotion messed with my head. Which leads us to....
IMPERIAL PALACE: The layout of this place makes me wonder if it was once an actual palace that housed an actual emperor. Makes sense, because it would be very difficult for an invading army to navigate the IP and find the inner sanctum. After taking 16 elevators, eight sets of stairs and six escalators, we found the registration desk (those numbers are approximate).
This was Day 2, after we'd seen the kid off on his merry way. Because the psychic show was at the IP, we figured we'd set up a home base here and see what kind of cheap last minute accommodations we could get, even though we weren't even sure we'd spend the night. As it turns out, I somehow had enough points on my Total Rewards card to get comped, even though I play nothing but poker. And because this is a Caesars property, there was no resort fee. In fact, the regular price I was quoted for the room was lower than Luxor's resort fee.
The room was quaint, to put it nicely, but you can't beat free. The IP is in the midst of a much-needed renovation, which may explain some of the difficulty getting into the place. I literally hadn't been there since the 1980's, when I was a boy and my parents took me there, so it was hard to tell what had changed.
I don't remember the "Dealertainers" from before. These are table game dealers dressed like celebrities who occasionally get up on a small stage and belt out the hits. While I was checking in, I listened to some very loud approximations of Tina Turner and Shakira songs, which was about the all the Dealertainment I could stand.
Like everything else in the IP, the poker room takes some work to find. It was on the second floor — or was it the third? — and it was dead quiet. My only choice was a 2-4 limit game, which was shorthanded for most of the time I sat in it. The staff and dealers were friendly and competent, and the room was comfortable enough. The only problem with the room was that there was hardly anybody in it.
Not long after I sat down, a 30-ish drunk guy announced that his phone battery was dead and asked another player (a random guy whom he didn't know) if he could borrow the battery from his phone. The drunk guy had no idea if the other guy had a phone like his (it was some off-brand piece of crap that I didn't recognize). The other player politely informed him that he had an iPhone and therefore the drunk guy's genius idea wouldn't work.
Later on the same drunk guy was trying to coach a young female player about strategy, which is priceless coming from a dude who three-bets preflop with 56o. He said something about three queens being the nuts on a given board, and I couldn't resist correcting him (bad idea, I know). He got annoyed and snapped, "I went to MIT." I find it hard to believe that an MIT grad, even when drunk, would think that you can take the battery out of some random unknown phone and put it in your own phone and expect it to work.
He later said that everyone at the table was "an open book," and he added "I'm trained to read people's faces. I can tell what everybody has just by looking at them." Maybe he also studied behavioral science at Harvard. Anyway, he made several genius plays and was soon felted. In any other social setting I would be happy to see him go, but it was actually very bad for the game when he got up. It dropped us down to five players for a while, and the remaining players were fairly nitty. The one true spewer was gone.
We were given a rake reduction when we were down to five but it was hardly worth it. Even a smallball limit player like me can't get excited about winning $12 pots. After a while the game got up to eight players, including an aggressive guy who was wearing scrubs (like he had just gotten off work at a hospital), but it still wasn't great. I suppose the only reason I stayed -- other than boredom and laziness -- was the aces cracked promotion. I am always a tiny bit annoyed by the guy who plays poker solely to chase a promotion, but suddenly I became that guy.
Losing with aces gets you $100 at the IP, which is far greater than any pot that had been contested in the game the whole afternoon. They only give it out five times a day, and there was one left. There has to be $10 in the pot and you have to go to showdown. I had failed to lose with my aces the previous night, and this was my chance for redemption. It was like a fun experiment: how can I play AA to maximize my losing potential?
So, a couple of hours into the sesh, I'm on the big blind, and I look at my cards immediately after they're dealt because I've lost all patience. And I look down at....
AA, black beauties. Now I only have one problem: How do I lose with them? It's not as easy as you think.
The grizzled old Marine to my left limps. OK, good start. Two folds and then the guy in the scrubs raises. DOH! Doesn't he know I need as many limpers to have as many chances to suck out as possible? Nice going, Doctor. The three nits to his left (including the SB) fold, and the action comes to me. Now, here's a decision: Should I raise? Or just call and hope the Marine is going to call as well and get his chance to beat me? I just call, Marine calls, and already one of the conditions has been met: We have $13 in the pot. Now I'll hope for a coordinated flop and I'll play really badly and then I'll... WHAT? AN ACE ON THE FLOP? WHY, GOD, WHY????
The flop is rainbow and uncoordinated; all I can really remember is that bittersweet red ace. So maybe it's not so bad. I'll check and hope somebody likes this flop. The good doctor is aggressive enough that he may c-bet. But both of them check behind. The turn is a card. Maybe a queen? Whatever.
So now I'm thinking I'll check again. If they check behind, they both get another free card, which is a good thing when you're trying to lose. If there's a bet I'll check-raise it and get some value in the very likely event that I win the hand. Marine checks and the doctor finally sticks in a bet. I raise and the Marine..... calls! Whoooo! He may have some kind of draw! The doctor folds and the river is a card. I remember that it put three to a straight out there, but no flush was possible.
At this point, playing to lose has turned me into a complete idiot: I just check the river. Obviously if he has anything fairly strong he's going to at least call, and if he has a straight he may put in a glorious raise! So why in the world did I check? Fear of winning, I guess.
He checks behind and turns over some sh**ty pair; and I drag the pot. I feel like a failure on so many levels.
Even with that win/loss with the aces, I still finished the sesh down almost $40. We got some dinner after she returned from the show, and it was only a short walk to....
VENETIAN: Since complaining about it in a trip report about a month ago, I've gone back to Venetian three times. So, yeah, I really hated it.
Seriously, though, one of my main complaints was the open feel of the poker room to the main casino. But as you read this, they have probably already started remodeling the room (moving temporarily to the Palazzo), so maybe that will be improved.
I keep coming back because they always have 4-8 going and the games are generally pretty good, though I've noticed a lot of tight-aggressive locals in the games from time to time. These aren't people who I assume are local and then they start speaking in British accents. These are people who I see every time I go there, either at my table or at one nearby.
Maybe the high volume of locals has something to do with the $2-an-hour comp rate, which is terrific. There aren't a lot of cheap eats at the Venetian, but the Grand Lux Cafe is outstanding for a hotel cafe and the prices are pretty reasonable. And I really like the fact that there are no aces cracked promotions, no bad beat jackpots, etc. A lot of players seem to think those things are free money, which they are not. A chip is going into that jackpot dropbox every hand, and the money comes from us.
Without those wacky promotions, nobody ever thinks about screwy ways to play hands. You just play poker. I played about an hour of 4-8, ran good and made a quick $80. I didn't get pocket aces during the session. But if I had, I would have known exactly what to do with them — raise.