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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

March 17, 2004

jk's vegas sojourn

by Staff

I just got back from yet another weekend in Vegas with the buddies. Seventy-two vodka and sodas, 43 hours of poker, 12 hours of table games, 3 comped hotel rooms, 3 buttermilk chicken wraps, and 1 tournament final table later, I'm back and survived to tell the tale.

I got into Vegas Thursday night around 9pm, on the recently re-added nonstop on America West. Finally America West seems to be once again taking competition with Southwest seriously for the Austin-Vegas route, so prices have become more reasonable lately.

I went out to meet several of my college and gambling buddies for one of our several-times-yearly weekends of gambling, drinking, check-raising and general carousing.

After getting in, I headed over to the MGM Grand to check in to my room and got situated. I dropped off my bags, and changed into my first poker outfit of the weekend – my "You have no outs" t-shirt and my ridiculous green poker visor.

I was hoping the Las Vegas tram would be open, but the system is still in testing and now not scheduled to open until April 1, so I cab over to the Bellagio and meet up with the three of my buddies who are the early arrivers for the trip. We go put our names on the poker list, two of us for 15/30 and the other two low-roll it up on 4/8. Play some pai gow poker while we wait and end up $101.50. HOT.

I sat down at an absolutely awesome 15/30 game in the Bellagio poker room. Two things have happened since the last time I was in Vegas: I've gotten better, and the 15/30 players have gotten worse.

The table was a loose, gambling table where most flops were seen 4-way or more and any two cards were good at the showdown. I started up the trash talk by directing players to the 1-5 seven card stud tables after they lost showdowns, which served to liven up the table even more. Fellow check-raiser and world-class stud player "JZ" was at the table with me, and the banter was lively.

I played a pretty good number of hands and was winning handily after a couple hours. Here's an example of the types of hand action that we were seeing at the table:

I'm sitting on the button with JJ. Action goes call, raise, fold, fold, call, fold, fold, I call, SB calls, BB folds, UTG calls. Flop comes A48. SB bets, UTG raises, raiser calls, next player mucks, I muck, SB calls. Turn and river come 8 and K, both rounds go bet-raise-call-call, and UTG and SB end up splitting the pot with A6o and AQo! No idea what the third player was in with.

My one memorable loss from the evening was in a 6-way flop that came Q55 and was checked to me on the button holding 33. I put out a bet and was smooth-called by JZ holding Q5o... after demonstrating his abilities as a passive preflop calling station and ultra-aggressive post-flop any-two-worth-a-three-bet play, he was due for one payoff from me, and he got it there.

At the table we ran into an old friend we used to work with and play cards with in Austin, who apparently has been honing his play because he was significantly better than he used to be. By about 5am myself and him were the big stacks on the table with $1350 and $1100 in front of ourselves, respectively. Around then, 2 of the table loose-maniacs busted out, and were replaced by 2 well-rested, showered, rock-looking players. Probably should have been a warning sign, but I kept playing - and guzzling down vodka sodas - right down to about 7:30, by which we were 4-handed. I had been treading water, but got involved in two rough heads up pots which I got thoroughly beat on for about $150 each. I decided to call it a night/morning, and ended the session +$414.

Friday morning we woke around 11am and hit the Bellagio. I felt like complete, hungover, unrested, ass, not a good omen for the tournament at 5pm. But into Noodles, and one dim sum lunch and thirteen glasses of water later, I was feeling top of the world. After lunch I went to the poker room to register for the tournament, but to my dismay the tournament was already sold out and they were onto the alternates. I wouldn't normally take an alternate position – I think they're terrible value compared to sitting in the beginning of the tournament – but the Bellagio tournament was the big tournament that weekend so I took 15th alternate position and signed up for some 15/30 to warm up.

While we waited for our seats at 15/30, we settled into some pass-the-time $50 blackjack in the double deck pit outside the poker room. First, a small diatribe about continuous shuffle blackjack – I avoid it wherever possible. Why? Have you ever noticed that continuous shuffle machines have a small optical sensor on the card dispenser, right at the correct position to read the index of the card being dispensed? Can you think of a good reason to have that there, other than the machine keeping track of which cards it's dispensed – and therefore which are about to come back into it and be reshuffled into the machine? Neither can I. It freaks me out. If the purpose is just to count the cards being dispensed, they could easily do that without an optical sensor at exactly the position of the card index.

Anyway 30 minutes of blackjack later and I was up $165 and ready for my seat. JZ convinced me to finish the last few hands of the shoe. I reluctantly agreed. I had streak-bet up to $100 a hand, and the next hand got blackjack - $150, followed by $150 11 vs 7 double win, followed by $250 20 vs 17 win and the end of the shoe, a $700 wait that was well worth it!

My seat was ready and I settled into another nice, loose 15/30 game. I took notes on two hands during this brief session before the tournament.

I get dealt AA in middle position, raise into an uncalled pot, player to my left re-raises, called by both blinds, I call. Some players would criticize not three-betting in this position for value, but the way I had been playing in that session, three-betting would have cried AA and I think the marginal value of post-flop action outpaces the pre-flop value of a raise, which was certainly not going to knock any of the three players out. Flop comes 345 with two spades. Check to me, I bet, re-raiser calls, SB folds, BB raises, we both call. Next card comes off the 9 of spades. Check to me, I bet, my left raises, BB calls, and I muck my hand. I don't have a spade and am sure one of the two players had a spade draw on the flop. The last card comes off the J of spades, the BB check-raises and the player to my left flat-calls with the A of spades while the BB shows 25 with the 2 of spades!! I nearly puked when I realized how terrible my fold on the turn was – I hadn't been playing for long enough to realize how truly terrible the two players were. I mean the player to my left flat-called with the nuts, after being check-raised by the lowest possible flush! I was relieved that the last card came off a spade, because if I had seen a showdown where ace-high got beat by two 5's I would have been on pure aggression tilt for the rest of the day.

Next hand from this session: I got KJo in the BB. The terrible player friend to my left raises and gets five callers. I call and we have 7 to the flop. Flop is 459 rainbow. I check, player to my left bets, and everybody calls around to me. I figure, OK, worth a loose jerk, throw in three reds and the next card comes a J. I check, and the action is checked around. River is another 5, but I get the sense there's not one player with any pair other than maybe a baby pocket pair. I bet and everyone folds to the button, who raises. I think, guess I was wrong, and call him down. He flips over 72o – the hammer – for a stone cold bluff and I take down a pretty nice pot with top pair!

I ended the short session before I got called for the tournament up a few bets, but feeling relaxed and ready to bring my game. I was the 15th alternate and got called about 40 minutes. The crazy thing is there were 57 alternates signed up -- who would take being the 57th alternate?! By that point you begin the tournament with a stack that's about 60% of the average chip stack, it just makes no sense. Even taking 15th was hard for me to swallow.

I love the structure of the tournament – 40 minute levels, reasonable starts and increases in blinds, plus a nice overlay from all the alternates coming in short-stacked. I found the players to be decent but not nearly the caliber of WSOP play.

On my first table I was seated to the right of a very tight-weak player, who let me milk his blinds at just about every opportunity. I had no really playable hands for the first three levels (2 hours), so ended up just blind stealing with absolute garbage. By the end of three levels we were down to 100 players from 157, meaning all the alternates were in the tournament. I had worked my way up to $2550 in chips entirely from stealing blinds, and had been at a low of $1350.

After the break I saw this hand. Blinds were 100-200, UTG raised to 600, button re-raised to 1200. I was in the SB and looked down at AKo. I think one of the biggest holes in my game that I've patched up is playing AKo in positions like this where I'm already looking at significant represented strength. My new NLH tournament self made an easy fold, UTG called for a heads up flop. I kicked myself when the flop came K96 rainbow, until UTG went all-in and was called, flipping up pocket 9's against the button's pocket 6's!

My poor run of cards continued, but my good run of successful blind stealing did too and by the time we made it to 200-400 levels I had worked my way up to $3700 in chips when I got into this hand. It's folded around to one off the button, a chronic blind-stealer, who makes it $1500 to go. I'm in the SB and see JJ and move all-in. He calls me and flips up AQo. The dealer deals the flop and as he flips the cards in the air I see the top card of the flop is a sweet J! Unfortunately, when he spreads them, I see that the other cards are T9 giving my opponent an open ended straight draw. Luckily the turn and river come A5 and I double through.

A little later, my table breaks and I get re-seated to the left of the first poker personality I recognize in the tournament, Tomer Benvisitsi. I was somewhat surprised that I didn't recognize more players in the tournament, but I guess it doesn't draw them week-in and week-out. Tomer busted out as soon as I sat next to him so I didn't get a chance to play with him. Next time Tomer. By this point we were down to 58 players and I was still sitting on about $7k, feeling OK about my chip position but better about my play, which despite having almost no good hands had managed to build a respectable stack.

My table broke very quickly after I sat down at it, players were dropping like flies. I got reseated in the corner. We were down to 41 players when I got my this hand. I was dealt KK under the gun. Blinds were still at 200-400, and I still had about $7k. I made it 1200 to go, and was smooth-called by the player to my left, who I hadn't seen much of. His stack was slightly smaller than mine. The flop came A94 rainbow. I bet out 2000. He thought for a bit and just called me. The turn came a T. At this point I thought he either had something like AT and I was dead in the water, or he had made middle pair on the flop and figured me for something like pocket 8's. I also realized I had overcommitted myself on the flop and really should have gone all-in if I was going to make that bet, so I compounded my mistake by going all-in on the turn. Once again, he thought for a bit, and then called all-in and flipped over A5o. I was dead in the water, and kicked myself doubly because before the flop I had told myself to check and fold if the flop brought an A. No help came on the river, and I busted out a few hands later in 41st having to go all-in before the blinds hit me.

I was bummed for my terrible play on the last hand, but felt good about how I had played up to that point. I am definitely going to play in that tournament again next time I go out.

I met up with my friends and tucked into three things that cheer me up: a buttermilk chicken wrap from Sam's Snacks, heavy consumption of vodka-sodas, and a little trash-talking casino war. Yes, it's a stupid game involving no skill and huge house edge. But making war jokes with friends and dealers is fun. It also proved to be a very easy way to drop $100.

I went back to some tipsy 15/30 at a much tighter table than earlier, and managed to blow a couple hundred while I waited for a spot at the 2/4 no-limit game.

The Bellagio very recently changed their $100 max buyin 1/2 no-limit game to a $200 max buyin 2/4 no-limit game. On Friday night, it looked like a very lively game, and the list was a MILE long. Maybe longer than I've ever seen a single game list. I got a seat in about two hours.

The game was really lively, with a lot of loose aggressive types, including myself. I was already somewhat drunk, and managed to cultivate a very maniacal table image without losing any cash. It's nice to get into a NL game and go crazy early, but get enough good hands that you at least break even by the time your wild man image is firmly embedded in the minds of the players enough that they're due to pay you off.

Unfortunately, I never really got to the payoff part. Or I did, but did not get a payoff J My first big hand, an aggressive player made it $15 to go UTG. Two callers, and I'm on the button and look down and see KK. Sweet lord, I'm not going to allow myself to get killed twice in one day by KK! I make it $85 to go. UTG re-raises all-in for another $115. The other two players get out. I call, and to my terrible dismay see my opponent flip up AA. Yikes. Rebuy!

About two hours later, I've built my $200 rebuy stack up to $450, and then drained down slowly to $300 when I get into this hand. I'm in the BB. Mid position player calls, his left raises to $15, button calls, I look down and see KK. "Redeem thyself!" I mentally shout at my cowboys and raise to $50. Limper folds, the other two call and the board comes down Q93 rainbow. I check to the raiser, who thinks for a beat and makes it $50 and I instantly put him on AQ. I had been playing with him for about four hours and was sure he would have either thought longer and hollywooded it up with a set, or checked with a set or a mid pair. The button folded, and I raised him all in for $200 more. He instacalled and I felt good when he flipped over AQo. I'm a 4:1 favorite, until an ace falls on the turn. No waiting for the bad beat in this town!

That day will live with me as the day I was killed by cowboys; in the three times I played them, I got busted out of a tournament and taken for $500 in a 2/4 no-limit game. Coincidentally my net for that session at 2/4, which lasted until about 7am, was just under -$500 :(

I headed back to the MGM and got a solid Vegas four hours of sleep. I don't know what they put in the air there but I need some for my house. We woke up at 11am recharged and ready to go to the low-roller tournament at the Orleans.

Of the eight of my buddies out in Vegas, only me and one other have any real tournament experience. But the $73 buyin at the Orleans was low enough that I convinced 5 of them to enter with me. Fueled by Fatburgers and caffeine, we were ready to roll.

After registering, we realized that I had made a terrible mistake – it wasn't a no-limit tournament, it was a limit tournament! Huge error. I don't mind long-level limit tournaments like they play at the WSOP, but I *hate* short-level limit tournaments, and we were looking at 15 minute levels for a 135 person tournament. It also had $5 bounties for busting out players, another thing I hate since the bounties don't really give an incentive to bust out players more than already existed and just shrink the prize pool. Still, it was too late to de-register, so I took some nice trash-talking and berating from the friends, sucked it up, and got ready to play.

I hated the structure of the tournament. 15 minute levels are insane, especially when half the field is 65+ with a one arthritic hand minimum. Play started slow, we got $375 in tournament chips (rebuy of $600) with the levels starting at $10-20. I think in limit tournaments, you should start with at least 20-30x the initial big bet, and the blinds should not more than double every two levels of no less than 30 minutes. They get pretty nutty pretty fast when that's not the case, but hey that's just me. I can still play at that level, it just turns mostly into a game of swooping in and picking off short stacks who have been forced to go all-in.

The tournament started fairly uneventfully. Two of my friends had the dubious honor of being among the first ten to bust out, but I was staying alive. Playing tight and waiting for good spots. Unfortunately, they weren't coming very quickly. I was getting blinded down and not getting much opportunity to make good plays. I found that my stack had dwindled down to $375 and I was looking at $50-100 blinds after just under two hours of play. I was getting desperate.

I was sitting on the button, UTG raised with two callers. I looked down and saw AT of clubs, and decided to make a stand. I re-raised, and all three called. I had just $75 left so was ecstatic when the flop came down: ATT! All checked to me, I bet and got all three to call. UTG ended up having a mid-pocket pair, another player with ace-baby, and the last with a baby pocket pair. I quadrupled up to stay alive.

A while later, I had played very few hands. The levels were 100-200 blinds. I was dealt AT again, this time offsuit, on the button with about $1200 in chips. All folded to me and I made it $400 to go, called by the BB. The flop came AT3, another AT miracle. I was check-called until I was all-in and he flipped up A8o, giving me the winner and a nice double-up.

I was still short-stacked, but so was most of the field. I didn't keep track of how many players were left at what points, but I kept just below the average chip stack for the next few levels. I managed to make some nice increases at the hands of baby stacks, and keep treading water.

Before I knew it, we were down to 20 players left and I was still alive, but precariously short-stacked. By this point the blinds were at about 400-800 and I probably had 3000 in chips. I selectively stole the blinds, and won a few hands outright, but mostly was playing raw survival limit poker. It was tough. JZ made it to the second last table with me, but ended up busting out in 17th position. Meanwhile I treaded water, watching others bust out and just managing to stay alive.

The tournament paid ten spots, and everyone obviously knew it. Play got excruciatingly tight when we got down to 14 players left. I was in an absolutely terrible position; I was the second or third lowest chip stack, and the three players to my left were all among the top five chip stacks! My options for blind stealing were extremely limited, and I was facing sudden death at any time.

My chip stack dwindled further, but so did others; I went all-in a LOT of times during this period, mostly when facing sudden death in the next round of blinds. I survived my way, sputtering and choking, down to 12 players with the blinds at 1000-2000. I had 3000 in chips left and knew that I was going to die very soon. Worse yet, there was only one player with a lower stack, and she was behind me so I'd hit the blinds before her. Then, all of a sudden, a miracle – one of the mid stacks at the other table walked into a monster, but so did his opponent! A larger stack bustout and we're down to 11. I still have to best this woman, who was becoming my nemesis. Every time I thought she'd bust out she managed to squeak a win. In her defense, she probably thought the same about me.

With the BB about to hit me, and the action down to 6-handed, I was looking at being bubble boy. My buddies were all on the sidelines, cheering me on – the only peanut gallery there. I managed to double up playing A8 from early position, making it through another round of blinds, when I heard those two sweet words from the other table: "ALL IN". Play stopped at our table as we watched the action, which was fine by me because it meant more time until I got nailed with the upcoming BB. Sure enough, another mid stack busted out, and I jumped out of my chair and hollered. Both me and the other chip midget had made the final table! My buddies went nuts and did their best European soccer impersonations.

We got over to the final table, and although I was still in the money, things were looking grave. The blinds were at 2000-4000. I was a close contender for chip midget with 8000 in chips; the woman had 6000. Nine of us were sitting at the final table, ready to start the action; the tenth, who happened to be chip lead, had run to the bathroom.

I was calculating the odds of me making 7th instead of 8th when one of the players at the table spoke up and asked if everybody just wanted to do a 10-way split. It would equate to $746 each, which was between 4th and 3rd in terms of prize money. I usually hate deals, but this was the sweetest one I had ever been offered! I did my best reluctant buyer impersonation, and to my amazement all the players agreed! I couldn't believe it.

Well, almost all the players. Mr Big Stack was still in the bathroom. He came back and everyone was all smiles and speaking at once, getting him to agree to the deal. He said no, but one of the guys quickly said, "how about we all give you $20?" and he instantly agreed! I literally jumped out of my chair and screamed for joy. And then instantly realized that maybe I was acting too happy – which I evidently was, because the player to my right, who also had a large stack, said he didn't want to do the deal and just wanted to play it out! I was mad at myself, and the dealer started dealing out the first hand of the final table. Some of the players called over the floorman, though, and he said the deal was made since everyone had agreed to it at the same time. Sweet poker mama in poker heaven giving me a poker payout I was happy! I had been looking at $200-300 for 8th-10th and instead walked away with $720. Awwww yeah.

Saturday night we celebrated with dinner at Shintaro in the Bellagio, my favorite restaurant in the world. If you have never been there, go there. They have a $75 tasting menu that is absolutely amazing. Also if you have the tasting menu they will seat you on the balcony, which has four small tables and the best view of the fountain show you can get. They have a new chef and the tasting menu wasn't the best I've had, but one of the courses was mini deep fried shrimp in a chili sauce that we all agreed was the best shrimp we had ever had anywhere.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, which is my way of saying I was too hopped up on vodka-sodas to take notes. I played a drunken Saturday night of 2/4 NL at a very rocky table that was the polar opposite of Friday night and got sha-moked; I got reamed at pai gow poker, then won an assload in blackjack, then lost an assload in blackjack, then won an assload in pai gow poker, then lost half an assload in blackjack. I sat at a 30/60 table but after one round realized it was the scariest table I've ever played at in Vegas, including the table at the WSOP where I was sitting between Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Cloutier and Allen Cunningham. The players all seemed to know each other and kept looking at me and licking their lips and trying to cover me with olive oil and barbecue sauce, so I decided to move back to 15/30. I played poker until 9:30am, and so Sunday was mainly spent in a state of extreme tiredness. We ate breakfast at America in NYNY, which I have an inexplicable affection for, I slept a few hours at my friend's room in the Venetian.

My flight back Sunday night was not until midnight, so I hit the 15/30 tables again but immediately realized I was way too tired to play effectively. Instead, I frittered away the last few hours of my trip playing an assortment of pai gow poker, pai gow tiles, and blackjack, and getting somewhat smeared to the wall by all of them.

I made it back into Austin while the sun was rising, exhausted and ready to fall into the arms of my lady friend. And plan my next trip to Vegas :)

Celebrity sightings: there was a large 10/20 NLH game going at the Bellagio the whole time I was there. Chip Jett and Phil Gordon played in it. Chip Jett played through at least 18 hours straight, maybe more. Cris Carter (the wide receiver) was there, playing 20/40 omaha and getting killed, and then later I saw him jump into the 10/20 NLH game for a few hours. I actually put my name on the 10/20 list just to buy in for the minimum ($600) so I could make jokes to Cris Carter about catching cards, and to say I had played cards with him, but by the time I got called he and the other poker personalities I recognized were no longer in the gaqme. I also saw Phil Ivey, Mike Laing, Johnny Chan, and I think Can Kim Hua. Troy Aikman and Marshall Faulk were wandering around the casino but not the poker room. All in all, a great trip…

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