In the time it took me to leave my bed Thursday morning to the time I went to bed Friday morning, I nearly could have driven from G-Vegas to Las Vegas. Thursday night, as I sat in the one-seat at a Pai Gow table, this fact didn't occur to me. In fact, very little entered my mind except for the probability that I would own the Imperial Palace before morning and that my wife might be a little curious why a pretty Asian girl was shoving her elbow into my back.
Beyond that, it was all noise.
Very happy noise.
I wasn't in Caesars poker room for five minutes Thursday afternoon before I heard someone say, "hammer."
She was a thin Asian girl sitting at the first table inside the door. I couldn't put her on being a blogger immediately, but the word set my sights. As I waited to be called for my seat, I kept an eye on the girl and watched her play. By and by, she raked a big pot with garbage cards after picking up a couple of draws and finding her outs. In the back of my mind, I knew it must be the Black Widow of Poker. Later, I'd discover I was right. Later, I'd discover the Black Widow was one dangerous bitch. Still dreary from a long flight, big lunch, and dirty martini, I didn't pounce. I let her rake the pot and went about my business.
And what business might that be?
My last trip to Vegas had been one in which I couldn't lose. I killed the Pai Gow tables, I killed the poker tables, and I did well in tournaments. Resting somewhere near the base of my brain was the belief that I couldn't repeat the magic weeked and knock out another big winning weekend. I sat in a cash game for an hour before the 3pm tournament started. I followed my brother, Dr. Jeff, to the cage to cash out. I never saw it coming.
Sue, the cashier, took my chips and said to her co-worker, "Oh, this is Dr. Jeff's father!"
I took a quick breath and stared at the lady. It hadn't been three months since a pit boss on the Strip had made the same insulting mistake. The age difference between Dr. Jeff and me is not a full four years. Sure, I have graying hair and a few early onset wrinkles, but gimme a break. I stared at her for another couple of seconds before stealing a look over my shoulder. There stood Dr. Jeff smirking. Bastard had greased the cashier.
With chagrin in my lungs, I started toward the tournament. Despite a illness that was refusing to fully present itself, I felt oddly optimistic. I felt sure of myself and capable of beating the ugly structure. And I should've. There was nothing except me keeping me from making the final table. With 18 players remaining, I let hubris get the best of me. I ignored a 100% dead-on read and crippled myself. I stood up and wondered what in the hell I had just done. What's more, I couldn't help but watch the sense of fearless optimism run out of the poker room, through the sports book, past Pure, and out into the middle of the Strip. There it died a horrible death under the wheels of a rolling escort service billboard.
Maybe things weren't going to go as planned after all.
The plan was simple. Play poker during the day and have fun at night. By the time the tournament was over and I had donked off a little more money at the cash game, night had fallen, Marty had arrived in town with his happy-happy-no-sick medicine, and I had decided it was time to stop with the poker.
Maybe you don't know this. Maybe you are the high-on-the-hog type that refuses to indulge in the cheap and sickly side of Vegas. But, when it's closing in on 10pm and your feel a little hungry, stepping into the back of O'Shea's and grabbing a giant, nasty burrito from the food court is one helluva a cure for tilt.
That's what I did.
Tilt monster sated, I wandered into the IP. It smelled like money that had been buried in old soil with something dead. Its noise was half-hearted and just gearing up for the weekend, but half-deep into the fray stood a well-juiced clan of poker bloggers. They were all that was keeping the place from simmering to a death juice demi glace.
I bypassed the hookers and kept my hand on my roll. I didn't plan to do anything but sit at the bar and drink. I didn't plan to gamble, rage solo, or lose myself on the first night of what was sure to be an epic trip. I don't even rightly recall how I ended up in the one-seat of the Pai Gow table. All I remember was someone muttering, "Jesus, Otis," as I put my five hundred bucks on the table and put out my first bet.
At one point during the weekend, someone asked me why they never see me play Pai Gow in a respectable hotel. In fact, I have. I have played many an hour at the Rio. I play the same game with the same limits, but the results are never the same. To properly play Pai Gow, I have to be somewhere that is on the verge of implosion, a place that not only doesn't look with disdain on a $25 bet, but appreciates it. What's more, when than $25 bet turns into a $150 bet, they pay attention. It's not about how much you win or lose. It's about the steak and eggs. Further, when you stand on the rail of your chair and scream Pai Gow as loud as you can, security doesn't come and ask you to keep it down.
I remembered Angela the Pit Boss from the year before. She is a surly yet attractive blonde. She growls and roots against you, but does it in an endearing way. Just when you think she is ready to 86 you for something, she'll sneak up behind you, steal the cards from the table, and set your hand as a winner.
I recruited a good starting table that included some of the best Pai Gow players around. Marty, Dr. Jeff, Gary C., and the Pai Gow Princess made up the starting line-up. Over the course of the night, we'd be joined by Al Can't Hang, BadBlood, Pauly, and others. I, however, was in my own world. It seemed every bet was a winner. Nothing could cool me. Nothing could dampen my spirit. Even when BadBlood took a tour at the roulette table and won, I was not disheartened.
As focused as I was, I started to note a crowd forming around the table. Instant Tragedy had arrived and was sweating my cards. I was sure that nothing could bring me down from the Pai Gow vein mainline high. Then, Al got it in his head that he was bad luck. I don't even recall why he thought it. All I know is that there was suddenly a pretty Asian girl giving me a rubdown.
I went comatose.
The lack of sleep, six pack of Greyhounds, and adrenaline rush from the Pai Gow table suddenly turned into a smooth trip to sleepyville. I can only remember three things from that ten minutes.
1) Asking, "Hey, what is your boyfriend going to do if he sees this?"
2) Seeing flashbulbs and thinking, "I will really have to explain this to my wife."
3) Hearing the Black Widow of Poker say, "Al, how much longer do I have to do this?"
Apparently Al convinced the Black Widow to use her Asian massage techniques on me to pay me back for whatever bad luck he thought he brought me. I looked at the two stacks of green chips and thought, "Bad luck?"
I tried to tip BWoP for her services, but she refused. It would become a recurring theme in the night. Nobody would take my damned money. When I tried to slide $20 to Angela the Pit boss, she slammed the chips on the table and showed her palms to the camera.
"No money," she said.
"Well, then how am I supposed to take care of you?" I replied.
"Gifts," she whispered.
"Where in the hell am I supposed to find gifts at this hour?"
"And what the hell am I supposed to buy there?"
She paused in the same way she had several times throughout the night when I asked a question I shouldn't.
"Blow-up man. And some toys."
Later, I went to the gift shop for a pack of gum, but couldn't find anything that suited Angela's whims.
"I'm trying to round up $100 to get Betty to ride Garth around the casino," he said.
I reached into my pocket. That would be worth the price of admission just to see the look on Garth's lady's face. Underground, however, was having none of it. Again, no one would take my damned money. I went back to my table and reflected for a moment on what was happening.
There were a few dozen people turning the Imperial Palace into the biggest party on the strip. Though Pure popped and Drai's was still about to get down, the poker bloggers were in town and moving en masse. By ourselves, we were creating more noise, bedlam, and action in this rundown hotel than the rest of the gamblers combined. It was a sight to behold, these kindred spirits from all over America and Canada (not to mention the Irish, Aussies, etc.) ramming and jamming with every ounce of their being. They were people who would never have met, but for silly internet friendships made over the love for poker and writing. It was, in short, perfect.
It was also the last happy moment I would experience for the next 18 hours.