As I left the MGM, I heard Miami Don's voice behind me.
"Otis, I think your luck just changed."
I couldn't help but believe him.
We walked across the catwalk and into New York, New York. There appeared from nowhere one Shane Nickerson. He bought me a beer for no other reason, apparently, than I was standing in front of him.
It made me believe Don even more.
Despite laying a spirit-breaking beat on Scott at the MGM, I was beginning this Saturday (it was now after midnight) with the belief that I owed nobody anything. Friday had been a massacre, the kind of gut-wrenching fast-fuse day that barely gave me time to wonder what had happened.
Now, I was walking across the other catwalk to the Excalibur, a place I had once vowed to never enter again. Although the hotel had comped me three nights, I didn't feel like I owed anything for the stay. To that point in this trip, I had given the house no action and wasn't sure I'd find the time to.
And yet, there lingered a debt that I couldn't help but forget. I had vowed to play one Pai Gow session with Maudie. As she was among the small cadre of bloggers holding up the Sherwood Forest bar, the time felt as right as any. However, by the time we reached the Pai Gow tables, every seat was full.
Undeterred and bouyed by changed luck, I went on a short walkabout. I landed in the Excalibur's high stakes pit. Unlike most fancy holes, high stakes didn't mean much here. The betting limits here were in line with the regular pits in other casinos. After confirming with Maudie, Grubby, and BadBlood that a quarter a hand was okay, I locked us up four seats at the High Stakes Pai Gow table.
That's when the oddest thing happened.
We put our money on the table and started getting our chips lined up. I noticed a female pit worker and started chatting her up. I figured it was as good a time as any to start working on steak and eggs. Not surprisingly, what with this being the high stakes pit, I didn't get much of a response from the lady.
"Are you having a bad night?" I asked. "Everything okay?"
She didn't indicate anything in particular, so I chose to indicate that we four Pai Gow ruffians would try to brighten up her night. There entered a male pit boss who, rather unprovoked, looked at me with disdain and no small amount of aggression and said, "She was talking to me, not you."
I barely even knew what it meant, let alone knew how to comprehend a pit boss coming in from nowhere to speak to me like a bouncer in a redneck bar. I told myself that, regardless of winning or losing, the guy had ruined this particular Pai Gow adventure for me.
Salvation came in the form of a call from Joe Speaker. Across the way, he and Betty Underground were preparing to depart their Pai Gow table and were good enough to lock up four seats for us. By the time I arrived, Underground had draped herself across three seats in an act of supreme kindness.
Our new seats secured in the low stakes area, we sat down and continued to bet big. It started off poorly and we received an early drubbing from a group of bloggers at the Let It Ride table. Note to all Pai Gow players: There is nothing worse than losing at Pai Gow when your friends have managed to find a way to win at Let It Ride.
With an quick IV drip of Greyhounds, however, we began to win, win, and win again. I slipped into a sort of zone that is now more familiar than exciting. Of course, you wouldn't know it by reading Pauly's account. He wrote:
Otis was betting heavily. He had gotten comped at the Castle for his excessive Pai Gow binges and he was pushing the action. At one point, he won a sick amount and jumped up while pounding on his chest.
"This is why I'm great at this game!" he screamed.
Again, I found a way to double my not unsubstantial stack. I had almost decided it was time to call it a night when again appeared one Shane Nickerson.
Nickerson had been fully involved in the Let It Ride embarassment and I wasn't sure I could trust him anymore. Though he had bought be a beer earlier, his antics at the Let It Ride table cast some suspicion on his dedication to the Pai Gow cause. He was reluctant to sit, but he did.
As I introduced him to the finer points of the game--bonus bets, Greyhounds, dealer interaction, and taunting other tables--I started to notice a light in his eyes. There is a point in every player's career in which it is clear that he gets it. When Nickerson looked up and said, "I can't believe I haven't been playing this game all night," I was nearly certain he was about to become part of the fold.
Before I knew it, he and I were the only people left at the table. We checked our watches and did the math. If we quit soon, we would be able to get a few hours of sleep before the tournament at 3pm. We set our hard out and placed a few more bets. My stack still looked very impressive and I laid down one final bet. I was sure Nickerson was going to act in kind. When the hand was over, I colored up (I enjoy little more in a Pai Gow game than getting purples when it's time to color) and said, "I'll meet you at the cage."
Nickerson mumbled something and nodded.
I walked across the casino floor, cashed in my chips, and wrapped the bills around their friends. I stood for a moment and waited for Nickerson. When he didn't appear after a couple of minutes, I walked to the bathroom. When I came back, Nickerson had still not arrived.
Thinking I had, perhaps, missed him, I started back toward my room. Along the way, I came within sight of the Pai Gow pit. Sitting in the middle seat where I'd left him was one Shane Nickerson.
I nodded to myself and smiled.