Friday, April 03, 2009

Fish in Vegas and L.A.

C'mon get in the pot, fish Work sent me on a trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to do some data collection. Vegas was Tuesday, L.A. was Wednesday. Wrapped around this was a vacation day Monday and a buffer day yesterday, which gave me quite a bit of time to splash around the poker tables.

End result: up $123 in Vegas, and up $86 in L.A., for a net of +$209.

Before I left, I took a look at the reviews of the Vegas poker rooms at, and after sorting them by the weakness of the competition, made myself a to-do list: hit the soft poker rooms at MGM , Venetian , Bally's , Fitzgerald's , Bill's , O'Sheas , and Sahara .

I also planned to play 25¢ roulette at the Gold Spike, play video poker at The Palms , play Sigma Derby at MGM , visit the Pinball museum , and see Watchmen .

I got less than half this list done.

My plane got in two hours late on Sunday, at about 10:00 p.m. My luggage didn't arrive until the next day -- it took a detour to Washington, DC.

I took a shuttle to the Sahara, and tried the $20 trick at the front desk. For my $20, I was able to upgrade from their el cheapo $20 room to their top of the line ($39) premium room for 3 nights. The clerk also gave me a $10 off café coupon. Cha ching! I dropped my bags off in the room, then headed down to the poker room.

The Sahara's an old hotel -- according to their stationery, they're 55 years old -- and the place really oozes the retro mafia vibe. That's not a bad thing. The poker room is a good-sized 16 table affair, with some ugly fluorescent lighting and tournaments going on around the clock. I sat down at one of the only two non-tournament tables going, a $2/$4 limit hold 'em game. Strangely, there was only a single $2 blind. Players were as weak as promised. A couple hours later, tired, I headed back to the room $96 richer.

The next day, Monday, was my vacation day. I slept in until about 8:30, had a leisurely breakfast at the counter of the Poodle Dog-like Caravan Café, then hopped the monorail to pick up my rental car from Wynn. Sad thing is, the monorail doesn't get close to Wynn, so it was a long (but enjoyable) meandering stroll back up from Harrah's. I hopped in the car and drove downtown.

The Gold Spike, where I'd wanted to play 25¢ roulette, was further out of downtown and dingier than I expected. Parking was inconvenient, so I never made it there. Instead, I wandered into the Fitzgeralds poker room, but they didn't expect a game to get started until noon. I donated $20 to their slot machines, then wandered down Fremont Street to El Cortez, and when I saw that they also had roulette for a quarter, I was in. Yes, that game has lousy odds -- it's my weakness. I justify it by telling myself that it's a slow moving game, so the loss per hour is way less than most other games in the casino. I played 20 spins (about an hour), leaving $5 poorer than when I came in. Next stop: MGM.

Sigma Derby: Go, plastic horse, go!Sigma Derby is the most-loved game of the listeners to the Five Hundy By Midnight podcast, and consists of five mechanical horses racing around a cheesy plastic track every 90 seconds or so. It's one of the only coin-op games I saw the whole week, and at 25¢ a wager, it's worth every cent. The Low Roller in Sin City blog has some more good photos and YouTube video. The only remaining Sigma Derby machine is at the MGM, and I pumped $10 into it. Good times.

I then went to the MGM poker room and played a $2/$4 limit game, with blinds of $1 and $2, as it should be. The poker tables at the MGM are, physically, the nicest tables I've ever played at. Better than the Bellagio. Better than Wynn. Yeah, they're that good. The padded rail of the table has cup holders built in. There is a three-inch wide ring of marble around inside of the the rail, which smooth, cool, and super-flat -- a great place to stack chips. Some players complain it makes their chips slide around, but I didn't experience that. The raised, padded felt has a thick, bright yellow commitment line. In addition to the standard auto-shuffler, each table has a networked computerized display that allows the dealer to let the brush know when a seat is open, to call the floorman, or to call for drinks. The same system is also used for their player's club members to check in and out of a table. The only problem is the players are a little better than I expected; I left ahead only $5 after two hours of play.MGM Tables: Rich, corinthian marble

Back to the hotel room, and my luggage arrived. A quick shower, and I headed out again, first grabbing dinner at Chipotlé (thanks, Cha Cha), then on to the Bally's $3/$6 limit game. The poker room there is right on the casino floor, next to the craps and roulette tables, so it gets a lot of players who think, "hey, I've seen this game on TV, I should give it a try." I like this a lot. The room felt a bit disorganized -- the brush added me to the wait list, told me it'd be about 30 minutes, then called me back about 45 seconds later to point me to my seat. The players are wild. The noise from the band makes it hard to hear the dealer. Bit I played a couple hours and left $54 richer, so no complaints, really.

I wandered over to the Bellagio fountains and watched them twice -- one Rachmaninov piece, and one Elton John song (which I mis-Twittered as Manilow). Then to the Mirage volcano, which was down for repair. Next stop: the Venetian. I looked in on the poker room, and saw that there was an extensive wait list for their low limit hold 'em games. I dropped $1 on their slots, wandered back to the poker room, and decided that since it was after midnight, I should probably head to bed.

I woke up early Tuesday morning, and drove to the location for my 10:00 meeting south of town, arriving at about 8:15. Having almost two hours to waste, I grabbed my first breakfast ever at Sonic (quite good), then drove to the nearby Green Valley Ranch casino, and on their Star Trek slots, won back the $1 I'd lost at Venetian.

After the long day working, I dropped off my gear in my room, then headed to Treasure Island. I'd read a discussion on that they tend to have a low limit game running after 6:00 every day, and had a new bonus-spin wheel when you get a specific hand. I signed up on TI's list, but after two hours of waiting (and losing $20 in their slots), no game had started, so I headed back to the Sahara and played until 10:30, winning $23. A quick dinner at the Caravan Café, then off to bed.

Wednesday morning came early. 2:45, to be exact. I have a 6:00 a.m. flight to catch to L.A. The flight, the drive, and the arrival was uneventful, except that I was an hour early for my 10:00 a.m. meeting. Another long day working, finally getting out of there at about 6:30 p.m.

I checked into the Holiday Inn (under heavy construction), and then drove over to the nearby Hollywood Park casino. Worst. Casino. Ever. Imagine a high-ceilinged airport waiting area. Not a nice airport, though; think of LAX before they did any remodels. Add the scent of hundreds of humid people. Add the blinking lights and arcade machines of Chuck E. Cheeses. Toss in a loud guy on a microphone who never stops. Sprinkle heavily with the air of degenerate desperation. Their $1/$2 game has the bizzare structure of a $2 big blind, $1 small blind, and a $1 button payment that plays. Rake is $1 + 10% up to $5 total. I don't know what number was higher:

  • the average number of players to the flop,
  • the number of missing fingers at the table,
  • the number of missing front teeth at the table,
  • the number of games that didn't result in a showdown at the river, or
  • the number of games a really clueless newbie saw before losing his $40 buy-in
I suspect it's the missing fingers, but I'm not sure of that. After 90 minutes, I got out of there with $75 more in my pocket and a bad taste in my mouth. I got rid of the bad taste with dinner from Panda on a Stick and an episode of Dollhouse on Hulu.

Poker at The Bike: Ignore the electronic table, folks.Thursday morning, my plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 5:00, so I slept in until 8:30, then drove to the Bicycle Casino, where I last played two years ago. At the time, I described the rake as "insanely huge" at $2.50 for any pot above $5. They've since raised it to $4+$1. I literally saw a guy win a $7 pot which was checked to the river, but he only got $2 of it, because the casino took the rest. I played $3/$6 Omaha 8 for the first time ever, other than online. The guys at the Ante Up podcast say that the split games like Omaha 8 really bring out the argumentative players, and from what I saw, I can't disagree. Apparently, he was upset that the dealer was trying to split money he hadn't put in the pot. Whatever.

I played for a few hours, was up $65 or so, then dropped down to -$10. I jumped over to a $40 buy-in $1/$2 no limit game. This was also a first, because the only no limit games I've played have been online or in someone's house. I was down $11 when they announced a $3/$6 limit game was opening, so I jumped to that table -- as did only two other players. The game never started, I grabbed some lunch, and with about an hour to go before I needed to roll to the airport, I jumped back into the no limit game, leaving up $32 this time, or up $11 for the visit.

The flight home was mediocre. The TSA security theater at LAX pulled my bag full of electronics aside for hand inspection, even though it had gone through SEA and LAS with nor problems. The hand inspection set off the chemical detector. A Michael Moore look-alike gave me a TSA courtesy rub-down. I don't feel any safer; I now know what parts of my body can hide contraband. The plane was delayed at both LAX (missing crew) and SFO (no plane).

It was a very profitable trip. Must do again some time. But it's also good to be back in the rain.