|random thoughts and thoroughbred selections|
|"All life is 6-5 against" - Damon Runyon|
Friday, December 17, 2004
I’m not sure how best to explain how much I loathed myself after nine hours at the same dollar poker table at the Excalibur on Sunday.
I’m a chickenshit gambler sometimes. Low risk, low reward. What better place to not lose big stacks of cash than the low limit Excalibur games? I was actually shocked at the quality of play out there. My experiences playing live poker in casinos previously were limited to a pretty tough $4/$8 table at Little River Casino in Manistee, MI and a reasonably tough $4/$8 table at Caesar’s Riverboat in Indiana. Add to that my Friday afternoon playing seven strong full of bloggers, and I haven’t been in a position to be a winning poker player.
Sunday night changed all that.
I managed to be seated with two other reasonably solid players at a table full of fish. My early nemesis, one seat to my right, was this enormous dude in those smoky not-quite-sunglasses and a Teddy Bruschi Patriots jersey. He was sweating and smelled like the trash can at an Italian deli. He was also the obvious alpha male of the small group of friends both seated and watching our table. Chip tricks, smack talk, “sizing up” the competition to try to get a read, he had the whole arsenal of ESPN table image tricks at his disposal. Of course, match that with “West Wing” caliber starting hand selection, and you’ve certainly got yourself a poseur. He’s tossing raises into hand after hand, and there were a few calling him down every time.
And I couldn’t get a starting hand to save my life.
Prosciutto-Pores sadly had to catch his flight, and cashed out down about half his stack from before. In place of him and a couple of his buddies we had a rotating cast of characters for a little while. At least until “the threesome” sat down.
I was in the seven seat, and across the table in the one came this guy and these two women. He was this balding fiftyish pseudo-metrosexual rocking the standard issue black cashmere mock turtleneck and expensive shoes. On his arm were not one but two middle aged women, one of whom was actually pretty hot. I was joking with the Utah cowboys on my left (Shane and Cody, and you can’t make up cowboys named Shane and Cody) that maybe they were Utahns as well, willing to leave the other wives at home for the weekend for a little dollar poker action. It was obvious that this aging hipster was trying to teach these women how to play poker.
And he was doing it by seeing every hand all the way down to the river.
I was licking my chops. I knew it was only a matter of time before he staked these women with a rack of whites each, and we’d have three fish swimming in relatively tranquil waters.
Just before he bought his ladies into the game, Shane leaned over to me and asked, “How much do you think he paid for those ladies?” I replied, “I don’t know, but I always try to impress my whores by having them watch me play dollar poker.” Shane was cracking up. There’s nothing like a Utah cowboy with a sense of humor.
Shortly thereafter, hipster moved to the six seat, immediately to my right, and staked the other two ladies at the other end of the table. He bought in himself for a rack. He’d do that two more times over the next three hours.
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to lose $300 at a $1/$3 game? Better yet, do you have any idea how difficult it is to sit there and watch everyone else take this guy’s money when you’re easily one of the two best players at the table?
I was getting insanely frustrated. The M.O. for these three was to limp for a buck, see the flop, and call all the way down. It was boring. No raising, no re-raising, nothing. Just a lot of limp-and-catch.
I needed to entertain myself. Well, entertain myself while waiting for my aces. With hipster to my right in the big (only) blind, I announced pre-deal I was raising the pot to $4, and I wasn’t going to look at my cards. The women were agog. I actually heard one of them ask, “Can he do that?” Shane asked the more appropriate, “Why are you doing that?”
I told him we had to loosen this table up. A lot. That I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had raised anyone here, and that if you want to make some money, you’ve got to crack a few heads to do it.
Predictably, six saw the flop, but when I bet out $3 blind after hipster checked, the ladies folded. What does he have under there? The board was rags, didn’t look dangerous, but you never know what a player who’s playing everything may or may not have caught. Hipster was the only one who called me.
A King came on the turn, and I checked after him. Another rag on the river, and he led out for $3. I wasn’t about to let him get off cheap, so I re-raised to $6. Gasps from the rookies at the other end when he called. “Queen high” said the hipster. His rag kicker didn’t even catch.
I turned them over one at a time. Four of clubs? No dice. Eight of clubs! I paired up on the flop? Sweet! Shane and Cody high-fived, and the hipster was left shaking his head. “I had to see what he had.” Good, I was curious to see what I had too.
Cody reached across to shake my hand. “Now, that’s what I call gambling*!” He was giddy. “I’ve gotta give that a shot.”
*(It’s dollar poker, I was sitting there for three hours within $5 of even, and I could give a crap about blowing $13 on a single hand if it loosened everyone up. It wasn’t a huge risk or anything.)
The very next hand Cody announces he’s playing blind. He raises pre-flop, sees a King on the flop and bets, sees another King on the turn and bets, and gets called by the hipster all the way down. Hipster turns over two pair, both rags catching. “HAVE A KING!” I yell. “One at a time man, one at a time.”
First card is a six. That’s one pair. Second card?…
KING! FULL HOUSE! The table went nuts. Later on, Otis came over to tell me he heard all the excitement. You’d be excited too if you were a cowboy from Utah who just lucked his way into a blind full house.
This went on for a little while, losing more hands than I won. Usually, I’d just raise blind pre-flop, then look. Actually, the one hand all night that didn’t go to showdown was when I raised blind pre-flop, then looked and raised a $3 to $6 on the flop.
Subtlety has no place in dollar poker.
In the last two hours of my session, I was driven nearly to the brink by the arrival of four new faces, all young, to the table. The girl wasn’t seated twenty minutes and was up $200. A guy next to me, the easiest poker player to read I’ve ever seen, cracked my top two pair with Q9 (King high straight). I actually called his last bet and said, “Let me see Q9,” and he turned it over. The ladies at the other end of the table were acting like I just did some sort of magic trick. Again people, dollar poker. It ain’t that hard.
The hand that really drove me away was preceded by a quick visit from Mrs. Can’t Hang and Grubby. They stopped by mid-hand, and as I saw the dealer shuffling I said, “Gotta sit back down, these could be my Aces*.”
Nope, but she did give me Kings.
*(I saw Aces on my first day once, saw Kings once on Sunday. Didn’t see a pair higher than Tens otherwise in roughly 18 hours of play.)
And I made my set. I was heads-up for a small side pot against the guy who cracked me with Q9 earlier. I knew I was in trouble when one of the hipster’s women was grinning all-in for the main pot across the table. She showed her cards to her railbird, some surly Samoan dude, and I was screwed. My Kings did beat the other guy’s two pair, but if I gave you this board, can you guess with what hand the woman across the table cracked my Kings?
Yep, that’s right. Q9 again. Full house.
I was so freaking disgusted. I don’t mind losing a bunch of small pots in an effort to win a few big ones, but my cards were so ice cold that I actually cashed out of this game down $40.
Down $40 and pissed. I can’t believe how much money I left sitting at that table. Shoulda been me…
“Oh man, you guys are going to make me show this down?” Talk about rags, the board was Jack high, and all the limping and checking signaled to me that there was no way anyone had hit much of anything on the way to showdown.
And I had the hammer.
If this wasn’t a $1-$3 spread limit game where any bet was virtually guaranteed a caller, I’d have tried to swipe the pot by now. Well, I had to show the cards down, and I flipped over my luscious two seven off-suit, much to the consternation of a couple guys around me.
“What the hell are you doing playing that hand? It’s the worst starting hand in poker?” Thanks for the lesson, asshole.
“Where I come from, it’s a badge of honor to play the hammer.” Of course, I had made the soon-to-be fatal mistake of telling this table full of twenty-something white guys where I was from.
“So that’s how all the real playas play down on Eight Mile?” Sigh… Great, now I’m getting Eminem resets from the fishies. Terrific. I mean, I did say I was from Michigan, and I was rocking the frosted tips in my hair while wearing a $300 velour track suit and a brand new Tigers cap with the brim askew atop my dome, but was that any reason to assume I was a Yo-Boy from way back?
Alright, so I was kidding about that last part. I may play the part of a schlub professionally, but to borrow a phrase from the hip-hop vernacular, “Protect Ya Neck kids.” I was already up on these guys, and because I had napped for the previous three and a half hours, I was recharged and ready to rock.
Something was gnawing at me though. It was irritating. I was sitting at a table in the front in the nine seat, with a full view of the dozen or so railbirds who were probably talking amongst themselves about how Kevin Nealon or Sarah Rue would have played that hand on the Celebrity Poker Showdown. Nothing like watching the excitement of dollar poker. I’m pretty decent at descending into oblivion (or, sometimes me and Mike Tyson go to Bolivian) and blocking out the white noise, but I had the weirdest feeling…
So I scanned the railbirds again, and crossed eyes with some Don Swayze lookalike, who immediately did the wasn’t-looking-at-you gaze into the nether regions of the poker room. I put the blinders on and went back to work. Moments later, I see this lanky dude with a Dodger cap on in need of a shave. Hank! He recognized me immediately, presumably due to the green ball cap with the shamrock I had promised to be wearing. I must say, I expected a former small college tight end to be a bit stockier, and I thought he was taller too. Sadly, he also didn’t have his European wife in tow (Swedish, right? God love those Nordic women). But still, Hank!
We exchanged our pleasantries, and were talking for a moment when that Don Swayze staring dude came rolling over. “Hi, you must be BG. I’m Casey, from the ‘Can’t Hang Crew.’” Now, far be it from me to know who was in and who was out from the Can’t Hang Crew. I didn’t meet a “Casey” in Philly, but whatever. I didn’t remember meeting Phil out there either. I gave him a quick hello and turned back to Hank. “Casey” tapped me on the shoulder, and let me in on the joke. “Naw BG, I’m Iggy.”
No shit! “Aw yeah, I’m seeing it now… The ‘skinny Travis Tritt!’” Iggy had described himself as such previously, but he should give himself a little more credit than that. Tritt’s losing the hairline rapidly, while Iggy’s got a little more going on up top.
“Did you see me staring at you?” I lied. I told him no. I mean, I guess I really didn’t technically staring at me, but trust me, I knew from where my earlier discomfort had arisen. Whatever though, I think I would have been disappointed had I met Iggy and he had not tried to dick with me somehow. Regardless, now that Iggy and Hank were in the fold, and knowing that I was going to meet Grubs on Saturday, my blogger meet-up wishlist was nearly complete.
I just thank god Hank and Igs walked in while I was up a couple of stacks. I may be an amateur, but I have a reputation to protect.
Shortly after those guys took off for greener gambling pastures than the dollar games, I looked up and saw my buddy Steve from Arizona walking by. I told him I’d be at Excalibur, and he knew damn well the best place to look for me would likely be the poker room. Although I didn’t really want to ditch my seat at the table, I also didn’t want to miss gambling with one of my best friends either. So I cashed out and we hit the blackjack tables.
At $10 a hand, I’m up $200 in a matter of minutes. I’m killing the dealer with twenties and nineteens all over the place. Steve’s treading water, but by this point the ladies in tow were restless and had moved to a roulette table.
And at $2 a bet, I’m up $50 in a matter of minutes. Life was beautiful. Although these guys weren’t having the profitable night I was (+$320 since my nap, covering $150 in earlier horse/blackjack/poker losses), we still had a good time.
The rest of the night was a blur, literally. You get me, uh, drunk enough and I’m liable to say something dumb, or not say anything at all. I’m pretty sure I did both. I remember arguing with Iggy that the money line on the Bengals would be no more than about +280 versus the Pats (it was actually so high it was off the board), and I remember getting to the point at about 5AM that I couldn’t even physically speak anymore. I felt like I had gotten bludgeoned about the head and neck with a bag of oranges, and I wasn’t happy about it.
I did have an extra hundred some odd in my wallet though. That was something to be happy about.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Bob loves to bet on horses named Bob. And in the fifth at Calder on Friday, Alibob was the third choice on the board at 4-1. I hunted him down, still camped out at the same blackjack table from three hours prior, to advise him that he should get a couple bucks on Alibob prior to post. He agreed, and asked for $5 across the board.
I returned to my seat and went hunting for another horse to wager on. I found Out Of Pride, an 11-1 shot who had been claimed two races back. It was obvious that whoever was training the horse previously had pulled her away from what she was good at, which were turf routes, and had her running seven furlongs to a mile ineffectively on the dirt. I had to assume the new trainer was putting her in a good spot to succeed. I put $2 across the board down.
The race started out nicely, with an inexplicable 100-1 shot leading the pack easily through the first half mile. Out of Pride was a comfortable third, stalking just behind the favorite, Peace Pledge. Rounding the turn into the stretch, Out of Pride took the lead from the rapidly fading longshot, and was starting to put a little distance between herself and the rest of the pack.
Alibob started coming, closing quickly on Out of Pride, finding her neck, then her nose over the final strides. They crossed the line together, impossible to predict at a glance who might have won the race. The whole while I'm standing behind my chair and nearly yelling. "Get there seven, hold her off. Get there!" I'm pretty quiet at my home track, but this is Vegas. I can get excited here.
A big bearded hippie in a sweater and taxi driver's hat ambled up, and it had to be Daddy. No one else was due this early, and I knew Pauly had met this dude at a Phish show previously. Easy call.
"What's up Matty!" I greeted him as warmly as possible while still keeping focus on the Calder telecast to find out who won the photo finish. "How was your night last night?"
"Man, I'm hurting. I already lost Otis' prop for first blogger to puke last night." You'd think that with the Can't Hang Crew coming in later on Friday, he wouldn't have wasted his big drinking evening with actual strangers on Thursday.
Just then, the results came up from Calder. Dead heat. Bob and I both won.
Daddy grabbed a seat while I told him what just happened between Bob's ticket and mine and a horse track 4000 miles away. The payouts were posted and they were, unsurprisingly, smaller than they would have been if only one of us had won, but that's beyond the point. We both won. I made $19 on my $6 bet, and Bob made $20 on the $15 he asked me to put down for him.
This had to be a good omen. I win, he wins, it'll keep rolling for both of us all weekend, right?
Bob came by, and I introduced him to Daddy and tossed him four $5 chips from my pocket while explaining the unbelievable circumstances of our wins. "Good. I'm glad you gave me chips. I'm out of money at the table, and had to bum $20 off of another guy to double with my last $20 on the table already."
So much for omens I suppose.
Do "dancers" smell like whores, or do whores smell like "dancers?" Either way, it takes a lot of mid-priced perfume to cover skank adequately.
I was downtown with my friends from Arizona, Jen and Steve, and another couple from Arizona (let's call them "Dave" and "Dave's wife") along for the ride, and somehow the neon schmaltz of Glitter Gulch was irresistable. To the women. Neither Jen nor Dave's wife had ever been in a strip club before, and they were intrigued. Part curiosity and certainly part "No Cover Charge" advertised outside. Me? Not as intrigued. There are somewhere between eleven and umpteen places to see naked women in Las Vegas, and the girls are gravitating towards the joint across from the place that's served upwards of thirty million discount shrimp cocktails.
I'm not sure if anyone's made the connection between bad strippers and underpriced seafood before, but here we are.
Far be it for me to suggest "gambling" or "gaming" as an option to the girls that were probably more "Rhino" than "Spearmint." These girls were probably gyrating uncomfortably behind chicken wire and rueing the day they skipped "Pole Trick Day" at stripper college and were forced to take what was left when the job placement people were handing out assignments. At least that's how I imagined it. Dave and Dave's wife preceded Jen, Steve, and I into the club, and were effectively lost within seconds. Jen and I made it to a table, where a waitress immediately took a drink order, and told us there was a two drink minimum, and that it'd be $35 for the two of us.
Uh, no thanks. Free boobs? Sure. $9 beers? Not a chance.
Jen followed me out of there, where Steve was still outside the front doors, watching some Galaga-themed show going on overhead. Some "experience" this Fremont Street was. Can I just play blackjack now? Jen, Steve, and I decided that we'd split up for a bit. Jen would join the Daves in the club, and Steve and I would go tackle the $5 blackjack table inside the Las Vegas Club casino next door. Neither of us had seen a dancer yet, but Jen was hoping they weren't going to be "as skanky as that waitress" we saw. I advised her that only the dancers would be skanky. The waitresses were more likely to be skeevy. Whatever. I figured blackjack was more my speed for awhile.
Bad move. Instead of two $9 beers inside a cut rate strip club, I was the one left feeling naked and exposed after about 45 minutes at the tables. The Twin Thai Dealers Joy and Fran were tag teaming dealing duties at our table, and were throwing the high heat. It was surreal. It's not as if I have a long history with blackjack, but I've never in my life seen a dealer throw nothing but fourteens, fifteens, and sixteens to everyone around the table on consecutive hands, turning easy twenties both times herself.
It was like this all night, and by "all night" I mean "consistently for the next forty five minutes." I tried to combat the dealer luck by moving to two spots and increasing my bets to $10 per. No dice. I'd get an eleven, double, land a four, and be out $20. My doubling didn't work, splitting "by the book" didn't work, nothing worked. Joy and Fran just fucking kicked our asses. $200 down in three quarters of an hour, and I'd had enough.
By this point, Jen had arrived fresh from the Gulch, and was parked at a roulette table waiting for us to finish destroying my bank account and little Ivan's college fund. We dragged her out of there and across the street to the Golden Gate to try to make our money back from Downtown by eating some discount cafe food. Dave and Dave's wife showed up, and we managed to make it to the table without Joy or Fran taking my cab fare back to the Excalibur from me at gunpoint.
"How was the club?" Steve was interested to hear his wife's story. I think his brother, the same guy who at 32 was making out shamelessly with a seventeen year old girl at our party sophomore year of college, had taken him to enough strip clubs in his time that they weren't exactly "special" to him anymore.
"It was fun. We were sitting next to the nicest lesbians." Ahh... Lesbians have always loved Jen. She's this big, curvy, beautiful girl that has this unbelievable magnetism about her. She gets along with everybody, and even when she's having a little fun at your expense, you almost feel good that it's coming from her. Steve's a lucky guy.
"You know what I hate about lesbians?" I'm not sure, but losing $200 as quickly as I did may not have made this sound as sarcastic as maybe I wanted it to. "I hate how they're always making out and playing with each other's breasts. You know what else I hate? Those women-in-prison movies on Cinemax. I hate those."
Dave and Dave's wife exchanged a quick look of puzzlement. Steve jumped in on it too. "I just hate the mullets and the flannel. I can do without that." Unfortunately, just at that moment, a couple of women - one semi-mulleted in a plaid shirt - were seated in the booth behind. Dave's wife had a look of horror on her face for a second, as if I was going to somehow not notice the brutish swagger on the hair helmeted woman seated nearby.
Vegas might be the best place on Earth to press your luck, but I know better than to pick a fight with a lesbian that can kick my ass. God knows what she was carrying in that fanny pack.
Vegas in bits and pieces
Thanks guys. I had a terrific time this weekend. Instead of one big trip report, I'm going to do my reporting differently, in bits and pieces over the next couple of days. Enjoy!
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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