Birthday poker in Sin City: Vegas Day Two

Day Two of my birthday Vegas trip started with me setting off the alarm at the Sahara pool complex at 8am.  I’d been up since 7am, editing a document that a new and talented employee in our Boston office had been writing for a client.  The document was awesome, and I called her and told her so.  I wanted to get some exercise before the day started, and since the Sahara didn’t have a health club, I headed out to go for a swim.  Apparently in all the money to be made from the slots and other things at the Sahara, they can’t afford a couple of bucks for a Stairmaster. 

Judging from the appearance of the other patrons, it’s not a highly
requested item.  As a contrast, I suspect the health club at the Wynn
probably assigns you a personal trainer when you enter.  You’re then
pushed to your limit exercising every last muscle on your body that the
trainer can find.

Back at the Sahara, I opened the pool complex door and a shrill
alarm stopped me, filling me ears with screeching.  For some reason
they don’t lock the doors to the pool, they just alarm it after hours.
Since it didn’t open until 9am, I and every other guest that decided to
go for a swim got this earful. 

Very, very, odd.

So instead I went outside, called 411, told the computer I was in
Las Vegas, Nevada at the Sahara hotel and casino and asked it to find
me the nearest health club.  It did and the operator gave me
directions.  As I walked off towards the club, I looked ahead and
realized that the concept of "block" in Las Vegas is bigger than a New
York crosstown "block".  Walking was no good, and since Katie wasn’t
awake yet, I couldn’t go to her room for the car keys.  I resolved to
run to the health club.  It would be a good warm up for my workout.

About a mile and a quarter later in the hot Vegas sun I arrived at
the health club.  I looked back longingly at the Sahara, a mile and a
quarter away and realized, "It’s not the destination, but the
journey."  I ran past the entrance to the Las Vegas Athletic Club and
headed back to the Sahara.  I figured I’d shower and shave and then
kill some time playing cards while I waited for Katie to come down from
her room.

Sahara poker room
The Sahara poker room was entirely uninteresting, and looked almost
exactly like the Harvey’s room in South Lake Tahoe.  It’s a low-walled
room with manually-shuffled games.  They have two tourneys a day, at
11am and one in the evening, and they spread a $2/$4 and a $4/$8 game.

When I got back from my run I hit the room for the $2/$4 game.  Only
one real hand caused me to pull out my notebook and write it down.  I
was in late position holding Ace-Jack-unsuited, when I realized that the table had become very weak.  A "weak table" is an opportunity to steal small pots, and if you can avoid becoming attached to a hand when the other players refuse to fold, you can make some money without actually getting any cards.

Only one person decided to play, so I raised, hoping to take the pot down or isolate myself with one player to try and outplay after the flop.  The small blind and big blind folded, leaving me with the early position caller.  I had already decided to bet the flop if he checked it to me, figuring he was calling the raise with something marginal based upon his previous play.  The flop came Queen-Seven-Seven and he quickly checked to me.  I threw out $2 and he folded immediately.

As I raked the chips I realized that everyone at the table had seen me bet the board when it paired, and that unlike the Cranky Guy from the MGM yesterday, I would think carefully about bluffing in that way again.  Maybe I would do it once more and get caught, or maybe I would do it next time only if I had the third card to match the pair on the board.  That way I would get someone who would pay off my "head fake" thinking I was bluffing when I wasn’t.

It’s hard to tell at that level of poker.  At $2/$4, the players aren’t really paying attention, and so setting up more complex psychological plays like this are sometimes wasted like pearls before swine.  That’s the one reason I’m enjoying playing more challenging games.  Suddenly there are a lot more complex plays that you can setup because the other players are paying attention.

Katie showed up and we hit the Sahara cafe for breakfast.  She eats the exact same thing every day, every trip, a sausage omelette.   We both had one and hurried off to the Wynn Resort and Casino.

Sahara total: -$22

Trip total: -$204

Total play time: 14 hours

Wynn Las Vegas
Steve Wynn’s new $2 billion dollar casino resort is somewhat wasted on me.  Sure, the people are gorgeous, and the restaurants are lavish, but I’m never going to actually buy a Ferrari in the Ferrari store.  I did, in fact, buy my first piece of baby clothing, a Ferrari-branded shirt for our coming baby boy, but even if I had the money I’m not even in the market for a car like that.

I do appreciate a nice, clean, poker room with good service, good poker dealers, and lots of wealthy tourists who might be in the market for a Ferrari.  These are the sorts of people with more money than poker skills, and who are playing poker like novices.  Steve Wynn has created that environment, and for that I am thankful.  All hail the master.

We arrived a hair before noon, scouted the place for presence of Daniel Negreanu who has contracted to exclusively play only at the Wynn in Vegas (no sign of him today) and got seated about 12:30pm.  I sat down with $300 in chips and proceeded to tear up the table when I played Queen-Ten and saw a flop of Jack-Nine-Eight giving me the nut straight and a big pot.  Then a pair of Jacks survived to the showdown with a bunch of loose callers.  In the first half hour I’m $140 richer.  It’s only 1pm and I’m rolling in it.

Around 2pm a Granny showed up.  I’ve written about poker playing Grannies before.  They’re retired older women who play poker quite often passively, rarely raising and never folding unless they entirely miss their hands.  Granny sat down on my left with $200 in chips, a modest amount for the table.  As the afternoon wore on my luck started to change and I hovered around +$50 while Granny got great cards and refused to fold anything.

Granny played any two cards to see a flop.  On the flop, if either card hit, sometimes a card as small as a 4, she’d play that hand to the end.  If she had a draw to a straight or better she absolutely wouldn’t fold.  No matter what the betting, she’d call all the bets and see them to the river, folding only if she completely missed her hand.

Understanding enough probability so that she had a payoff commensurate to the size of the risk she was taking was entirely lost on Granny.  If you raised, she’d still call you.  If you missed your hand, she’d call you down with her pair of fours and rake in your chips, leaving you wondering how she could call your big bluff when it should be obvious she was beat if you’d hit any of the cards on the board.  The answer, of course, is that it wasn’t obvious to her.

When I first started playing poker I encountered a number of Grannies at the poker table.  They give you a weird sense of guilt, like you’re stealing money from your own Grandmother’s purse.  You have to lose this guilt over time, and with practice, I did.  I can now bust a Granny without feeling any significant quantity of guilt.

Right after Granny showed up, an extremely maniacal player sat down at our table with his girlfriend sitting behind him in a chair.  While I don’t think she was stupid, she was blonde with an enormous non-silicon chest.   The maniac was in sales of some sort.  He stood over the poker table and had a loud conversation on his cellphone, providing a reference for another sales guy who was applying for another job.

Over and over he used the phrases, "inside sales", "moving units", and "work the phones until they’re on fire" until I realized that his limited vocabulary didn’t allow him to express his enthusiasm in any other way.  He truly liked the guy, but it was like someone had armed him with a stock set of cliches to use in business situations, and he’d stopped bothering to memorize new ones.

Everybody at the table was doing their best not to stare at his girlfriend’s boobs while Sales Guy played every hand, raised every pot, and sometimes even looked at his cards before he threw money in the middle.

Most of the players stayed out of the Sales Guy’s way unless they had good cards, not wanting to see the river his way (the expensive way).  Granny however had the luck to be dealt slightly better cards than him, and around 3pm she’s sitting on a stack of almost $500, at least a third of it the Maniac’s money.  When you listen to politicians explain how Social Security works, they say that the younger workers paying into the system are funding the retirement checks of the older workers.  Sales Guy was doing that and simply bypassing the Social Security Trust Fund. 

Thanks to Sales Guy, Granny would be eating steak tonight.

Both the Sales Guy and his girlfriend kept looking at Granny likes she was some sort of genius poker savant.  Neither of them had the brains to realize he’s simply giving her his money.  Granny’s not doing anything brilliant, she’s just getting slightly better cards than him.

Around 3pm I’m up $90 and the Sales Guy is just placing blind raises out into the table, even before he’s dealt his cards (this is called a "straddle").  It’s generally something you do if you are the kind of degenerate gambler that simply gets excited by "action".  It’s an entirely foolish thing to do statistically. 

By 4pm Granny’s bad play is starting to catch up with her, and her stack of chips is back where it started when she came in.  For the next hour she’ll hover around the same $200 and then leave with almost none of her money left.

Luckily well-known TV poker guru Antonio Esfandiari came in with a gaggle of young, beautiful women and gave me something to hope would distract the other players.

Around 4:30pm I’m up over $100 and I become loosely involved in a big hand.  Sitting in a middle betting position I looked down at a pair of pocket 7’s.  Seven of us see the flop which comes Nine-Five-Three with two spades.  Of course I have none of that, and when it’s checked to me I recklessly bet out and get four other callers along for the ride.  My third Seven comes on the Turn, but it’s a spade.  Anyone holding two spades is going to have me beat with a flush.  An early player bets out and we all call again. 

Five of us see the fifth and final card.  There are ten total cards in the deck that could give me a strong hand that could beat the flush, and one of them, a Three, comes on the river.  The betting start to get insane as Sales Guy hits his flush and bets.  The next player before me calls and I raise.  Granny looks down at her made baby flush and calls my raise, as does Sales Guy.  The fourth player is smart enough to fold whatever he was clinging to.  I rake in the chips, tip the dealer, and I’m up $160.

The Sales Guy has left and taken his girlfriend with him to a chorus of
sighs from the men around the table.  Personally, my opinion of her
dropped quite a bit for having nothing better to do than to sit around
and watch her boyfriend (no wedding ring) play cards for a couple of hours, but
what do I know?  I’m married to a woman who’s smarter than me, makes
more money than me, and will be unbelievably hot long after my hair
turns gray.  I’m clearly a poor judge of women.

By 7:30pm I’m entirely in my poker zone, able to read subtle changes in some of the more transparent players betting patterns.  I have an entirely Matrix moment where I realize I know the sitting posture of almost every player at the table when they’re holding a confident hand.  I scan the table with my eyes after every flop and quickly categorize everyone’s holdings.  "Happy", "Sad", etc.  I even watch players repeat the same body language when betting or checking, and my computer head files it away as a baseline for observing them deviate later, when I need my Spidey Sense to tell me something is different so I can worry.

Right before 8pm, an older gentleman to my right raises my blind while I’m holding K9.  It’s just the two of us, and I don’t want to establish a precedent that I’m always going to fold to that trick, so I call the raise.  We see a flop that’s 9-3-2 and he bets out. I can’t explain why, but something about the manner in which he handles the chips and his voice when he says "Bet" suggests he wants me to fold now.  I think he must be worried about getting beat, which means he’s got a weak second card or he’s missed the flop altogether.   I call and when a blank comes fourth we repeat the same drill with his manner exactly the same. I’m positive now my King is better than his kicker and my Nine may be better than his whole hand.  He hasn’t changed tone or hand mannerism.  I’ve noticed him fumble his chips with a big hand, and he’s not doing that now. 

We get to the river with no change in his behavior and he shows me Ace-Jack as the dealer pushes me the pot.  "How the hell did you know that?" he says.  "I can’t explain it, I just did", I plead, hoping he won’t get up now that I can read him like a McDonald’s menu.  I’m up $238.

I peak at 8pm when I hit four Jacks that makes me +$315.  I then stop getting playable cards until 10pm, when I start to notice sharks circling.  Good players at the table are inviting their friends to come over and play with them, and I have difficulty navigating around them to get to the more inexperienced players and their poorly earned chips.

At 11:00pm Katie reports that two drunks have sat down at her table, one in the seat next to her and one sitting behind him are cracking jokes.  They’re loud, drunk, and since Katie’s adjacent, it’s her job to elbow them when it’s their turn.  We conclude the time to make money has ended, and we cash out after a successful day and head back to the Sahara.  I collapse in bed having made enough money to erase the losses of the first day and give myself some bankable profit going into Day Three.

I sleep the sleep of the just.

Wynn total: +$286

Trip total: +$82

Total hours of play: 26 hours

Continue reading Birthday Poker in Vegas: Dodging the EMTs at the Poker Table