Birthday poker in Sin City: Vegas Day Three

Wynn Resort Casino
Day three was a day of hubris.  I woke up at 7am, checked e-mail, downloaded the latest version of a document for the new super-staffer in our Boston office, and headed to breakfast with Katie.  We ate the sausage omelettes again, I spoke to my Boston colleague about the document, and we then headed out to the Wynn.  We had committed to seeing some other casinos, but had been so emboldened by our wins that we intended to head back to the Wynn right away.  Katie, having won several hundred dollars, decided to move up limits and play $8/$16, while I intended to stick to $4/$8.

After having spent twelve straight hours at the tables at the Wynn, I
had developed a theory about poker rooms at casinos.  The lowest
available limit will be populated by the worst players.  They know
enough to know they aren’t great poker players, and so unless they have
issues with money like a Floor Trader, they’re going to bring some
money with the expectation that it can be lost.  Therefore at a casino where the lowest limit is "high", like $4/$8, you’re going to see a lot of loose money. 

I’ve always found that at the first level up from the lowest limit, the competition strongly increases.  It was this increased competition that Katie ran into when she played $8/$16.  Throughout the morning I would go walk by Katie’s table and check out her chip stack.  Whereas the day before I always saw a newly stack of 20 $1 chips or occasionally a new $100 bill, this time I noticed her stack getting smaller every time I visited.  Her face told the rest of the story.  Either the competition was steep, the cards were running bad, or she was off her game.  Whatever the reason, it was clear she wasn’t going to make money in this game.

My $4/$8 table was pretty good though.  I sat down at the far right of the dealer as the table was created with players on the waiting list.  At the other end was a young shaved head guy with a long scraggly beard.  He was loud, boisterous, and as I found out, playing terrible poker.  He sat down and bought $100 of chips and started talking.  He never stopped.

One of the big cues I watch for when a new player sits down is how much they buy in chips.  If a player sits down at a $4/$8 game and buys $100 in chips and doesn’t immediately slip another $100 bill underneath their chips, I’m pretty sure they’re playing with too little money, and probably playing over their head.  With this knowledge you are more likely to be able to bluff them out of a pot because they’re playing with "scared" money.

I also use this knowledge when evaluating what hand they have.  If I have the top two pair and they’re betting hard, they might have bottom two pair.  I also will hold onto statistically marginal draws as well, because I know they won’t stop betting when I hit my flush or straight.  In fact, they might not even see it on the board.

At my table there was nothing you could do to force people out of a hand, so you had to show down the best hand.  In early position before the flop I raised with Ace-King-offsuit.  The Loud Bald Guy called, as did one other person.  The flop came King-King-Nine and I did the whole act.  I sighed, I looked down at my cards, I looked back at the board, and then I checked.  Loud Bald Guy tossed some chips into the pot and the third player called.  As the betting came to me I hesitated and called, looking seriously dejected about the situation.

The fourth card came and it was a small, nothing card, a Six.  I checked again and Loud Bald Guy bet and our compatriot called.  I thought about it hard, and then raised.  Both players called.

The fifth card, the river, came and I bet out right away.  The Bald Guy thought he was good and called me and the third guy folded, thinking he was going to see what I really had without paying for it.  I turned over my three Kings with an Ace kicker and got a string of complaint from the Loud Bald Guy. 

For the next hour he complained about how I’d slowplayed my Kings, complete with the Act of looking at my cards and sighing.  During that time I bought in twice more for $100 each.

Around 1pm a young couple sat down to my left.  The guy bought in for $200 (uh oh) as did his girlfriend (no ring).  She was young looking with just the beginning of a few worry lines in her face, and looked significantly older than him.  They were both extremely quiet, especially her, and while I knew enough to be worried about getting into a pot with him, I assumed she was along for the ride and would be dead money.

My worry level raised when I watched her count out the chips for a $4 raise.  How people handle their chips tells you an enormous amount about how experienced a player they are, as well as how excited they are about their hand.  When the New Girl counted out her raise she took a large pile of chips out of her stack into her right hand, and without counting them one by one, she dropped four $1 chips in a perfect pile, sliding her index finger exactly to the four-chip mark for the original bet, and then again for the raise.

Hm, bad news.  She knows by feel how many chips four is.  This is a very bad thing.

I asked my neighbor how long she had been playing poker, and he said about two and a half years.  "Is she a dealer" I asked?   "She could be, but she’s a craps dealer" he said.

Uh oh.  I started to play stronger hands when they were in the pot with me.

By 2:30pm Katie was done, and I was obliging her desire to depart.  I had never been able to put more than $50 in profit into my stack, and so I was ok to leave if it made Katie happy.

Finally at 2:30pm Katie had had enough.  She needed a change of venue and I cashed out so we could try another casino.

Wynn total: +$342

Trip total: +$138

Total playing time: 17 hours

Mandalay Bay
Originally, when I’d planned to bring Sarah to Vegas, I’d made reservations at the Mandalay Bay.  It’s a nice hotel with a spa attached.  Sarah decided she didn’t want to spend her time in Vegas alone while I went to play poker, so she bailed and I moved to the Sahara.  We’d heard good things about the poker room at the Bay though, so we headed over there.

After a short wait were seated at different $4/$8 tables.  The Networld+Interop convention was in town and had filled the tables with tons of inexperienced players.  I sat down with $200 at a table full of conventioneers and was almost immediately dealt black Aces.  I raised and the Conventioneer directly on my right re-raised after a third player called.  I knew I had the best hand, so I re-raised.  Because there were three of us we could only get five bets in before the flop.  We three capped it and the flop came Eight of Hearts-Six of Clubs-Two of Clubs.  Everyone checked and I bet.  Our third player dropped out and Convention Guy called.  The final card was a Seven of Clubs, and when it was his turn to bet, he bet. 

I stared at him, and at the board, and said, "You didn’t.  You did not call my Aces with raggedy clubs, did you?"   As I sat there I knew it was probably true, but I hadn’t played long enough with him to know if he was capable of bluffing here, so I had to call him.  He indeed, did have raggedy clubs.  To add insult to injury, he racked up my chips and left to go to hang out with his wife while I shook my head.

After two hours at the Bay we were done.  Katie was sitting next to a Swedish guy that wouldn’t shut up, and I was having trouble getting a pot big enough to pay off my good hands.  Everytime I hit a good hand, people folded.  I could sit there and steal small pots, but that was a pretty slow way to make money, and entailed a lot of risk.  We bailed and decided to take the advice of every poker player in town and head over to the loose games at the Palms.

Mandalay Bay total: -$89

Trip total: +$50

Total playing time: 19 hours

The Palms Casino
Every smart poker player in town, as well as the reviews on the Internet, had told us we had to go to the Palms.  "The games are crazy loose", we were told.  "It’s a smoking room, so it gets a lot of loose money traffic that insists on smoking" said another.  "Just sit and wait for a good hand to let the house pay you off" said the craps dealer.

Ok, off we go. 

We walked into the Palms and the first thing that hit us was the smell.  Mandalay Bay had an odd odor that might have been perfume from the woman in front of us, but the Palms had an actual bad smell.  Kevin Federline and Britney Spears hadn’t been here in a while, so it couldn’t have been them.  We found the poker room and got seated at seperate $2/$4 tables while waiting for a $4/$8 seat to open up.  There was a $4/$8 table behind me and every seat is full.

As I sat down for $2/$4, I noticed the man next to me, who looked particularly drunk, light up a cigarette and place it on the ashtray of the service table between us.  Great, I’m going to sit here and smoke a cigarette just by inhaling this stuff.  Almost immediately the Smoking Guy picks up a hand, Jack-Five, when the flop came Five-Five-Three.  He raised, and another player across the table kept re-raising him back.  They put in three bets each when the fourth card came out, a Ten.  They both put in bets and the fifth card, a King, came out.  Again they put in two bets and turned over their cards.  Both players had a Five, but the other player had an Ace kicker.  The dealer spent several minutes trying to explain that when both players have Fives, the second card in their hand decides the difference.

Whether he was too drunk to understand, or too intellectually challenged in understand, he didn’t get it.  Smoking Guy either finally got it, or got sick of having everyone look at him like he was dense and he threw his cards angrily at the table.  "Motherfucker!  That’s a load of shit!"  His cards bounced across the table and the other player gave them to the dealer.  The dealer called for the floor manager, "Please speak to the player in seat nine about his language."

The floor manager came over and said, "Deal him out."  Two minutes later the security guys showed up and escorted Smoking Guy out.  In his place I got Boomhauer, a twenty something kid with a strong southern accent that didn’t even breathe while talking about how he loved cards and how he loved drugs and how he played cards so he could get money for drugs.  He was one long string of yammering, and if he’d been a beautiful girl throwing herself at me, I’d refuse to sleep with her because of that chatter. 

He played almost every hand and quickly depleted his $20 stack, which is way too inadequate for that game.  He bought in again for $20, and said he was waiting to move to the $4/$8 table.   Then he offered the table a joint and reminded us that he played poker so he could buy more drugs.  Judging by the way he played, he ought to be stone cold sober.

Unable to take any more of his yammer, I got up to go ask the floor manager how I was looking on the list for $4/$8.  As I approach his podium, the floor manager that had just bounced a guy for profane language finished a conversation with another dealer before turning to me.."That motherfucker has to know I won’t tolerate his shit.  I’ll toss that bastard faster than you can say, ‘fuck me’".

I stopped for a second, wondering if he would get the joke about irony I was about to make, and just shook my head.  I looked at the list myself, and seeing I was next, sat back down.

Suddenly shouting erupted at the $4/$8 table behind me.  "He’s having a seizure!  Someone call an ambulance!"  The guy in seat 9 at the $4/$8 table was sitting up stiffly in his chair, like there was tacks on it and he didn’t want to set his butt down.  His hands were clenched into claws, and his face was reddened and taut like his jaw was clenched.  (I’m sure it was, you can read up on it.)

The other players rushed to his side and gently lowered him to the floor so he wouldn’t fall off his chair.  Eventually someone turned him on his side so he wouldn’t swallow his tongue and verified he was still breathing.  The casino management showed up with First Responder kits, and the EMTs finally showed up twenty minutes later. 

During this time the players had been instructed to stay away from the table and touch nothing.  Finally the dealer, a short Asian woman in her late twenties or early thirties, turned over all the hands, made sure the pot was right, and dealt out the final fifth card.  She saw that the man with the seizure had hit his straight Ace-through-Five on the fourth card while contesting a very expensive pot with a man who had two fives in his hand for a second best set of fives.  The dealer then pushed the pot to the spot previously occupied by the epileptic, and the floor manager picked up and bagged his chips for his later retrieval.

Anyone who has read The Education Of A Poker Player knows that there are rules and precedent for situations like this.  If he’d died in the middle of the hand, there would have been steps to follow as well.

The floor manager carried the bagged chips back to the podium with the microphone and called, "Seat open for Shabbir, $4/$8!".


I went and sat down with my $200 in chips.  No cards were being played.  Everyone was talking about it, and a few people had been pulled off to write up reports for casino security.  Nothing much was happening though.  I turned to my neighbor and said, "How’s it going?"

He turned to me and said, ‘You’re not really going to sit there, are you?’

"Of course," I said, "it appears I’m not epileptic."

My neighbor just shook his head.

My table was tough.  Real tough.  If you overcooked your steak for an hour until it was way past well done, it wouldn’t be this tough.

We had a genuine talented Maniac in Seat One.  The guy played every hand, and raised most of them.  If you were on a draw and he was in the hand, it was going to cost you a lot of money.  And if you missed it, don’t even think about bluffing at the pot.  He’d make sure he had at least one pair when you got to the showdown; your Ace high would be no good.

In seat Two was a Spaceman, one of those guys that sits hunched over three or four racks with an ipod, speaking to nobody, just playing his cards.  As long as they tip, Spacemen are usually a fine player for most dealers as long as they pay attention to the game.   In seat three was a black man about my age wearing a trucker hat with $60 in front of him.  And to my right was a grizzled old white guy who was also playing every hand, but didn’t have the Card Sense of the Maniac.  The Maniac was losing money overall, as maniacs do, but the old white guy was losing it faster.

I had seen a lot of good cards that hadn’t hit when I had about $60 left.  In late betting position I looked down at Six-Seven of Hearts and decided to go fishing.  As expected the Maniac raised from the small blind, the Spaceman called, and the Trucker hat re-raised.  The grizzled white guy called, and I did too.  I figured I was either going to hit a monster or I was going to get out.

The flop came Ace-Five-Eight with the last two hearts.  I had my flush draw and straight draw, but I knew I was going to pay. My hand was a whole lot of expensive potential.  Trucker Hat either had a pair of Aces or a set of three of them.   I figured this table had been playing weak cards for a lot of money, so I went ahead and raised the single bet when it came around to me, curious to see if I could get a free card on the turn.

The betting came back to me with an additional raise from Trucker Hat, and I knew I’d screwed up and made this more expensive than necessary.  I called and the Maniac called, the Spaceman folded, and the Grizzled guy called.

The turn came a Ten, (not a heart) and we did two more big bets around again.  Finally the river came a Three of hearts.  I had my flush, and though it wasn’t the best flush, there was enough money in the pot to justify staying in the hand.  As the betting checked around to me I checked too, expecting a bet from the Maniac. 

No go, he checked too. I just cost myself $8 or $16 of profit.   I showed my flush and Trucker Hat took off his hat and threw it on the table.  I turned to my neighbor and said, "I don’t appear to have epilepsy."

With that hand and a few others I was up to about $220.  As I racked the chips I realized I was not a favorite in this game and went to leave.  I noticed that unlike every other table I’ve been at, nobody said, "Good hand" to me, or "Nice work".  They whispered to each other.  Trucker Hat scratched his head, glared at me, and generally stopped playing cards.  He looked down and at the $6 he had left.

Because I’m an asshole, I looked for a pot that I could win from him, but I never got the cards.  Someone else got to him first and he left a single $1 chip on the table and told the dealer, "I’ll be back."   He never returned and by midnight, they filled his seat.

I checked on Katie, who was mopping up the loose cash at her table and we both confirmed that this was the worst poker room we had ever played in.  The table talk from the other players was nothing short of downright stupid, and multiple times we’d heard people say, "My wife/girlfriend is meeting me at 9pm.  This is my last hand."

These people would still be at the table at midnight when we left.  They were gambling addicts who all looked like they couldn’t afford this habit.

Table talk about poker would contain wild inaccuracies such that it wasn’t fun to imagine that we were going to make money from these people.  They were bad at poker, didn’t seem to be wealthy enough for this vice, and frankly, were some of the least intelligent human beings we’d ever met.  We finally fled the place about midnight when I made the realization that this is the one casino that I would endorse installing a Gamblers Anonymous office in.  These were degenerate gamblers, desperate, lonely, unintelligent, and uninteresting.  No matter how much money there was to be made, I wanted nothing to do with them.

We left and went to the Sahara to get a midnight snack and drop into the game there, but decided we’d had enough poker for the night and crashed.

The Palms total: +$4

Trip total: +$54

Total play time: 23 hours

Read the Conclusion of Birthday Poker in Vegas