Not Much Luck

We’re back from our latest vacation to Las Vegas. It was a fun trip, as always – except for the losing part, that is.

We flew in on Saturday as usual, and this time got a room in the west wing of the MGM Grand, where we tend to stay these days. The west wing is quiet and we had a room right next to its elevator, which was convenient since we usually have a hike from our room to get to it. The west wing’s elevator also drops you out near the poker room, which was convenient for me. And the room itself has more gadgets in it than the normal rooms (a television in the bathroom mirror, a touch-to-activate lamp, and so forth), so we spent a while playing once we arrived.

Then we puttered around for the afternoon before going to see Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo. Burton is a classic magician – he opens his act by running down a short genealogy of magicians dating back to the 1800s, with himself as the current heir to the throne. His illusions rely heavily on making things disappear and reappear, the most spectacular form of illusion, I guess. He even has a couple of tricks which made me think of The Prestige to the point that I wondered whether he has a twin brother.

One of the most surprising things about Burton’s show is the gap between his promotional material and the show itself. The posters and images I’ve seen of him are split between him as a debonair high society man from the early 20th century, and a more modern “tall dark stranger” in black clothing (especially the 2009 image all over the Monte Carlo). In the show, though, he seems quite different from what I’d expected from the images, though not at all displeasing: The biggest surprise is that he still has a fairly strong hint of a Kentucky accent, not the “standard American” midwest accent most performers have (nor even a southern country accent). Another difference is that he’s all smiles all the time, not at all mysterious in his demeanor (plus he currently has his hair cut short, very different from in the photos). His act itself is actually rather jokey, and the dramatic flair (such as the masked stranger who appears from time to time) seems too goofy to take seriously. There’s also a lot more skin in the show (in the form of seven scantily-clad women) than I’d expected from a show which seems targeted at families. Overall quite different then I’d been expecting.

But the show is basically a lot of fun: I have some vague understandings of how sleight-of-hand works (I’m far from being an expert, but I’m not entirely clueless), but some of his illusions are truly impressive. We were able to get second-row seats so we got a good view of everything, and I don’t have a first idea how many of his tricks work. And that’s not a bad thing. So if you enjoy magic shows, you ought to enjoy seeing Burton.

Sunday morning we had brunch at the CafĂ© Bellagio, and then went to check out the new property on the strip: City Center, a 5-hotel project which reportedly cost in the vicinity of $11 billion (with a ‘B’) dollars to build. We walked through some pieces of it, but mostly went and gambled at the Aria, the only hotel of the five which has a casino, including a poker room. The thing is certainly a step forward in elegance and extravagance in Vegas hotels, but – it’s still a Vegas hotel, and making a bigger, posher one is just no longer impressive in and of itself.

Sunday was also the day of the NFL championship games. While we were at the Aria, the Jets/Colts game was on, and it was amusing to hear the cheers from the bar nearby while playing poker: Jets fans were much louder (and therefore probably more numerous) than Colts fans, and their TVs were showing the game a few seconds earlier than ours were, so we could tell when a big play happened based on how loud the cheers were. Since I always root against New York sports teams, I was happy to see the Jets lose. Despite being a Patriots fan, I don’t have any problems rooting for the Colts; the teams have been big rivals in this decade, but it’s hard to root against Peyton Manning, who I think is clearly the best quarterback of his generation.

Later in the afternoon we gambled at the Flamingo, during which time the Saints/Vikings game was on. At one point I took a bathroom break and passed a bar with 5 people sitting at it, all wearing Vikings jerseys. Vikings fans seemed to greatly outnumber Saints fans, and there were plenty of Packers fans wearing their Favre jerseys, too. I was rooting a little more for the Saints, since I went to college in New Orleans, but seeing Favre get to another Super Bowl would have been fine, too. But it wasn’t to be for Favre, as the Vikings turned the ball over 5 times – including Favre’s last-minute interception throw in the 4th quarter – and the Saints won it in overtime. The teams did hit the over on the total score of 53.5, though, and the Super Bowl had an over/under of 56.5 when we left Vegas, so it may be an exciting game.

We finished the evening with our annual meal at Bally’s Steakhouse, which was delicious as always. The after-dinner coffee with kahlua and grand marnier was excellent, too!

Our weekend at the gambling tables was not quite as much fun, though. We’ve almost entirely moved away from slot machines and video poker, to games which have less of a house edge, or in my case, no house edge, at the poker tables. Debbi mostly plays Pai Gow Poker, where the house still has an edge, but you can play for a long time and often break even. Our first day we played some Pai Gow together and Debbi won what I lost, and I lost a little more at those tables over the weekend. But at the poker tables themselves, I had a really rough weekend.

The first game I played was 2/4 limit at the MGM, which was a tight-passive game where I basically bleeded off chips over two hours. The next game, 3/6 limit at the Aria on Sunday, was a loose-aggressive game where I did not get very many good cards and lost over a full buy-in. Finally at the Flamingo on Sunday, the 2/4 limit game was good to me and I was able to recoup some of my losses. But Monday I finally tried the 1/2 no-limit game at the Flamingo, and got stacked twice, mostly I think through bad luck, but it overwhelmed my good luck. I finished the weekend with a break-even session of 2/4 back at the MGM.

A few memorable hands:

  • In limit at the Flamingo, I got a “big blind special”, flopping a flush with J5h and getting paid off. I later flopped the nut flush with AKh and got paid there, too.
  • The first hand in which I got stacked in NL: I had about $110 in the small blind. After a few limpers, I raised to $10 with pocket Queens. The big blind reraised to $20. The limpers folded, and I raised to $50. The big blind called. So there’s about $105 in the pot, and I have about $60 left. The flop is AA6, and I go all-in. The big blind calls and shows Kings. The final board is AA6-6-A, so even if a queen had come, the 3 aces would have counterfeited my full house. The big blind was a guy from Russia who didn’t speak English (his English seemed limited to “I don’t speak English”), but he crushed the table, going on a tremendous run and winning about $500 in a little over an hour. In a later hand, I managed to get out from under his turned nut flush (which he showed) when I folded my pocket Tens on a Jack-high board.
  • The other hand had me on the button with about $75 in my stack. After 4 limpers, I raised to $12 with pocket Aces. The small blind called, and the big blind and limpers folded (pot $34). The flop is KQ9r, and the small blind bets $10. I go all-in for my last $63, and she calls. She shows K9 for two pair. I hit my 5-outer on the turn, a Queen, and she rivers her 4-outer, a King, and I lose. Yes, she was sitting in the same seat as the guy who stacked me the first time.

It’s not clear that I could have gotten away from either of the big hands, although on reflection I should have played the first hand more carefully, since AK and AQ were within his range (even though I hadn’t been at the table long enough to get a read on anyone) and obviously crush me on an AA7 board. Then again, with him having Kings, AK, AQ and AA were within my range so I arguably had some fold equity. I dunno.

All told this was I think my worst showing at the tables in Vegas I’ve ever had, which was pretty demoralizing since I thought I’d been getting better over the last couple of years. But other than one encouraging session, it was almost entirely disappointing. Just bad luck, or so I have some serious work to do to improve my game to take on even the low-stakes tables? I’m not sure.

We flew out Tuesday afternoon. It was still a fun trip, but the losing part did color it unfavorably to some degree. I’m sure we’ll go back next year (if anything, because Debbi wants to go see Garth Brooks), but it might take most of that time to work back my enthusiasm for the trip. At least for the gambling part.