Debbi and I are back from a three-day trip to Las Vegas. This time around we went to meet up with her parents, who are spending the week there. We flew in Sunday and had an evening to ourselves before they arrived, and had our usual dinner at Bally’s Steakhouse, which was delicious as always. The waiters there are also terrific: Low-key yet entertaining. Ours introduced himself and said, “I’m here to bring you whatever you want.” Whatever we wanted was an appetizer of beef short rib ravioli, two steaks, sides of asparagus and onion rings, and a very rich chocolate hazelnut praline dessert. Oh, and two glasses of wine. We rarely indulge in these sorts of restaurants, but we do like this one.
Monday morning we gambled at the MGM Grand, where Debbi hit a royal flush on a nickel video poker machine:
Since it was a nickel slot it wasn’t the ginormous win it could have been, but still: It may be years before either of us hits another of those.
Deb’s parents, Jerry and Sis, arrived in the early afternoon. They’re not the big walkers that Debbi and I are – we regularly walk all over the Strip and are usually pretty pooped by the end of the day – so we cut back on our perambulations some. We did head up to Treasure Island where we had dinner at Kahunaville, an island-themed restaurant we discovered a few years back. They were a bit short on staff so we had a longer wait than we’d expected, but the food was still good. Jerry got a huge drink in a souvenir glass which we all shared, in addition to our own drinks.
Then we went to Harrah’s to see comedian Rita Rudner, who was very funny. I think I’ve seen a little of her in the past, but not a whole lot; her material focuses on gender differences. If you enjoy stand-up comedy, I recommend her.
We went to a few other hotels to see some of the sights. After brunch on Tuesday at the Bellagio cafe, we visited their conservatory, which right now has an autumn theme, like so:
We also went to the Flamingo where we looked in on their reserve of birds and fish, and their elaborate network of pools. Next time we go during warm weather (highs were in the 80s every day we were there) we might stay at the Flamingo and use their pools.
On the gambling side of things, Debbi picked up Pai Gow Poker, since she’d been getting frustrated with not winning much at the slots or video poker machines. She thinks she’s found her game now, since she was winning or breaking even almost every time she played. I played too and finished up slightly at the game. We played a couple different (though slight) variants of the game, though they’re all basically the same. At one table a fellow sat down and made a big bet on the bonus circle and was dealt a royal flush, which won him five hundred dollars instantly! Yoiks!
For myself, I played regular poker, and had my winningest time ever in Vegas, even factoring in a poor first day there. I mostly crushed the low-limit games, which was satisfying since I ought to be able to crush those games at this point. I also played my first casino session of no-limit poker (at a 1/2 table) and won there, too, mainly on the strength of a 20-minute run of good hands. I saw a few tables where the betting was crazy before the flop, but this table was relatively sane: Some loose calls before the flop, but a fair respect for raises after the flop. I’ve been nervous about playing no-limit in the casino for a while, since I’m sure it can be very different from our fairly disciplined home games that I play in (for much lower stakes – on a really bad night you might lose all of $60, but that’s pretty rare), but this makes me think perhaps I should be playing no limit more often.
As usual, it was a trip of good food and good times. I think Deb’s parents had a good time, too. But certain furry friends were very happy to have us get back home:
An article at New York magazine about Nate Silver, the brains behind Five Thirty Eight, the election web site we’ve all been reading daily of late. (via Daring Fireball)
There’s also an article at the University of Chicago Magazine on Silver’s baseball analysis exploits, as well as his Wikipedia entry.
Since Silver’s stock-in-trade is statistical analysis of real-world phenomena, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he also made a living playing poker during the Internet poker boom. (Maybe he still does, I dunno.)
The Presidential campaign meets Magic: The Gathering in a pair of sets of mock Magic cards: One, Two.
Funniest thing I’ve found on the Web in weeks!
I haven’t been very good about updating this week – sorry about that. And with plenty on my plate for the weekend, I might not be so good about it for the next few days, either. So to be a responsible journaller, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been busy with:
The long weekend was nice. We mostly took it easy, although I did put a few comic book collections up for sale on eBay. Sunday we got together with Subrata and Susan for some dinner and gaming. Subrata and I have been playing the occasional Magic sealed deck duels, with 4 Shadowmoor packs and 2 Eventide packs. We tend to find that we can get 2 or 3 (or even 4) decent decks out of this mix, so there’s plenty to keep us busy; the hybrid mana costs allow for a lot of flexibility – almost too much, it sometimes seems. I think I’ve decided that I prefer pure Shadowmoor for sealed deck, though; you get to make better use of the hybrid auras and generally have more synergy among your cards. I bet pure Eventide would be fun, too. I’m kind of sorry they decided not to make Eventide a “big” expansion like Shadowmoor was, especially since the enemy hybrid colors can be a lot of fun. (I ought to write a whole article on what I think of the Shadowmoor and Eventide sets, actually.)
Speaking of games, last night I played poker with some other friends. It was a mostly-nondescript evening, as far as the game went, and I was mostly entertained by the livelier-and-snarkier-than-usual conversation. But around 10:45 when I announced I was going to leave soon, I went on a big winning streak and didn’t leave for another half an hour. I managed to stack one of my friends, and win some other decent pots besides, and ended up with probably my most successful session yet. Good deal!
Have I mentioned we’re getting our complex’s exterior painted at home? We are. It’s taking a while, since they’re repairing and replacing some of the siding, and although that’s a pain, I’m glad they’re doing a good, diligent job with it. It’s not something you want to scrimp on. The place will look nice once it’s done. Still, I will be glad when it’s done and I can move my plants from the patio back up to the porch where they belong.
I had a weird glitch with the ol’ journal last night: My site was unable to contact Akismet and so my spam trap stopped working. I get hundreds of spam per day, so this was really annoying. It was fixed by this morning. My hosting service has no idea what happened; I suspect some bad data got propagated around the DNS and it got stuck in their servers overnight. Probably not their fault, and hopefully it was a one-time thing.
Lastly, we’re having another heat wave this week – not as bad as last week’s scorcher, but still pretty hot. I’m hoping today was the peak and that it will cool off over the weekend. Fortunately, it always cools down at night so it has to be a really bad heat wave to really interfere with my sleep.
I think that about cover it. Now to get a good night’s sleep so I can bike in to work tomorrow!
The first time I played Texas hold ‘em was at the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas (admittedly only a couple of years ago). It was a pretty nifty room then, set aside from the casino and brightly-lit. They’ve since moved it to a dimly-lit area in the middle of the casino, which made it harder to get away from the smoke. I’d still play there from time to time, though.
So it’s with a little sadness that I read that the Excalibur poker room will be going all-electronic later this month, with dealer-less tables. Chatting with the dealers is one of the perks of playing low-limit hold ‘em, and the better ones are both good dealers and fun conversationalists. Of course, not having a dealer to tip means more profit for winning players. It still seems weird, though. The dealer is also the accountant and policeman for the table, and a good one can have a calming effect on a rowdy or out-of-control table.
I’ll be curious to see how this experiment works – will the players embrace it, or will they abandon the Excalibur to go play with actual dealers? My guess is some of each, depending on how much each player is concerned about the rake and tips.
All things considered, this has been a pretty crappy week:
- A couple of last-minute, difficult projects landed on my shoulders this week, resulting in a great deal of stress for me at work. I managed to finish one today and make progress on the other one, but man, it was a rough week. And of course the things I’d planned to work on got deferred in the meantime. Sigh.
- Debbi has her own job stress, since the majority shareholder of the company she works for has made an offer to buy the rest of the company. I’ve never been part of a corporate buyout, never mind one of this magnitude, but I’m sure this makes everyone who works there uneasy, since who knows how things might change if the buyout takes place?
- We’re painting our townhouse complex soon, and I realized that my vegetable garden runs right along one of the exterior walls, so now I’m stressed out that I might need to pull out the vegetables just as they’re ripening in order to allow the painters access. Gah! Maybe I can cover them with tarps for the days they’ll be painting there, or maybe I can offer to paint that section myself after the growing season is over. Sigh.
So I’m really glad it’s Friday, because I’m exhausted and frazzled.
On the bright side:
- I upgraded my journal to WordPress 2.6 and started having a couple of problems with it. But I eventually discovered that one problem was due to having the wrong bookmark to access the admin pages of my journal (I’d bookmarked the login page rather than the admin page), and the other was because I’d been editing some old entries recently which explained why Akismet‘s “automatically discard spam comments on posts older than a month” feature seemed to be broken – editing the entries apparently re-set their age counter, so I’m getting a little more spam in my spam trap than I used to. But, it looks like it’s all good in the end.
(All that said, I am really looking forward to using the “live preview” feature of WordPress 2.6, as I’ve wanted to switch to a new journal template for FP for months now.)
- I got to play poker last night with friends, and finished up a few bucks in our low-stakes game. All of my profits came from a single hand when my set of Jacks beat pocket Aces. I also managed to get away with losing the minimum when my A-Q hit top pair on the flop, and I folded to two bets – correctly, as it turned out as I was up against Aces again. I’m far from a great player, but I seem to be holding my own in this group.
- And Debbi and I went to my favorite Italian restaurant for dinner tonight. Yay!
I think we’re going to have a low-key weekend. We have a few chores to do, but otherwise we need to empty our brains and de-stress.
The days have been just flying by, lately! I realized this weekend that I never wrote an entry about last weekend, partly because I’d been busy catching up on posting photos from my Dad’s visit!
The bittersweet part of last weekend was going to two Red Sox/Athletics games, which I’d been excited about since this is a rare year in which my Red Sox visited Oakland twice in the same season. Unfortunately, we ended up seeing two games of a three-game sweep by the A’s, with the Sox losing 8-3 on Friday, and then 3-0 on Saturday. The Saturday game was almost very exciting as Justin Duchscherer came two baserunners away from pitching a perfect game. But he hit Jason Varitek leading off the 6th, and David Ortiz singled in the 7th. Huston Street replaced Duchscherer for the 9th, and that was it. Bummer. On television we watched the A’s finish the sweep by winning 6-3 on Sunday. Alas.
On the bright side, the Sox have gone 4-2 since then, and they still have the second-best record in the American League (behind the Rays, who seem to finally be capitalizing on their substantial talent base).
Sunday we also had Subrata and Susan over for the day. We hadn’t heard from them for a few days and we’d figured they might be going stir crazy waiting for their child to arrive. (As I wrote over this past weekend, he arrived last Thursday.) We met at The Counter for lunch and then came back and played Magic (Subrata and me) and dominoes (all four of us) for the afternoon, winding up having dinner at Marie Callender’s.
The Magic session was interesting, my second time really playing Shadowmoor. We played a sealed deck game. Subrata had two viable builds from his cards, while I thought I had three or even four, but part-way through one game I realized I just didn’t have the right mix of stuff to make a white-blue deck work; it kept wanting to be write-green. So I did that instead and it worked quite well, better than the black-red deck did. The red-green version might have worked, too, but I didn’t try that. Anyway, it does feel like Shadowmoor is a slower format than Lorwyn or Time Spiral were. But since I enjoy creature-based decks, that’s not really a bad thing.
This weekend as I said we went to the hospital to visit Subrata, Susan and Ajay on Friday evening. Saturday we went out and did some shopping, including buying a new cat bush (half-height cat tree) for the downstairs. Even though it’s nearly identical to the old one, the cats still had to sniff it all over. But it seems to have passed muster!
I also went by a sale at Illusive Comics, an area store which I hadn’t visited before. (Well, I might have visited them years ago under their previous incarnation and previous owners, but I honestly don’t remember.) The owners are very enthusiastic, which is a great thing in anyone doing small retail! I’ll probably go back every so often, even though my I already have a regular shop I patronize (Comics Conspiracy). As most stores today do, Illusive seems to be focusing on new books and paperback collections. Unfortunately I’m an outlier among comics fans: the main thing that brings me back to a shop is a good and constantly-changing back issue selection, and the comics retailing biz has moved away from back issues over the last 15 years. And every store has pretty much the same set of paperback collections, so you don’t really need to go to multiple stores for those.
Anyway. Comics retailing is hard enough without listening to me moan about how comics shops aren’t like they were back when I was a teenager, so enough about that.
We spent a good chunk of Saturday doing chores around the house: We did a whole bunch of long-awaited cleaning, throwing away the little things which stack up on bookshelves and in the garage and in nooks and crannies elsewhere. I put up a bike hanger so we could reclaim some floor space by hanging Debbi’s bike above mine. Now Debbi wants to hang the step ladder and our spare folding chairs, so that may be another project soon! Debbi fixed up the shadowbox with my old Mardi Gras beads and coins, and it looks great!
Sunday we had a quieter day. I spent a lot of the afternoon and evening up in the study paying bills, putting together some Magic decks, and doing some cleaning up (though not nearly enough). We also cooked dinner and watched Sunday night baseball.
So that about covers it. We have some more projects to take care of around the house (for instance, replace the long-broken kitchen dispose-all), and I hope we can get a bunch of it taken care of this summer. It ought to keep us busy!
Meanwhile, happy June, everyone!
Friday Subrata and I got together to play Friday Night Magic. Meanwhile our partners Debbi and Susan got together to do Friday night scrapbooking at a store they discovered. We each had a good time, and although Subrata and I went to Game Kastle, which started its game about an hour later than where we’ve been going to play before, we didn’t finish a lot later than they did, so it all worked out well.
Friday was the release day for the new Magic expansion, Shadowmoor, which is the complementary set to the previous block, Lorwyn. Rather than having interactions among creatures in a tribe (elves, goblins, etc.), this block involves colors which work closely together. That gives it a different dynamic in draft, since the “hybrid” color mana costs mean you can play more cards that come your way than in other blocks.
I had a pretty good draft putting together a green-red deck which had a few good tricks but basically came down to putting big creatures in play before my opponents could deal with them. I won my first match handily, lost my second match by a very thin margin, and got crushed in my third. So not too bad a showing. My third opponent isn’t impressed with the set, feeling that it’s a set which plays slowly at first, but then a single card can win the game for either player if they get lucky. To some extent this is always true in Magic, but it does seem like the power curve leaps rather suddenly at a certain point. On the other hand, I enjoy creature-based decks, so the slow progress early in a game suits me okay. I’ll have to play more to see what I think about it. It does feel like the set is very light on creature removal, though, which might make red-black the color combo of choice.
Saturday was a day of running around doing errands, followed by going to an engagement party for our friends Josh and Lisa. Some friends of theirs put together a very nice party at their house, and many friends of each showed up. Josh has been one of the more avid boardgamers at Subrata’s weekly session since he started coming a couple of years ago, so there were several people Debbi and I knew there. It was a fun time, at least until my cold meds started wearing off around 8 and I started wearing down.
(I can’t wait to shake this cold. I’m slowly getting better, and not really wiped out by it by the end of every day, but it’s sill a drag, sniffling and coughing.)
And last but by no means least, today it’s Debbi’s birthday!
I’d been teasing her all week about the presents I’d bought for her, all the while hoping that I’d actually get them in time, since I’m becoming the world’s worst procrastinator when it comes to buying presents. However, I’d come up with a couple of neat gift ideas, and hoped to pull it off.
Fortunately, I was able to make time to go by Lisa’s Tea Treasures on Thursday morning and picked up a nice English-style tea pot for her, since she’d talked about getting one so she could make larger pots of tea. (Lisa’s Tea came at Susan’s recommendation, for which I thank her since otherwise I had little idea of where to go!) And my order for Corner Gas seasons one and two on DVD arrived from Amazon Canada on Friday afternoon, somewhat to my surprise since they’d just shipped earlier in the week. Corner Gas is Debbi’s favorite show these days, and we watch it most nights on TV. A lot of its humor is based on wordplay, which means I enjoy it a lot more than most sitcoms.
Anyway, somehow I’d managed to not give her any hints about it all about them and she was completely surprised! And loved them all! Yay!
In the afternoon we had a small group of people over for grillables and cake to celebrate, keeping it small to not drive ourselves nuts with preparation. (I still drove myself nuts by insisting on mopping the tile floors this morning, but that’s my problem.) We had a fun time, and our friends Lisa and Michel brought their infant daughter over, which especially amused the cats, since Newton had no idea what to make of this not-a-lot-larger-than-he-is human sitting in the carrier on the floor. Isabella also was fascinated when I brought out the radio-controlled helicopter later on.
It all went smoothly, and after people left we had a quiet dinner, and of course some cake and tea and watched tonight’s Corner Gas.
Happy birthday, Deb! I’m glad you had a good one.
We wanted to do something more than just going to dinner for our upcoming anniversary, so yesterday we took a day trip to Cache Creek indian casino, which is about 2 hours away, outside Sacramento.
We headed out a little before 10 am and got there just before noon. It was a sunny, warm day, a nice day for a drive. We were fortunate to have good radio reception almost all the way there, so we were able to listen to all but the last few minutes of Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, which was a particularly good episode, too, with Drew Carey on the panel, and Moby as the guest, both of whom were hilarious.
Anyway, Cache Creek has lots and lots of parking, and is in pretty much the middle of nowhere. After getting off the freeway onto Route 16, we drove through some truly small towns: Madison seemed to be little more than a general store a few roads; Esparto is bigger, and you drive right through their downtown, past their school and post office (note to self: they have a shaved ice stand along the way); and Capay seems even smaller than Madison, but features red-brick shoulders down their main street. But mostly it’s just farmland and grape vines. Pretty, but very, very rural.
We easily found parking in the garage and went inside. I took a couple of pictures of the lobby before a security guard came over and told us that we couldn’t take photos pointing the camera towards the casino. A little strange, but oh well. Their lobby is pretty impressive, though:
The casino is much the same as a Las Vegas casino, maybe about average by that standard (bigger than Bally’s, not as big as the MGM). It’s a big room of slot machines and tables games with restaurants around the edge, a nightclub/concert venue on one side, and a large poker room. To my surprise, they even had some penny slots. They also had video poker machines with better payouts than we usually find in Vegas.
We both played some video poker during the afternoon. I had a surprisingly run of luck, getting four-of-a-kind twice. Debbi was not so lucky, which is too bad since she plays a lot more video poker than I do. She could use a run of luck.
The main disappointment for me is that I had heard that they have no limit Hold Em here with 1/2 blinds, but when I asked they said they only had 2/4 blinds. Since I haven’t played NLHE except with my friends at our home games, I wanted to start at the lowest blind structure when playing in a casino. Oh well. Also, one of the room managers told Debbi she couldn’t stand behind me and watch me play one time when she came in, which is different from every other room I’ve played in. I’m not sure what the motivation was there, but whatever.
Anyway, I played 3/6 limit hold ‘em instead of no limit. Which even though I ended up down a little was a lot of fun. I made full houses three times and won a number of other hands, going on quite a roll in the middle of the session. Unfortunately the winning stretch was bracketed by a period of making the second-best hand a bunch (a good way to lose a bunch of money), and a card-dead period. I would have finished up a little except that twice a woman managed to make her flush on the turn or river to beat my flopped two pair. But, that’s the way it goes.
We didn’t try any of their sit-down restaurants, instead doing the grill and the deli. The grill was pretty good, the deli was pretty mediocre. The dessert place served great milkshakes, though.
The drive home was uneventful (setting aside the amazing number of bugs which hit my windshield), and we got home almost exactly 12 hours after leaving in the morning.
There’s not quite enough to keep us occupied there for a whole weekend, so I’m glad we didn’t get a room to stay for the weekend, but it should be fun as a day trip a couple times a year. I think leaving just a little earlier would make the trip a little smoother, but this trip went well, and we had fun!
Yesterday was a day of mixed results. Mostly good, but with a down ending.
My crowning achievement of the work-day was reading a bug and figuring out what was going on without actually looking at any code. This got a “Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening!” comment from the engineer who’s working on that code. It’s a good feeling when your guesses turn out to be correct (not least because a good guess is worth several hours of digging).
In the evening I joined the guys for some low-stakes poker.
The first couple of hours I could do practically no wrong. I was hitting straights and flushes left and right, bluffing people off hands, etc. One hand I went all-in on the turn on a board of K-7-5-K, and my opponent thought for a long time and finally called with 7-5, for 2 pair. I was trying to bluff him off and showed A-T. I rivered the Ten for a better two pair and stacked him. I felt a little bad that I sucked out to win, but was pretty happy with how I played anyway.
I went card-dead for an hour or so but still scratched out a few winnings.
By midnight I had tripled up on the evening, and looked down at pocket Kings in a raised pot. I reraised and got two callers. The flop was 6-5-4 with two diamonds. I bet, got raised, and reraised. My opponent – the other deep stack at the table – thought for a long time and went all-in. I called immediately and she showed 4-4 for a set of 4s, and I missed the turn and river and got stacked.
I realized that I’ve lost more money against sets than any other hand in our no-limit hold ‘em home games, and that I rarely win much money with sets. I think I have a blind spot when thinking about whether I might be up against a set (although to be fair, the power of the set is that it’s well-disguised). In this case I certainly thought I had an excellent chance of being good on my first bet. When I got raised I thought there was a good chance he had anything from Aces down to Tens, or was even trying to bluff me off with two big cards (e.g., A-K). I didn’t really think he’d called with a small pair (even though I do myself sometimes) and made a set. By the time he went all-in I felt pot committed, so it was too late to back out then. I guess I could have called his raise, or even checked the flop, although the latter seems very risky on that board. Maybe there was just nothing I could do here.
One thing I keep thinking of is that when you get down to it, Kings is still just one pair, and losing a huge pot with one pair is lame. So when faced with a big bet, I should certainly be thinking that my opponent can beat one pair. Maybe that’s the mindset I need to be in.
Anyway, despite going down I played for 5 hours in twenty bucks, and that’s cheaper entertainment than a movie. Others at the table had worse luck then I did, so I shouldn’t complain. I’ll get ‘em next time!
It was fun, tho. We have a pretty competitive group, and none of us are easy marks to any of the others, which makes for some lively sessions.