(Edited 7/25/13 to add): If you haven't already seen it, click here after reading this post to see the article I wrote for ADANAI online magazine about "Veronica" (real name: Alicia) and her life as a Vegas grinder.)
But then, so did everybody else.
But then, so did everybody else.
My favorite story from my most recent Vegas visit started on Tuesday of last week, when I played in the Aria 1:00 PM tournament for the first time on this visit. I was assigned seat 9 and was already settled in, waiting for the tournament to start when I noticed a very attractive young woman coming over to the table. She looked about mid-20’s and had long blonde hair. Her tightish top and cut-offs indicated she had an excellent figure, but the top was not the kind designed to work The Jennifer Tilly Effect. It took a while, but I was eventually going to find out this lady didn’t need such tricks to have her way—pokerwise—with all of us guys.
I will call this woman “Veronica” because much later, when I asked her name, she told me what it really was and of course, it was not Veronica. Veronica started to take seat 1, and then realized that seat 1 was not seat 10, and indeed, her receipt said she belonged in seat 10, right next to me. This put two thoughts in my mind. First, I can think of a lot worse things than having a pretty girl sitting next to me at the poker table. Second, it appeared she wasn’t sure about the assignment of seat numbers at a poker table. Of course, it’s an easy mistake to make; you know that 1 & 10 are directly on either side of the dealer and if both seats are open, you can find yourself heading towards the wrong one. But I did let it affect my first impression of her.
Well that and the fact that, have I mentioned—she was a young, pretty girl? I try not to stereotype poker players, but if players have a certain look, I kind of assign a poker playing type to them until they prove otherwise. Now, I am very careful not to overly rely on this first impression, and not to risk too much on this first impression until it is verified, or more likely, disproven. But if a young punk kid sits down with the hoodie, the earbuds, the sunglasses, yeah, I assume he’s a loose aggressive type until I see contrary evidence, and proceed accordingly. When someone physically presents such an obvious stereotype, I concentrate on their play first (over the other players) to try to prove or disapprove my prejudgment as soon as possible.
So here was this pretty, young girl who initially mistook seat 1 for seat 10. Yeah, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I immediately dismissed her as someone I didn’t have to worry about much, if at all. I know there are some great female poker players out there. And I know of no inherent reason that men make better poker players than women—and I don’t believe they do. But as I lamented here, I hadn’t played with a lot of women at the No Limit table (though a lot more in tournaments than in cash games). In fact, although I didn’t think of her at the time, the only woman I can put in the category of both young (under 30) and pretty that I recall from any tournament was Abigail, the unpleasant gal I described in this post, Of course, Prudence is both young and pretty (and a better poker player than she thinks she is) but there is nothing about Veronica that reminded me of Prudence, other than gender. Most of the young, pretty girls I’d seen play poker were at the 2/4 limit game and they almost always played very tight, rather unimaginative poker.
So as the tournament started, I watched to see if anything Veronica did would dissuade me from my initial thought that she was in over her head and would play a very nitty kind of poker. And for the first hour, Veronica played approximately zero hands.
Yeah, she didn’t play any hands. I recall one hand where she limped in and when someone raised after her, she folded pre-flop. If she was big blind in an unraised pot, she saw the flop and folded to any bet. Otherwise, she sat there in total silence, listening to her Ipod. She said nothing to anyone, except for trying to order a drink. It was getting to be incredibly obvious that my initial impression was dead on.
Then came the hand. I paid attention when for one of the first times all day, Veronica limped into a pot. She was in early position as I recall. I think there might have been a preflop raise after her, and she called. The flop came K-Q-x, all diamonds. Veronica checked, and I don’t recall if there was a bet from someone else, or if it was checked around. If there was a bet, she called it. ((EDITED TO ADD: Veronica herself has since commented below at this link that she was the BB, she called a small raise preflop, and indeed no one bet on the flop))
The turn was a 9, non-diamond. This time Veronica bet out with a decent sized bet. I immediately put her on Jack -10. That’s a hand a lot of people love to play, even nits. I guess by now there was just one other player in the hand, the pre-flop raiser (if indeed, it was raised preflop), and he just called.
The river was an 8 I believe, also not a diamond. Veronica led out with another good sized bet, and the other guy announced, “All-in.”
Wow. That certainly made things interesting. It was probably the first all in move at our table. The guy had Veronica covered; since she had played so little, she still had most of her 10K starting stack, so the other guy had won some pots.
Veronica went into the tank for a long time. I actually felt sorry for her. I was sure that she had J/10, had turned the straight, and was now facing a guy who was selling a story that he had flopped a flush and slow-played it. Again, I thought Veronica was in over her head, and her tournament life was on the line. I didn’t think there was any way she’d call the guy. Furthermore, I thought folding was the right move. If the guy had bluffed before, we hadn’t seen the evidence. Plus at this point in the tournament, and all-in bluff would take some huge cojones. And Veronica’s would have to be even bigger to call him.
On the other hand, if the guy had the same read on Veronica as I had, he would be convinced she’d fold. So maybe it was a bluff based on his assessment that there was no way the young pretty girl who had barely played a hand until then would call his all in with every chip she had.
Veronica took a long, long time thinking this over. When she finally said, “call” I thought to myself, “Shit. Goodbye, pretty lady.”
She flipped over her Jack-10, just as I thought (at least I had one read right!). The other guy flips over, Ace-10, unsuited. The Ace was a diamond, but the 10 was black. He had totally missed both his gut-shot straight draw and his nut flush draw. He went all with Ace high, a total bluff. And now he was caught with his pants down. The pot was pushed to Veronica, and the guy was left with very few chips, which he lost soon thereafter.
Veronica exhaled and apologized for taking so long. She explained her thinking, “was he slow playing a flopped flush?” She obviously finally decided he was not, and read his bluff.
Although I had read her hand correctly right then, it was very clear that I had totally misread what kind of poker player Veronica was. I was only off by about a million or two miles.
I patted the table, said “nice hand” to her and gave her a few other compliments. “Great read, great play.”
The hand had everyone at the table buzzing. Suddenly, Veronica opened up and started chatting quite a bit. Then a dealer who apparently knew her came to the table. From overhearing the conversation, it became clear that she was known at the Aria. It became obvious that she had played a lot of poker there. I even began to get the impression that she might be a professional poker player. She also started playing more hands, and did pretty well in them. It now appeared to me that she was a tough player who had just been card dead during the early part of the tournament, and saw no reason to get involved in pots early in a deep-stack tournament without decent cards.
With the dealer she knew, the topic of a local, semi-famous poker character came up. I won’t describe him any further because of the trouble I got into in this post but this guy is well known in poker rooms around time and apparently plays a lot of fairly high stakes poker in some big rooms. Then I heard Veronica mentioned that she used to date this guy. Interesting.
During the first break, she started chatting with another dealer, who commented on liking her hair that way, and perhaps not recognizing her because of the change in hairstyles. It was becoming clear that she was a Vegas local and not just a very solid poker player, but one who was very likely making a living at it.
So I asked her name and she did not say “Veronica” because you know I don’t use real names on this blog. I said, “And you obviously live here?”
No, she told me, she used to live in Vegas, but moved somewhere East. Why? For a guy, she said. But she—and her boyfriend—still comes to Vegas a lot. When she lived in Vegas she did indeed make her living playing poker (after some interesting careers in other parts of the country) but now she owns her own business where she moved. She actually prefers and has more fun as a visitor to Vegas rather than as a resident. Also, it was really tough mentally having to depend on poker for money, now she just plays it for fun. But she’s real successful at it. She prefers tournaments to cash games and has had some major cashes at some pretty big events, much bigger than this $125 Aria tournament. She’s played—and cashed—in some WSOP events (not the main event) and some Ladies events. Yeah, my initial read of her was way, way off!
As I could tell by the way she was now playing, taking down a lot of pots, stacking a lot of chips. She was having the best of all us. She was not in over her head against us. Clearly, all the guys at the table, and the other women too, were in way over our heads against the pretty blonde.
Since this is my blog I guess I should discuss a few hands I was involved in, right? Ok, initially, I was playing more hands than usual; I kept getting the kinds of hands that you have to play and then throw away when the flop misses you. So I was never in a good position chipwise. As I was getting near the point where it was either shove or fold, I shoved with 66 pre-flop and it folded to me. Then I shoved with the dreaded pocket Kings! Yeah, I thought that was the end of me, but the caller—who I had covered, had only KJ offsuit and so I busted him out. With pocket Kings!
Even more desperate later, I found QJ diamonds and initially limped in. But when someone else (who I had covered) shoved, I called, only to find him with KK! But I caught runner runner diamonds to nail him with a flush. See, fella, those pocket Kings will kill you every time.
Back to Veronica. As she was stacking the chips, I had to ask her how she got so good at this crazy game. Had she read a lot of books, had she had a poker coach? Nope. She started playing in local games (in college, I think) and just learned by playing. She studied players and their styles and learned from experience. She said she had a few poker books but had only read a few pages in each, she just learned from playing. Wow.
So, with an ulterior motive in mind, I asked her if she read any poker blogs. By this point, Veronica was already one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met at the poker table. I knew I was going to blog at least about the J/10 hand I described earlier. And yeah, I kind of wanted her to know about this silly blog and have her check her out. As it happens, based on an idea from Josie, I actually had cards printed up with my blog’s URL on it to hand out. I just got them right before this trip and thus far had not had the courage to actually hand one out yet. It is really difficult for me to sell myself or my blog in this way, it’s not a natural thing for me to do. I suspect this is a lot easier for Josie to pull off.
But somehow, I forced myself to do it with Veronica. Of course, in my wildest fantasy (well maybe not my wildest fantasy), I would bring up my blog to her, tell who what it was, and she would say, “Oh my god, you’re Rob? You do ‘Rob’s Vegas and Poker Blog’? I love that blog!”
Of course, no such thing happened. She wasn’t into poker blogs, had never read one. So that made it even tougher to promote myself, especially since she was such an obviously great player and as I reveal on this blog in post after post, I’m such a rank amateur at this game. But somehow, someway, I forced myself to tell her, “Well the reason I asked about poker blogs is that I do one. It’s not totally poker, it’s a lot of silliness, but you may want to check it out.” And I pulled one of the cards I had printed up out of my pocket and handed it to her. She indicated that she thought that was interesting and said she would check it out. I figured she was just being polite. But I wanted to tell her that I was going to blog about her and this tournament, but didn’t do so at this time.
Once she starting chatting, she was talking to the other players at the table of course, not just me. A woman asked her about the Vegas dating scene, and she said it was awful. She said “most of the guys are douchebags and most of the girls are golddiggers.” I have to say, she wasn’t the first person I’d heard this from. I believe this same woman commented on how pretty Veronica was, and said she reminded her of a famous actress but she couldn’t think of who it was.
“Is she in comedy?” Veronica asked? Yes. Veronica knew who it was. She said she frequently gets told she looks like Anna Faris although she doesn’t see it herself. I didn’t really think so either, but then, I don’t see my resemblance to “Phil Ivey” either.
Veronica talked about being a huge fan of the hockey team in her adopted city. But she still loves the baseball and football teams from her original hometown (which I won’t reveal here to protect her identity). Since basketball is my favorite sport, I asked her if she liked her hometown’s NBA team too. No she said. Then she said something that made her look a whole lot less attractive to me. She mentioned a player who used to play for her hometown team who was now playing for the Boston Celtics. Now I must say the Boston Celtics are pure evil, they are most disgusting, repulsive group of people in the history of mankind, and no decent human being could possibly not hate them for the repugnant slimebuckets they are. So when she said that because this player was now playing for them, and therefore she now rooted for the Celtics, I got a little ill. Once again I had misread Veronica. This was the first flaw I noticed in her, and it was a huge one.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. Have been since the days of Jerry West & Elgin Baylor. Yeah, that long. Since the NBA is by far my favorite sport, the Lakers are by far my favorite team. And as such, I have no use for the Boston Celtics. Yuck.
When I heard Veronica say this, I said something to suggest my disgust. “Oh god, no” or something like that. She knew what this meant. “I guess you’re a Lakers fan?” “Diehard,” I said. A guy near us, who actually lives in Veronica’s adopted hometown, said, “There’s always one.” I said to the guy, “Just for that, I’m gonna bust you out of this tournament, if it’s the last thing I do. And it just might be.” But in fact, I was unable to follow through on my threat, much to my chagrin.
But it gave me the chance to tell a funny story about my Celtics hatred. I carry around a little tin the size of a poker chip (but the thickness of about 5 poker chips) that originally came with mints. Now I carry aspirin in it. I bought one in the color green and it is supposed to resemble green poker chips, ie, $25 chips. I used this tin as a card protector, so that this never happens to me. One day at BSC, the dealer Mike, who knew I liked basketball but didn’t know what team I liked at that time noticed the tin. We had been discussing basketball and I said something negative about the Celtics, which comes very naturally to me. He expressed surprise because without looking at the tin he noted the color and thought there was some kind of Celtics emblem on it. He actually assumed I liked the Celtics.
At the suggestion, I immediately vomited on the table. No, not really. But I told Mike in no uncertain terms that I found such a suggestion totally immoral and revolting. I said you could call me anything you wanted, you could call me any name in the book, but do not under any circumstances call me a Celtics fan.
The next day, I went back to the place I bought that tin, and found another one in another color. There were none available in either purple or gold, the Lakers’ colors, so I settled on blue, which is the color of my college team, UCLA. I proudly showed the new tin to Mike that night, and told him his scurrilous accusation had cost me $2.29 and that was coming out of the next tip I owed him!
Veronica seemed to enjoy the story. Not long after, I found myself looking at pocket Jacks and realized that with current chip level, this was an excellent time to move all-in. I was getting desperate, and couldn’t expect to get a better hand before I was virtually blinded out. So I shoved.
To my dismay, Veronica, acting immediately after me, went all-in as well. Of course, she had me covered by a huge amount. She was isolating me, she didn’t need to shove. She wanted her hand to be heads up against me. I figured I was dead. It was heads up, and when she flipped over the dreaded pocket Kings, I felt like I did the last time I watched the Celtics beat the Lakers. Yeah, that sick. Pocket Kings are killers for me, not other people. The flop, turn and river revealed no King and no Jacks, and her cowboys held up to knock me out of the tournament.
As I got up, I said to Veronica, “I was already thinking of blogging about you and this tournament, but now I absolutely have to! Be sure to check my blog for this story. Don’t forget.” She said she would remember for sure. I also told her that I always use pseudonyms on my blog, although in this case I had nothing but positive things to say about her. Still, I said she might not want to be associated with such a disreputable blog as mine. We exchanged pleasantries and good-byes and I asked her if she was planning to play in the same tournament tomorrow. She said she wasn’t sure. She had been running good, had won or cashed in the last few tournaments she’d played, so she would see. I told her I wasn’t surprised to hear that, I told her she was an excellent poker player, which was merely stating the obvious.
I went back to the Aria tournament the next day, and was hoping to see her again. For one thing, I wanted to find out how she did in the tournament the day before. Then I remembered that Aria prints up sheets of the winners of their daily tournaments. In fact, I have the sheet from the event that I took third place in as a souvenir. So I went over and found the sheet from yesterday, and lo and behold, it showed that Veronica had finished first. Yeah, she won the damn thing! I was not surprised at all. I’m pretty sure that Veronica is the best tournament player I’ve ever played with.
A few minutes later I saw her and said hello and congratulated her. She told me that when it was down to four people, everybody but one person (not her) wanted to chop it four ways. Since he refused, they played on until like 11 PM, but she was very glad to bust out the guy who refused to chop, who busted out third, getting less money than he would have if he had agreed to the chop. So there was nice cosmic justice there.
Veronica told me she still had my card and was planning to check out the blog, but figured I would still be in Vegas and therefore wouldn’t have a chance to blog about yesterday. I told her what I thought to be true at that time, that I would be able to blog the story before returning home. Alas, that turned out not to be true. I knew I would need a lot of time to do justice to Veronica. I also told her that I had already picked out the name “Veronica” as her secret identity on my blog and she seemed to like that. Anyway, part of the story of that second Aria tournament has already been told here.
When that tournament was down to 2 tables, I once again found myself at Veronica’s table, yes she had lasted that long, not at all surprising. She had a ton of chips and I had very few. I busted out very soon thereafter, but not to her this time. I said goodbye and reminded her to check the blog.
A few days later, after Veronica returned home, I received an email from her telling me that she had indeed checked out my blog. She said it was the first one she’d ever read (not sure if she meant blogs in general or poker blogs) and that she was looking forward to reading more. Oh, and she also told me that she won the tournament on that second day too! Actually, they did a three way chop for first place. But the girl is on a roll! Not surprising since she is such a terrific player. It’s obvious that my original read on Veronica was the worst read in the history of poker.
Anyway, since Veronica comes to Vegas all the time, and will be playing in some WSOP events, I’m sure I’ll see her again before too long. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe I can get some poker lessons from her. She’s already taught me plenty.