Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words--Dreaded Pocket Kings Edition

I played in the Aria 1PM Tournament yesterday, and figured that the first picture below would be all the blog post I need to do about it.  

Here I am wearing the great shirt that my pal LM gave me for my birthday. I hoped that wearing it would immunize me from my dreaded pocket Kings curse.  Alas, it most assuredly did not.

Sadly, the pic below states the actual result--but at least it's presented in a pleasant way.

Now, as the title of this post is the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  That may be true.  But as you know, my posts are seldom only 1,000 words....or even 2,000.  So to make up for the lack of words, here's a few more pics I've recently come across on the internet.  These pics will flesh out the post, and make it a bit more fuller.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

May Ante Up Column--Summer Tournnament Preview

Here's my newest column for Ante Up.  The link for it on the Ante Up website is here.   Remember, my contribution is embedded in the entire West Coast report.  So below is just my Vegas report.  The magazine should be in your local poker room soon.

I mentioned in the post last month that writing this column was more difficult and time consuming than usual, and I promised to tell you why when I posted it.

As you can see, most of the column is a preview of some of the big Summer Series taking place concurrently with the WSOP.  So I had to review all the schedules, and then use my best judgment about what to talk about from each of them.  It was a challenge.  I wanted to make sure that my own prejudices didn't take over and diminish the value to the reader.  So I tried my best to be the average reader and point out what was unique about each series.

For example, there are a lot of non-hold-em events referenced.  As you know, I have little interest in these but I think it is what makes the summer events noteworthy to a large degree, that's why I mentioned them so prominently.

Of course, there was so much material for a single column, I could have easily gotten an entire column for each series, so keeping the column normal length was another challenge for me.

It would have been even more challenging if all the rooms had come through with their schedules by my deadline.  So I guess I'm lucky that I will be able to discuss the schedules of Aria, Wynn and Bellagio in my next column, which is due any day now.  

Let me know what you think.

It’s that time of year again when Las Vegas rooms announce plans for big summer events that run concurrently with the World Series of Poker. Let’s take a look at the ones that have been released:
VENETIAN: In addition to Deep Stack Extravaganza III, which runs May 26-July 24, there will be a DSE III Warm-up series to get the season off to an early start, May 16-26.
Two $250 buy-in, three-starting-day tournaments bookend the series on May 16-19 and May 23-26. They each feature $100K guarantees while the total prize pool guarantee for this early series is more than $420K.
The big summer series is highlighted by a five-day, $3,500 buy-in that starts June 20 and has a $3M guarantee. Another big event is the $1,100 Mid-States Poker Tour with a $2M guarantee.It has three starting days beginning June 6.
On July 17, the first of three starting flights for the $5K event begins with a $2M guarantee.
Omaha players will be interested in the $1,100 PLO/8 event, which has two starting flights beginning June 27 at 5 p.m. with a $150K guarantee. A $1,100 PLO-PLO/8-Big O tournament with a $100K guarantee runs July 1-2. A $600 Big O tourney runs July 5-6 and has a $50K guarantee.A $400 PLO bounty tournament is July 10 with $100 bounties and a $30K guarantee.
There are bounty tournaments galore, ranging from $200 ($25 bounties) to $1,600 ($500 bounties). The $600 seniors event starts June 14 and has two starting flights with a $250K guarantee.The $400 one-day ladies event runs July 7 with a $30K guarantee.
More than $15M in prize money is guaranteed for the entire series.
Meanwhile, the main event at Deep Stack Extravaganza II ended with a six-way chop in March. The $600 event had more than 500 players and a prize pool of $300K.Ryan Swanberg took home $45K and the trophy for first place, while Ben Palmer settled for $44K. The other four players in the deal went home with between $20K and $26K.
PLANET HOLLYWOOD: The summer series is called Goliath and features more than $8M in guarantees.It runs May 26-July 10.
The series starts out with a Quantum tournament on May 26.The format, popularized at the Bicycle Casino in Southern California, allows players to buy in to the tournament at various amounts offering varying starting stacks as the tournament progresses.
The first two Day 1 flights cost $130 and players start with 10K chips.The second two Day 1 flights cost $240 for 12K chips and the final two Day 1 flights are $350 for 15K chips. Players also have the option of buying in directly to Day 2 for $1K and start with 100K chips.
Players can enter multiple flights and take the biggest stack to Day 2.
If they qualify more than once, they will receive a $2K bonus for cashing twice. The guaranteed prize pool is $150K.Another Quantum tournament begins June 16 with buy-ins of $240, $350, $450, and $1,800.That one has a $300K guarantee.
There are numerous other multiday events, including a $600 buy-in, $1M guarantee, six-starting flight event beginning June 4 that plays to Day 3 on June 7. The Ultimate Goliath Stack tournament starts players with 30K chips for $600 with four starting flights beginning June 21 and has a $700K guarantee.Goliath’s main event offers a $2M guarantee.It has six starting flights beginning July 7 with a $1,650 buy-in.
Various versions of Omaha, including Big O, appear throughout the schedule, as well as HORSE and a Dealer’s Choice event June 9.The LIPS National Championship, a $250 event, runs July 9-10. The Deaf Poker Tour is part of the series, with multiple events starting July 6 and the $250 main event running July 9.
GOLDEN NUGGET: The Grand Poker Series runs May 31- July 3. The $1,675 Poker Night in America event has three starting flights starting June 3. The final table will be live-streamed on Twitch and later broadcast on CBS Sports.Several high-stakes cash games will be recorded for PNIA.
The $570 main event has three starting flights beginning June 29 and has a $500K guarantee.
Players looking for a smaller buy-ins with a big potential payday should check out the $150, six-starting-flight (three a day) tournament June 10.It has a $100K guarantee.A $10K buy-in, seniors super high roller event will be June 26.
Most days have three tournaments starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.The 1 p.m. is usually a $150 tournament with a $20K guarantee.Omaha, PLO and Big O events run throughout the GPS series, which has more than $1M in guarantees.
BINION’S: The 10th annual Binion’s Poker Classic will run June 3-July 5. Fans of disciplines other than hold’em will find many great options in this series.
Most of these events have $240 buy-ins and include stud (June 6), PLO (June 7), HORSE (June 8), Omaha/8 (June 9), deuce-to-seven triple draw (June 10), razz (June 10), PLO/8 (June 13), Omaha 8-stud/8 (June 14), triple stud (June 15), PLO/NLHE mix (June 16), badugi (June 16) and stud/8 (June 21).
Championship events for HORSE and PLO run June 20 and June 23, respectively, with $360 buy-ins and $25K guarantees for each.
NLHE events run most days at noon with $180 buy-ins and $10K guarantees.There are three $565 WSOP qualifiers, with one seat to the WSOP main event guaranteed for each event.
The Classic’s championship event has two starting flights, beginning June 26, and has a $565 buy-in and a $50K guarantee.
WYNN: Ludovic Geilich won the $1,600 championship of the Wynn Classic in March.He outlasted nearly 500 players to take home $150K. Edward O’Connell earned $106K for finishing second and James Petzing took third for $75K. The total prize pool was $726K.
BALLY’S: The first WSOPC at Bally’s saw Jason Wheeler win the $1,675 main event.He took home $323K and a WSOPC ring.Second place went to Lisa Hamilton for $200K and Jamie Rosen took third ($147K) as more than 1,200 entrants competed for $1.8M-plus.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vegas Ain't What it Used to Be (Part 2)

Make sure you’ve read Part 1 (here) before reading this.

I guess some of you are wondering if charging for parking is that big of a deal.  Well actually, yes it is.  But also, it is just symbolic of how Vegas has changed over the years since I first started going there.  It’s sort of the last thing they can take away from you.  What’s next?  No more free drinks for players?  Charging to use the restrooms?  Maybe they’ll charge for each square of toilet paper?

So for those of you who never experienced it (or have forgotten), let me tell you about what Vegas used to be like.

In the old, old days, they wouldn’t dream of charging you for parking.  They barely charged you for anything at all.  When the “mob” ran the town, their philosophy was to do anything they could to get people in the casino. Once there, the suckers—I mean the patrons—would lose money playing games of chance that were totally rigged against them.  If you played long enough, you had to lose money.  Everyone knew you couldn’t beat the house, but yes, occasionally, you’d get lucky and leave a winner.  But they weren’t worried.  They knew you’d be back and give it all back to them.  That’s all they wanted, to get you at that blackjack table, or have you parked in front of the slot machine.  They were willing to lose money on everything else they did in order to keep people coming in to gamble, because they knew they’d win so much more from people gambling than they’d “lose” giving folks cheap (or free) food, drinks, rooms and entertainment.

Eventually corporations took over from the mob.  That reduced the chances of players getting kneecapped in the back room, but it increased the prices of everything around town.

Long before I ever visited Vegas—before I was born even—my Aunt and Uncle used to visit Vegas from L.A. quite frequently.  They had moved to L.A. from New York in the early 1950’s and discovered Vegas.  Back then, it was quite a deal.  They didn’t like to gamble at all.  But they insisted that they could drive to Vegas for a weekend, sit by the pool all day, enjoy a show or two starring a major headliner, eat at the buffet and/or enjoy some fine dining, and it would cost them less than staying home. Of course, gas was really cheap back then.  Interstate 15 didn’t exist, but the two lane highway that connected L.A. and Vegas worked almost as well. In those days, there weren’t that many people in Southern California so traffic wasn’t an issue. And all of that without them gambling a nickel, except for whatever free slot pulls or free table game bets they were given for checking into their hotel (the casinos used to do that).

Many years later, by the time my buddy Norm and I started making regular trips to Vegas, things had changed, but not that much.  We could still get incredibly cheap hotel rooms—especially during the week.  Although I bet we’d be happy to pay what we paid for a Saturday night back then for a weekday night today. 

The food was still a tremendous bargain.  I remember the Circus Circus buffet was like $2,99 for breakfast, $3.99 for lunch and $4.99 for dinner—all you could eat, of course.  And good quality food.  All the buffets were cheap.  When the Rio first opened its buffet, it was the best in town and still a bargain.  After a few years, we noticed the price had gotten a bit out of control.  These days I avoid the buffets but I could never, ever get my money’s worth at one with what they charge.  In fact, a 350-pound person who hadn’t eaten in three days couldn’t get their money’s worth now at most buffets.

There were also great food bargains around town.  Someone mentioned in a comment here not long ago the deal at the Dunes (where Bellagio now resides).  You could get a hot dog and a beer (or a soft drink) for a buck.  Yeah.  Try finding that deal now.  We would ride around town and see signs on the marquees offering great meal deals, sometimes during limited hours, sometimes 24/7. I remember one was at a place called the Ambassador.  Not sure where it was—it’s long gone—but it was off the Strip.  I don’t recall the price, but they had a fantastic deal on a full steak meal we’d always take advantage of every trip.  It wasn’t the best steak we’d ever had, but it was at least as good as half the steaks you’d find in a quality steakhouse.  It probably cost just a few bucks more than I recently paid just for pickles and onions.  There were more great deals like that than we could get to on a single trip.

We rarely ordered drinks at a Vegas bar, but I know back in the day those were cheap too.  I’m sure I remember paying no more than a buck or two for a beer at a bar.  It was cheaper than sitting at a blackjack table, blowing $20 waiting for your beer, that’s for sure.

Since I rarely drank at a bar, I actually remember when I first realized the price of drinks had gone up dramatically.  I was visiting during August, this time alone.  For reasons I can’t recall, I had done a lot of walking around the south end of the Strip.  And it was hot.  Really, really hot.  I later learned that it was the hottest day in Vegas recorded history for that particular date.  Since it was August, you can imagine how hot that was—117°, 118°, something like that.    I finally staggered into Mandalay Bay, and I was about to pass out.  I made it into a bar.  I was going to order my first drink in Vegas bar in years.  A beer sounded real good.  I ordered one from the comely cocktail waitress, and when she told me the price, I was floored.  Now honestly, I don’t recall how much it was, but I was expecting a buck or two and it was a ton more than that.  It was more than a six-pack of beer cost at the local super-market, for sure.  I paid her and all I could think of was, for that price, she should have poured it on her tits and let me lick it off her.

Of course, one of the things that changed were the table limits.  This was long before I started playing poker.  Back then, Norm and I played mostly blackjack and craps.  And since we knew the odds were stacked against us, and we thus wanted to make our precious gambling dollars last as long as possible, we always looked for the lowest minimum bets we could find.  It was actually possible to find $2 blackjack and $2 craps.  We just refused to play higher stakes than that.  There were some “classy” casinos we therefore couldn’t play in (Caesars, Desert Inn, for example) but we could usually find what we wanted.  These days $5 blackjack is virtually non-existent (I think casinos start at $15). And craps?  Forget about it.  Good luck finding a $5 craps table.  It’s $10 if you’re lucky.  And who only puts a single bet down on a craps table?  I would love to still play craps, but the way I like to play, I’d go through $200 in about four minutes unless I started winning right away.  They’ve totally priced me out.

That was actually one of the reasons we started playing a lot of Pai Gow when it started popping up all over town.  Although it generally cost more to start, the nature of the game meant you lost at a much slower rate, and your gambling dollar bought a lot more time than a similar buy-in at BJ or craps.

Although it never was important to me, in those days the cocktail waitress would just give you a pack of cigarettes if you asked for one.  These days, they sometimes have a cigarette lady walking around charging you some ridiculous amount for smokes.  I never smoked, I hate the smell, so I’m fine with that change, I just want to point it out.  And I think the change there may have had more to do with how our society views smoking than it being about Vegas making a buck.  But perhaps I’m being na├»ve.

Also, back then, if you were sitting at a blackjack table and you had a headache, you could ask the waitress to bring you some aspirin.  She’d bring you a couple, no charge.  Now you have to go the gift shop and pay more for a little package of aspirin than a 500-count box from Wal-Mart costs.  However, I suspect that this change has more to do with our corrupt legal system than anything else.  If casinos gave people aspirin for free, they could be sued if the person getting the free aspirin came down with any kind of illness—or, more likely, pretended to.  Lawyers, huh?

And then there were the shows.  The shows used to be a real bargain.  Again, they were loss leaders to get you to come to a particular casino.  Before and after the show, they figured you’d lose plenty of money in the casino to more than cover the deal you were getting for first class entertainment.  Norm and I saw all the big stage productions around town, in addition to plenty of comedy headliners of the day. We saw Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, George Carlin, Bill Cosby (before he became a sad punchline himself), people like that.  And for not a lot of money.

But now….you bet they make tons of money on the shows.  My friends recently saw the Michael Jackson / Cirque de Soleil show at Mandalay Bay and paid like $450 for the two of them. Yes,, they didn’t get the cheapest seats but still, not quite a bargain.  I told them for that kind of money, they should bring him back to life for the finale.

I don’t travel a lot to other vacation destinations, but I do get the sense that hotel rates in Vegas are still a bargain—not compared to the old days but compared to other places people like to vacation.  And then there are the resort fees.  Here, I may surprise you.  I am not going to rant about them.

It’s not that I don’t think they stink—they do.  It’s just that they are more of a one-time gotcha.  Once you’ve been burned by them the first time, you sure as hell better be smart enough to make sure you factor them in when comparing the cost of one hotel to another. You know the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Well, once you know to look for them, problem solved.  Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to have to calculate the real room rate, but it’s manageable.

But you say they are charging for this “resort fee” for nothing, or for stuff that you don’t want, or that they should give you for free.  Well, maybe, but here’s the thing.  Suppose they passed a law outlawing resort fees.  Would you get your room for less?  Not a chance.  They’d just have to be honest about the real rate, and no longer make the room seem like more of a bargain than it is.  They would just add the resort fee onto the daily room rate they quote and make just as much money as they do now.  They’re not really charging you any more by calling it a resort fee, they’re just trying to fool you about the real cost.  As I said, once you get burned the first time (if you do), you know to factor it in.  I understand this, and that’s why you’ve never seen me rail against resort fees.  One of my pals likes to call them “ripoff fees” but I think they’re more like “gotcha this first time fees.”

As I mentioned in part 1, they do charge for parking in downtown Vegas.  In fact, they were charging for parking a zillion years ago when Norm and I first travelled there.  We always used to park in the garage at the Las Vegas Club (recently closed down).  It was five hours free with validation.  And there was no problem getting a validation.  There was a machine right by the cashier, and you were able to stamp the ticket yourself. You had five hours to enjoy any casino downtown without having to pay.  We figured if we needed more than five hours, it would mean we were winning way more than it would cost us for the parking (probably less than a buck an hour over the free period).  However, we never ever had to pay for parking, sadly.

We’d go downtown for three reasons.  One, we thought the buffet at the Golden Nugget was the best in town.  In addition to excellent food overall, they had absolutely the best brownies in the history of mankind.  We’d always joke that one time we’d go there and skip all the other food and just pig out on nothing but brownies.  Fortunately, we never actually tried that. We also liked to play blackjack at the LV Club, which had the “world’s most liberal blackjack.”  You could split and resplit Aces, double down on anything, and I don’t remember what else.  But it was pretty cool.  And then we’d go to Binion’s Horseshoe (now just Binion’s) where they had the most craps games going of any place in Vegas.  Not only did most of the tables offer a $1 minimum bet, but they offered 10X odds.  It was the best place to throw the dice in town.

Oh and by the way, yes I know we are talking years ago and inflation would have brought up many of the costs I’ve quoted by now.  That’s true, but believe me, the increases on all these things I’ve mentioned way exceed the rate of inflation. 

And now they are going to charge for parking on the Strip, where there are always plenty of parking spaces, where they want you to come so you can empty your wallet playing games of chance where the odds are always against you.  And these days, they don’t even pay you 3-2 for a blackjack.  It’s now 6-5.  Why?  Because they can get away with it, that’s why.

What’s left them for them to do to squeeze one more penny out of the suckers players?  Oh I know.  Maybe they’ll start charging you three bucks for pickles and onions on your burger.

Ten bucks to park, (if that’s what is) every time you come to the strip adds up fast.  For one thing, that’s ten bucks less you have to gamble with every time you come there.  Or ten bucks less you have to spend on drinks, or dinner.

Yes, as I pointed out in the first part, free parking will still be available under some circumstances.  Slot players or table games players who play a lot will get free parking. And again, I want to point out that the poker room managers went to bat for their players to get fee parking for their players.

But….not all their players.  Instead of offering parking validations for the players, you have to earn the free parking over time with your play.  The system was designed to keep the local regs and grinders coming back to MGM poker rooms.  Those folks should qualify easily.  But tourists? Not so much.

Most non-locals won’t qualify for free parking (at least from poker). How many visitors play 75 hours in a Vegas poker room a year?  I am an exception to the rule, because I go to Vegas a lot (partially because of my jobs) and play a lot of poker when I am there.  But I had already planned on coming to Vegas less often.  And if I decide to play at MGM less often and other non-MGM rooms more often, will I qualify for the free parking next year? 

And as I said, all the Strip casinos will have no choice but to adapt the same policy.  Let’s say the CET rooms use the same qualification….75 hours a year gets you free parking.  Well, maybe I can’t play 75 hours each in MGM rooms and CET rooms in a year (forgetting about hours at Venetian or TI or Wynn for a second).  I might have to decide to play all my poker in one chain or another, and thus never be able to park for free in the other chain’s casinos.

What about people who visit Vegas (for poker) less often than I do?  It will be very hard for most non-locals to qualify.  I ask my readers who visit Vegas from around the country (or around the world).  Do you play 75 hours of poker in one poker room a year?  Or do you play 40 hours a year in one poker room and 35 hours in another (both owned by MGM) in a year?  Probably not.
Of course if you fly in and don’t rent a car, it won’t matter.  But if you drive in, or fly in and rent a car, it will definitely matter.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s not just about me.  Usually it’s just about me, but not this time.  This blog is called Rob’s Vegas and Poker Blog.  Vegas is before poker.  That’s because I love Vegas.  Or always used to, anyway.  And I think this hurts the city.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this post from the same Two + Two thread that originally gave out the the info on the parking arrangement. Someone posted this a few posts later.  I post without permission or giving credit, but it’s there:

So it looks like just another tourist squeeze. Well, maybe they know what they're doing, but they've certainly been losing trips from me. I've cut way back.

Vegas is a desert with casinos and good food. With all the rising fees and ridiculous prices, lots of nicer destinations are becoming higher value choices. It's becoming easier and easier to "lose" the Vegas vs. elsewhere discussion with my wife

This is from a poker forum so I assume the guy plays poker.  My fear is that the parking charge will hurt the games in town.  At MGM properties at first, then everywhere when the other rooms have to charge for parking as well.  There will be fewer tourists in those games.  They’ll come to Vegas less often (if for no other reason than it will become more expensive and they can afford less trips), and they will not drive to casinos where they have to pay for park.  These three or four times a year visitors will never qualify for free parking unless they have a bad slot machine or pit game habit.  More and more, the games will more locals-oriented.  It’s tough to win money from the local nits, regs and grinders.  Much easier to win pots from the plumber from Peoria or the banker from Bangor who come a few times a year.

So yeah, Vegas ain’t what it used to be, and it becomes less like what it used to be every year.  The corporate suits who run the place are trying their best to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  They basically have a license to steal called a gambling license, and it’s just not enough for them.  They want to grab you by the feet, turn you upside down shake every last penny from your pockets.

Shame on you, MGM.  Shame on you, Vegas.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vegas Ain't What it Used to Be (Part 1)

Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably noticed a series of tweets from me during my recent Vegas trip expressing my displeasure with Vegas.  I even implied—hell, I may have actually said it outright—that I wouldn’t be coming back to Vegas any time soon, if at all.

Did I mean it?  Well, you say a lot of things when you’re in the middle of a bad run of poker.  And yes, there were things happening, Vegas wise, that were pissing me off.  But of course I will be back in Vegas.

But yes, when I sent those tweets, I was annoyed with Vegas, and it wasn’t just due to a bad run of poker. A couple of my readers who do follow me on Twitter even commented on one of my recent blog posts, requesting that I explain what was making me all of a sudden hate Vegas.  And so, here we go.

As the title of this post says, Vegas ain’t what it used be.  But before I explain that, let me take a detour to Jean, NV.  This has nothing to do with anything I don’t like about Vegas, but I thought my readers might find this noteworthy. I figure that most of you read Tony’s blog. You might remember a few years back he was residing at The Gold Strike, a casino located about 15-20 miles south of Vegas in the middle of nowhere. I believe he was getting free rooms there in exchange for his video blackjack play.  The casino didn’t have a poker room, and to the best of my knowledge, never had one. 

The hotel/casino is about 7 miles north of the California/Nevada state line, right on the I-15.  So I drive past it every time I go to or leave Vegas.  By the way, there are three hotel/casinos right on the Stateline, so it’s not the first place to legally gamble when you come to Vegas from Southern California.  I’ve never played anything there, but I may have stopped for a meal or two over the years. And it is a convenient stop for a restroom break, so I’ve stopped there a number of times for that over the years.

On this recent trip, I did indeed pull off the freeway to use their Men’s Room. Knowing the time I’d be hitting Vegas, I was concerned that I’d be running into heavy traffic in the Strip corridor, so why take a chance?  As another aside—whoever designed the new Tropicana exit for the northbound I-15 traffic should be sentenced to life imprisonment (and hard labor too)—it is the worst fustercluck imaginable.  Slows down the entire freeway, too.  Just horrible. 

So, I used the facilities and then as I was leaving I couldn’t help notice the casino.  It was empty.  This was Thursday afternoon, first day of March Madness, so it was a bit surprising.  But what was even more surprising that the pit was mostly gone.  Seriously, they had three blackjack tables and a roulette table in the entire casino.  That’s it.  At the time, there were two players playing blackjack, another blackjack table manned by a dealer just standing there, and the roulette table was not open.  The back part of the pit, which I’m sure had more live games when I last stopped in, was now filled with four or five cars.  Prizes for slot machine jackpots, I guess.  Yes, there were slot machines, but a lot of empty space. It was really pathetic. Maybe it was losing Tony’s business that hurt their business? Based on what I saw, I have a feeling that place will be shut down in the near future.  I just hope they leave the restrooms up.

Anyway, I was already annoyed with Vegas before I even got there.  I’m sure you heard that MGM Resorts announced, at the beginning of the year, they were going to start charging for parking at all their casinos on the Strip. 

Details were murky, speculation was rampant, rumors were wild, tempers were short.  But one thing was obvious.  The era of free parking in Vegas was over. 

The announcement affects everyone who drives in Vegas and ever has reason to visit a Strip casino—residents and visitors alike.  But poker players were especially concerned. For one thing, it is assumed that all the other Strip casinos will eventually follow suit and charge as well.  I mean, even if they didn’t want to, they won’t have a choice.  People will park at nearby casinos that aren’t charging and then walk to the casino that is charging.  And the parking structures will fill up with other casino’s customers.

For example, if Mirage is charging and Caesars Palace isn’t, people will park at Caesars and walk to the Mirage.  Similarly, if you want to visit MGM, people will fill up the Tropicana’s parking lot and walk over the foot bridge.  So it’s got to be only a matter of time before they all do it. 

The initial announcement said it would be like $10 or less.  I’m pretty sure that the charge was going to be for each entry/exit and not per day (if you were staying at the hotel).  So a day of visiting a few poker rooms via car would get expensive. Pretty sure they said that they wouldn’t validate parking if you were going to eat in one of the restaurants.  So, if you live in Vegas or were visiting and staying off strip or at the Venetian, and you wanted to have dinner at the pricey Craftsteak at MGM, you’d have to cough up another $10 just to leave after you finished your meal. 

They announced something vague about “earning” free parking though the use of your MLife card (the corporate rewards card for MGM properties).  That might be fine for slot players, and pit game players, who get enough points with their play to move up tiers on their cards, but as poker players know, at MGM properties, you get no credit on your rewards card for playing poker.  You could play poker at the Bellagio 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never move off the basic entry level tier.  But if you dumped some money in a slot machine (and I have no idea how much it would take), you can move up the tiers.  Another thing they announced was that locals would have some extra grace period before they started charging them.  Not that that would help your humble scribe.

So the poker players who were unhappy wondered if the poker rooms maybe would be allowed to validate for parking. The consensus guess—and it was just a guess—was that they would not.  Of course, I contacted all the poker room managers at MGM properties to find out if they knew how they were going to handle the issue.  Hey, it was arguably part of my job.  They all said that they didn’t know anything yet.  I did ask one of my buddies at one of the properties—not one of the managers but someone a bit higher in the food chain than a floorman—if he thought the rooms would validate parking.  He said that in the absence of any other kind of accommodation (which he knew nothing about, of course), he didn’t see how the rooms could afford to be charged for parking for all their poker players.  It didn’t sound good.

I should point out that they do, technically at least, charge for parking downtown.  But you can get your parking validated easily.  When you buy into the tournament at Binion’s, you can just hand them your parking ticket and they stamp it.  No fee to leave the garage.  I recalled one of TheTrooper’s videos where he said you don’t even have to play—if you take your ticket to the security desk, they will stamp it, no questions asked.

What I’ve described above was the status of things when I was in Vegas, last month, when I got annoyed at Vegas.  As it happens, while I was drafting this post, word squeaked out about how MGM was going to handle poker players when the new parking fees kicked in.  You can find a link here to a post on the Two + Two Forums about it.  I have extremely good reason to believe that the information there is basically correct.  Note, for reasons of pure paranoia, I am not going to tell you what it says, if you are interested, please check out the link.

It would appear that the local poker regs and grinders will come out just fine.  Even a non-local like me will be fine, at least.  I’ve put in enough hours to qualify, for sure.  But as nice as it is for me, it will still be bad news for lots of people.  If you come to Vegas a few times or year (or less) for just a few days, you are not going to be able to qualify for free parking by just playing poker. This will make MGM owned poker rooms less desirable for tourists to play in and likely hurt the games themselves.  Also, it might make Vegas a less desirable tourist destination in the long run.

Note: I am positive that all the poker people in the MGM rooms were not happy about decision to charge for parking.  I don’t blame them at all, in fact, I give them a lot of credit for getting their bosses to accommodate poker players as much as they apparently have.  The poker room managers are the good guys here.  The corporate suits who made the call?  Not so much. 

Again, the point of this post is to explain why I was upset with Vegas back in March. My explanation for that is dependent on how I felt at the time, not how I feel now.  Furthermore, I want to address how much Vegas has changed since I started visiting there, and despite any accommodation for poker players they make, charging for parking is definitely a change, and not for the better.

So as I headed to Vegas, I couldn’t help thinking that this might be my last visit to Vegas where I wouldn’t have to pay for parking on the Strip (at least at certain properties).  Originally it was supposed to start in April and I wasn’t sure I’d be back before it started.

I guess it was just in the back of mind when pulled into to the NYNY parking garage for my first poker session, after getting settled in at my temporary residence.  I parked there because my pre-poker meal was going to be a slice of pizza and a hot dog at Nathan’s, probably my favorite junk food place ever.  From there, I walk across the bridge and am at the MGM poker room.  I’m pretty sure the walk from the NYNY garage to the MGM poker room is no longer than the walk from the MGM garage to the same place.

It didn’t take me long to be reminded of the coming parking change.  The ramp up the garage had been repainted, re-aligned, and there were already parking kiosks installed to either give out parking stubs or receive payment.  They were non-functional for the time being.  Several of the floors in the garage were closed off for the change, and for some reason, they had renumbered the floors….but hadn’t told the elevators.  So the sign in front of the garage elevators said you were on a different floor than the elevator thought you were on.

But the real tip off was the lights above the parking spaces.  When MGM announced the change, they tried to justify it by saying they were offering their patrons “enhanced parking.”  What that meant was that they installed lights over all the parking spaces, so you could more easily find an open space.  If the light was red, the space was occupied.  If it was green, it was an available space. Does that seem like something ten bucks of your hard earned money?  Doesn’t seem that difficult to tell if a space has a car in it without the lights.

So I saw all this, including the damn lights, and got annoyed.  Rub my face in the fact that parking would no longer be free.  But yes, I did see that the green light above the space I parked had changed to red when I pulled in.  Super.

A few days later I had the experience I described in the post here, where I was essentially charged three bucks for asking for pickles and onions with my burger.  Another twist of the knife from the city of Vegas.

It was at that point I started tweeting negative stuff, saying I was done with the town.  So now you have the full picture.

And….as you can tell from the “Part 1” in the title, this is a two-parter.  I’ll have more to say about parking and how Vegas has changed in the second part, coming on Sunday.  Be sure to come back to check it out.  (Edited to add:  Part 2 is now posted and can be found here).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Another Long Run, Another Close Call

As I explained in the post here, my plans for tournament play on this past trip went askew even before I arrived in town.  But the unexpected Stratstack tournament gave me a viable tournament to play on Saturday, and I had a pretty good run, if you overlook the fact that I didn’t cash.

Once I realized that Aria wasn’t a viable option for a weekend tournament, I did come up with another plan, before I found out about the Stratstack.  I decided I would play the Aria 1PM, $125 tourney on Monday, when they returned to their regular schedule. Keep in mind, when I visit Vegas these days, it is not a vacation.  I generally only play poker on the weekends and in the evenings.  During the weekdays, I work.  So I’d be taking a day off from work (real work, that is, for PokerAtlas and/or Ante Up, not what the famous TBC means by “work.”).  Fortunately, I make my own hours, so I could do it.

I suppose the Stratstack might have scratched my tournament itch and made me reconsider playing Aria on Monday.  But since that session at the Strat remained the best poker session I had since I got to town by the time Monday rolled around, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and take the afternoon off and play in the tournament. A nice tournament cash could turn things around for me in a hurry, if I could only get some cards to play.

I didn’t make a note of the payouts or prize pool for some reason (that’s kind of a giveaway that I didn’t cash in this, isn’t it?).   Fortunately I was able to find the details on Herndon Mob.  According to that, there were 105 runners and a prize pool of a bit more $10K.  They paid 13, with the bottom four spots getting the min-cash of $194.  So yeah, I wasn’t thrilled about that.  The final result of the tournament showed the top three getting $2,434, $2,180, and $1,995, and fourth taking $866.  Obviously a deal was made among the top 3 by chip count as there’s no way the top 3 spots were that close in the original pay scale.

The tournament starts with a $10K stack and blinds at 25/50.  The very first hand I was the small blind with pocket deuces.  It was three-way and I bet $150 on a low flop, had one call.  Didn’t bet again and my deuces held.  Unfortunately, the fact that I won the first hand was not an indicator that I wasn’t still card dead.

In fact, I got to the third level (100/200) barely playing a hand, with slightly under the starting stack.  But I had a few hands in that level.  Limped in from the button with pocket 5’s, four ways.  The flop missed me, but it folded to me, so I bet $500 and took it.

Ace-6 of diamonds in middle position, I raised to $500.  It was 4-ways.  There was a 6 on the flop, no diamonds, I c-bet $1,500 and took it.

I raised to $500 with Ace-Queen and it was heads up.  I bet $800 on a blank flop and he called.  Caught an Ace on the turn and bet $1,200, this time he folded.

Level 4 (25/100/200) it folded to me on the button.  I made it $500 with pocket 5’s.  Only the small blind called.  The flop was 10-9-2.  He checked, I bet $800 and he shoved.  I folded, and he showed a set of 10’s.

Under the gun I raised to $550 with Queen-Jack of hearts.  Two players called and then someone shoved.  The shove was over half my stack, so I insta-folded.  The nice looking blonde girl called the shove, she showed Ace-Jack.  The shover had pocket 8’s. An Ace on the flop gave the pot to the girl. I would have had nothing.

By level 5 (25/200/400) I was down to about $6K and pretty close to desperate. I raised to $1,100 with Ace-Jack of clubs.  A guy with a similar stack to mine shoved and it folded back to me.  Sigh.  I figured if I folded I still had one move left (a shove with enough chips to get some respect) and that I didn’t really want to make my last stand with Ace-Jack.  I folded.

A smaller stack than I had shoved in front of me when I had Ace-10.  I was thinking then that I should have called with Ace-Jack.  But I reasoned that open-shoving a smaller stack likely meant a much wider range than shoving over a raise with a bigger stack had.  So I shoved myself.  He had Ace-5 of diamonds.  I caught a 10 and busted him, and got my stack up to $8,175.

I opened to $1,100 with 9-7 of clubs and didn’t get a call.  But raising the same with pocket 4’s and then pocket 8’s didn’t work; both times I had to fold to shoves.

In the big blind with 9-7 of diamonds and no raise, it was heads up (not with the small blind, it was a limper).  I flopped a gut-shot and there was no bet.  The turn gave me a flush draw too and I called $1,100.  I caught the flush on the river and shoved.  He called with only a pair.  Nice pot. 

Level 6 (50/300/600), $12K. I had pocket 7’s in the big blind.  Under the gun raised to $1,900 and the cute blonde called.  So I called.  The flop was 7-6-2.  I checked.  The preflop raiser shoved.  The lady tanked and then folded.  I called.  He had pocket 8’s.  My set held.  He had a slightly smaller stack than I had.  Got me up to $22K.

Pocket Jacks, raised to $1,700.  Only the lady called.  The flop was Queen high, I c-bet $2,500 and took it.

Then pocket Queens, raised to $1,700 again.  Same lady calls.  This time the flop was Ace-high.  I bet $2,500 but now the lady made it $6K.  I let it go.

Didn’t note a hand in level 7.  Level 8 (100/600/1200) $17K,  We got down to 4 tables and my table broke.  Called a shove from a stack less than mine with Ace-King,.  He had Ace-10 and I caught a King on the river.  Brought me up to $22K.

Last hand of the level, I look down at the dreaded pocket Kings. I raised to $3,600 and had two callers.  The flop was Queen-high, two hearts.  I shoved.  First guy folded, the next guy called with Queen-7 of clubs.  The Kings held.

Level 9 (200/800/1600), $44K. Raised to $5K after one limper with pocket Jacks.  One caller.  I folded to a big donk bet on a King-high flop.

Level 10 (300/1000/2000) $31,500.  In early position, I shoved with Ace-Jack of clubs, no call. 

It folded to me in the small blind with pocket 9’s.  I shoved and took it down.

Under the gun, I shoved with pocket Kings, no call.

I reached level 11 (400/1500/3000) with $33,900.  We got down to two tables….18 players in fact.  Just five away from the money.  But I was definitely still in shove-or-fold mode.  When I had a chance to open a pot with King-Jack off in late position, I shoved.  Unfortunately, a big stack called with pocket Queens.  I did catch a Jack, and even had a straight draw on the turn.  But I needed him to catch his set of Queens to give me the straight and it didn’t happen.  I was done.

I had played 6 hours and felt oddly good.  Ordinarily, playing that long in a tournament and getting nothing back frustrates me.  Not this time.  It seemed like the best poker session I’d had all trip.  I thought I played pretty well, and actually got some cards to play.  And it was definitely the most fun session I’d had, poker wise.  Are tournaments more fun than cash games?  Maybe.  It depends. This one was fun.  Just getting more than one hand to play every hour may have helped. You know, the second best session I had was the Stratstack.  As I said, maybe I’m a tournament player after all.  Just wish they wouldn’t make it so hard for me to play them.

I was actually encouraged after the tournament. I made a decision right then that my next two nights, I’d play the Aria 7PM tournament instead of cash games.  I couldn’t take any more time off work but they have the same tournament at 7PM. They get small turnouts, so smaller prize pools, but still, I thought that would be the most productive use of remaining two days in Vegas.

But in the end, I didn’t follow through.  I caught another bad break….I took ill.  All during the Aria tournament, I had this occasional dry cough.  I didn’t think it was a cold, I chalked it up to “Vegas throat.”  By the next day though, it seemed more like a cold.  I kept coughing—not a lot mind you, but enough to be annoying.  And I knew that it was possible I’d start coughing a lot any time.

So, I didn’t want to get locked into a tournament.  I didn’t feel that bad, and I didn’t have any other obvious symptoms like sneezing or runny nose, so I felt I’d be ok to play cash knowing I could stop any time if I got worse.  With a tournament, I’d be stuck.  Also, if I did have a coughing spell, easy to take a break away from the table in a cash game.  In a tournament, not so much.

So it was just another instance of my bad luck that I didn’t get any more tournament poker in on this trip.