My wife Lisa and I are back from Vegas, where we got an early start on the traditional Jewish Christmas of low-stakes gambling and buffets. Some highlights:
Our favorite poker room — Treasure Island. The new Venetian poker room was a surprise second.
Our least favorite poker room — Excalibur. Even with the special prize wheel you get to spin whenever your aces get cracked, it was strangely not fun.
My best poker hand of the trip — 2/4 limit hold ’em at Treasure Island. Seated to my immediate left are a father and son who play lots of hands but haven’t grasped certain fundamentals of the game yet. With the big blind two seats to my right, I am dealt pocket aces. The guy under the gun limps in. I raise. Son calls. Father calls. A few other players call. Under-the-gun reraises, and I think, Oh good, he slowplayed pocket kings. I reraise, saying, “Cap it.” The dealer counts my chips and informs me that the betting is not capped—in this casino, as opposed to the Muckleshoot in Washington state, the maximum number of raises on a given betting round is four, not three. “Oh,” I say. “OK.” Son calls. Father calls. The other players, seeing dark clouds on the horizon, fold to Under-the-gun, who puts in the fourth raise. I call. Son calls. Father calls.
The flop is Q-7-2, with two clubs. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Son calls. Father calls. Under-the-gun check-raises. I reraise. Son gets this look on his face like, “Hmm, I may be up against some really good hands here,” and folds. Father calls. Under-the-gun calls.
The turn is the 6 of clubs. My aces are both red, so this is not ideal, but there’s no reason to assume I’m beaten yet. Under-the-gun can’t have a flush, and Father will let me know if he does. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Father just calls (nope, no flush). Under-the gun calls.
The river is a T of spades. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Father calls. Under-the-gun calls and shows his kings, neither one a club. Father turns over…Q-8, neither one a club. And my hand is good.
My most annoying poker hand of the trip — A different 2/4 limit hold ’em table at Treasure Island. Seated to my left is a guy I’ve dubbed the Human Kill-Pot, because he plays almost every hand, and raises every hand he is in. In the small blind, I am dealt pocket fives. Two players limp in. A guy in early-middle position who is apparently a friend of the Human Kill-Pot raises. Two more players call. I call. The Human Kill-Pot, his usual preflop raise having been preempted, just calls. The limpers call.
The flop is K-5-4, with two spades. I bet. The Human Kill-Pot raises. The limpers fold. The preflop raiser just calls. The two remaining players call. I reraise. HKP calls. Everybody else calls.
The turn is a 7 of hearts. I bet. HKP calls. The preflop raiser calls. The two remaining players fold.
The river is an 8 of diamonds. I bet. HKP raises. The preflop raiser folds. I cross my fingers that HKP has made two pair or is overplaying a king, and call. HKP turns over 6-5 offsuit, for the backdoor straight. As the dealer shoots me a look of commiseration, HKP turns to his friend and says, “Kim, you know why I called that down? I felt it!”
My most second-guessed poker hand of the trip — Final table of a $60-buy-in no-limit hold ’em tournament at Treasure Island. Five players left, top four places pay. Lisa went out in twelfth place, so I am defending the family honor. The blinds are now 1000/2000, and after posting the big blind, I have 8000 left in my stack. Everyone folds to the small blind, who has about 10,000 left in his stack. He just calls. I look down at A-8 offsuit and quickly go all-in.
My reasoning is as follows: SB’s play has been relatively straightforward, so it’s unlikely he’s trapping. If he had a pair or a better ace than mine, he’d have raised; his call means he’s got a more speculative hand, like two suited cards or T-9 offsuit, that he’d like to see a cheap flop with but probably isn’t willing to gamble the majority of his chips on, especially this close to the money. There’s no point in giving him a chance to get lucky; best to put him to a decision now, while I’m ahead.
That’s the expanded version of my reasoning. My literal thought process was more like this: “I have an ace, and I sense weakness… All-in!”
Well, it turned out I’d read him exactly right, except for the part about him not being willing to gamble. He started to ask the dealer how much it would cost to call, then shrugged and said, “Eh, let’s do it.” He turned over Q-5 of diamonds. My A-8 was a 60-40 favorite, but the board came 4-4-6-5-5, and that was that.
All of which I would be cool with—I got my money in with the best of it—except that as I was getting up, I realized the one factor I’d failed to consider before making my all-in move was that the guy to my immediate left, the one due to post the big blind next, only had 2500 chips left. Sure enough, he busted out on the very next hand. So, if I had just waited…
But, that’s probably results-oriented thinking. If the small blind hadn’t hit his 5, or if I’d spiked an ace on the river, I’d have doubled up and felt like a genius. And I didn’t just want fourth place, I wanted to win. But…
Bad poker player we came closest to feeling sorry for — The young man who sat down at our table the last night we were there and announced, “This is my first time.” Usually such a comment would be facetious, but in this case it turned out to be true, and over the next half hour the guy lost all his money, much of it to Lisa. He was clearly very embarrassed by this, and his embarrassment was compounded by the fact that his girlfriend was sitting right behind him, watching him lose. But the girlfriend couldn’t have cared less—her every gesture conveyed that she was bored out of her skull and desperate for this stupid game to be over so that they could go do something fun. Lisa thought this boded poorly for the future of their relationship.
Poker player we actually did feel sorry for — At the same table as the above, the sad-looking kid who folded so many hands that when he finally decided to call, the other players applauded. Then somebody raised, and he folded that hand, too.
Smelliest casino — The Wynn. I don’t know if the super-rich just smoke more cigars or if there’s a problem with the air filtration system, but at a time when the rest of the Strip is noticeably less smoky than it used to be, this place has the kind of nicotine stink that sinks into your clothes and follows you home.
Our favorite eating spot — The Stage Deli, in Caesar’s Palace.
My favorite food of the trip — Chicken in a pot, at the Stage Deli.
Lisa’s favorite food of the trip — Corned beef sandwiches, at the Stage Deli.
Runners-up in the favorite food category — Made-to-order omelets, all-you-can-eat king crab legs, and shrimp shumai at the Mirage buffet; lobster fra diavolo at the Grand Lux Cafe in the Venetian; and grilled paninis at ‘Wichcraft in the MGM Grand.
Pounds gained while consuming the above — Zero! Vegas is big, inside and out; just to get from the Mirage lobby to our room was probably a quarter-mile hike (and yes, that’s using the elevator). Throw in a few treks between casinos and you’re talking serious exercise.
Most intriguing item spotted while window-shopping menus of restaurants we couldn’t afford to eat at — Wok-fried frog with basil ($38, at Pearl, in the MGM Grand).
Most intemperate utterance of the trip — Me, upon being seated within earshot of former Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose, at the Stage Deli: “Wow, Pete Rose in Vegas. Do you think he gambles?”
Deep question of the trip — Me, standing in line outside the Mirage buffet, surrounded by very large Americans, watching food porn on the flat panel video array they use to whet your appetite while you’re waiting: “So if the North Koreans could see us right now, do you think they’d all die of shock or just cry for a really long time?”
Coolest non-poker, non-food related thing — Video projection on the floor of one of the MGM Grand corridors that reacts when you step on it.