Friday, September 16, 2005

(There's a Vegas trip report below. Scroll down, umm, two headlines.)

Hiatus, of Sorts

I've been asked several times why I haven't been posting lately. Since I do have news, I've also been asked why I haven't blogged about specific events.

Upon reflection, the reason I haven't been posting is that the asshole factor in my comments is quite high. I thought my skin was thicker than that; I thought I could shrug off assholes and consider real advice objectively. It turns out that I was kidding myself in that respect. The assholes really were bothering me. The good, reasoned advice, I appreciated that and continue to appreciate it, especially since it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I still think most of it doesn't quite appreciate my situation, or my mental state, or something, but that's okay; nobody else understands me either.

The sad thing about the assholes getting to me was, and continues to be, that it was keeping me from posting. I didn't want to post because I didn't want the post subjected to the assholes. Finally, I decided, when I had too much news to keep in, that I needed to just turn comments off and dump the last several weeks into one long über-post.

It all started when ...

Gil has continued to stake me at "local" casinos while I've been broke. He hasn't made a lot of money from doing this, but he hasn't lost a lot either, so he's continued to do it for social reasons. Maybe the casino is just too damned far to drive without talking to someone (or going stir crazy). Or maybe he's just a little too nice a guy. Whatever; I appreciate it, because it means I have been playing.

On one of our trips, about a month ago, we went to Little River Casino in Manistee, about a two hour drive to the northwest. We hadn't been there in six months, but we realized when we got there just how much we missed the place. All that I blogged last time. I also blogged how they had changed their Tuesday tournament from Limit to No-Limit holdem, and that we were considering playing one of those soon.

I won the first time we went. Gil had staked me, so I was only about +$700 rather than the +$1500 that I would have won if I'd bought in myself, but I figured that I needed my meager savings to keep me in Spaghetti-O's. I don't remember many hands this far after the fact, but it hardly matters; essentially, once I got some chips I started bullying the small stacks, getting them in when they were only about 60/40 favorites. I doubled up some, but I busted a bunch too, more than my share. So, when we got headsup, somehow I had just about as many chips as the fellow who was the huge chip leader for most of the final table. He played just a touch too tight headsup, but he did go in on his first Ace (A2, I think). I happened to have A8♣, he didn't suck out, it was over, I won.

By the way, if you end up headsup in a live tournament, and the blinds are backwards, don't say anything. The tournament director gets all pissy. They had the button post the big blind and act last throughout the hand, but as it turned out this made almost no difference in play.

I blew back about $300 of it in the post-tourney No-Limit cash game ($2/$5 now, as opposed to the former $1/$2), but it was still a decent day. Even my big hand in the NL game, I lost the cash (or most of it) on a suckout; my JJ v. her AT after a wholly non-frightening flop; we got the money in (she was a clueless player, and she did leave broke) and she rivered the Ace. Reconstructing the hand, CardPlayer's odds calculator shows me as an 85% favorite, so clearly I made the right play, but it had the wrong result. I'd say c'est la vie, but that's French. Que sera sera, maybe. Or, even better, Maldito Rio!


Anyway, I still ended the day +$400, myself, which is good no matter how I got there. More importantly it put me about where I wanted to be before heading to Vegas. So, I started applying online at the various casinos listing open poker-dealer positions. There were plenty of positions around town, but I needed to get interviews at large employers who hired dozens of people a day. Faceless bureaucrats conducting all of their business online or through phone-answering computers are hard to charm into jobs.

(During this time, we went back to Little River the next week. Gil won the tournament. I went out in the middle of the pack.)

I was somewhat surprised that none of my applications were garnering automatically-generated interviews, and nobody was calling or Emailing me. The first one that did, at what turned out to be a third-rate casino in Henderson, had me choose the date of my pre-interview. Gil and I conferred, since he wanted to go to Vegas if I was going, and picked a date about a week and a half hence. Surely, I thought, I could arrange a couple more interviews by then.

That didn't happen; at the time of our trip, I still had only the one interview scheduled, and that was pretty tenuous: All I really had was a promise from someone at Sam's Town (their corporate parent) to talk to me. Still, the tickets were paid for; we were going.

Poker Poker Poker

Last time we were in Vegas, about eighteen months ago, I kept notes while we were there. It was my first time, I knew I'd be blogging everything (the link to my January 2004 archives should still work), and I still found reading about specific hands interesting. This time, no notes; I'm really not sure how this bit will come out. But mostly, that's because I haven't written it yet.

We got up early Sunday morning to drive down to Lansing, where our plane to Vegas awaited. There's a small airline (Allegiant) which flies to Vegas, nonstop, from a whole bunch of second- and third-tier cities, really cheaply. It's a no-frills airline; there's no first-class section and they sell the pop and peanuts, but it's cheap and it's nonstop. The hour's drive to Lansing seems worth it.

We arrive, we go to ... well, hell, I don't remember now. We get there, we rent a car (very good idea for us, as it happened), we go to some casino, we play a while, and then we go to Circus Circus to check in. Okay, from now on I'm not going to even attempt a chronological recording of what-all happened. I'll lump all of the poker together, and then I'll talk about the trip's real purpose. I'll attempt some conclusions at the end. I learned this writing style in fifth grade.

Over the length of the trip we played at the Orleans, Circus Circus, Sam's Town, Wynn, Bellagio, Joker's Wild, Mirage, MGM Grand, and maybe somewhere else I've forgotten that I'll add to the list in a little bit. I had some impressions of the various rooms, and lacking any chronological order, I'll put them in, hmm, how about reverse alphabetical order beginning with "R." (Not to be arbitrary, or anything ...) I'm not linking the casinos; dammit, you know how to work Google.

The Orleans is somewhere we visited last time we were in town, which we knew ran good tournaments. Two a day, in fact. Last time, I won $2100 in a tournament only hours before our flight home. The place still strikes me as run-down, only moreso. They've added an arena next to the casino, or I didn't notice it last time, but one advantage is that the attached parking garage is immediately next to the poker room. You can park in the shade and walk right to the poker room. Neat, huh?

The cash games don't strike me as good as they did last time we were here, but I might have caught a good game then, or a bad game now. I'm playing low-limit, anyway, as I continue to do the whole trip; I think at the Orleans I played $2/$4 both times I was in cash games. We did two tournaments there; neither of us cashed in either one. I went out on a bad beat in one tournament; in the other I got too far in front of a hand and pretty much busted myself out.

MGM Grand's new poker room is pretty nice. It's about twenty tables curved around one of the bars in the center of the property. The only downside is the noise from the bar. One big plus is that the board is totally automated; Gil has talked about this when he's talked about how badly the room at Soaring Eagle is run. Next to the drop is a keyboard numbered 1–10, with a few extra buttons; the dealer keeps track of who's sitting where, and where his empty seats are. When a seat becomes available, the dealer punches it into his keyboard and, if there's a list, the list's first player's name starts flashing. If necessary, the floorman can call his name out, but if the player sits down once his name starts flashing, the floorman doesn't even need to get involved. The room is new, so the technology is presumably new, but it's impressive. In badly-run rooms, the players should lobby hard for this system.

I'm here to blow off steam, really. This is after the debacle at Joker's Wild, I'm disappointed, I'm nonspecifically pissed off (I'm pissed, but not really at anything), and I basically want to drink and play stupid. I shouldn't have sat $4/$8/half-kill if I was going to do that, since that was the biggest cash game we played all week, but as it happened I ended up doing well enough. Playing stupid, I jumped out to a quick $150 or so profit, gave it all back, and then started playing more-or-less correctly. I don't remember how I finished, but it was probably ahead $50 or so.

We played at the Mirage twice. Gil and I both sat $1/$2 No-Limit the first time, and Gil sat $3/$6 Limit the second time while I returned to NL. We weren't monstrously impressed by the room as we were last time, for two likely reasons: First, we weren't playing in the raised high-limit area in the rear, and second, we'd been here before. Still, the room was nice-enough, the dealers were mostly excellent, and I won money. I could talk about some hands I played dumb the second time we were there, since that was only yesterday, but there isn't much point recording those. Overall, the Mirage is still an excellent place to play. The nightly $125/1RB$100 NLHE tournament had about 55 people, if I remember correctly, paid nine places, and first got $4700. I didn't play.

Joker's Wild is small, old, and run-down. Still, this place was the most fun to play at, of any of the casinos we visited this trip. The poker "room" is just four tables in a corner of the casino, the casino is mostly locals, and they had trouble keeping a single $2/$4 game full while we were there. But because of this, the players and staff were joking around and having fun the whole time we were there, and I really liked everyone I came in contact with, the whole time. I did so incredibly well at $2/$4 and at the little bit of $1/$2 NL we played, I probably left the impression of being a pro who was slumming, but it was stlll a whole lot of fun. We played their nightly tournament, but the blind structure made it a crapshoot, and we didn't win.

Circus Circus's room seems like a survival of the poker days of old. It was there when we were in Vegas eighteen months ago, and it didn't and doesn't give the impression of being an afterthought. So, I decided, it must be still there from the ancient days. I was here twice, for very brief sessions, and left both times down a little. There was a single $3/$6 table going one time, and the other time there was a single table (I'm not sure it was $3/$6) and the final (only?) table of a tournament. Interestingly, holdem was played there with a single blind; I'd never actually seen this even though it's how Holdem is discussed in some of the older books (including Super/System). Circus is a Mandalay property these days, so a high hand gets to Spin the Wheel for a minimum of $20 extra. I didn't get to spin the wheel. But I didn't play there much; the room was kind of grungy.

We didn't get to play at Bellagio last time we were in Vegas, although we tried; the lists were longer than Santa Claus’. We played there twice this trip. Partially, this was because the room is larger now, but mostly, it was because we got there both times during the morning, during the week. Gil tried a satellite into the daily $500 NLHE tourney on one day, I tried on another. We both went out of the satellite fairly early. I don't know his story, mine was my fault. Our cash play here was $4/$8. I got an opportunity to watch a little $30/$60; I was surprised to find that the game didn't seem that tough (at least for those four or five hands). I didn't have remotely enough to sit and I didn't, but it would have been an interesting experience.

When we were there the second time, the Big Game was still going on, five-handed, in a little glass-walled room built just for the purpose. Three of the players were Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, and Chau Giang, so yay, I've now seen poker celebrities, but unlike Pauly, I didn't take a piss next to any of them.

Wynn's poker room was badly reviewed by the people I've read talking about it since it was built. Specifically, they say that the room is too cramped. I didn't notice this at all, but I was seated against the rail twice and against an open area a third time. The staff did say two tables are coming out soon to give people a little more room. Everything here was at least as nice as the Bellagio, except that the chairs didn't lean back. This wasn't a huge loss; the chairs were pretty nice otherwise.

I got the experience of being watched from the rail most of the time we were there, which was interesting. The poker room is on the way from the parking garage to the casino proper, so anybody who drove to the casino has to walk right past it. With poker on TV so much, a lot of them chose to watch a few hands. Normally I lift the long edge of my hole cards one-handed to check them, using the curve of my hand to block others' view. This doesn't work very well with people standing directly behind me. I had to be more careful checking my hole cards, but I don't think my play actually changed otherwise. Hopefully the railbirds are telling stories like, "I watched a couple of hands of that Texas Holdem thing, that was at the casino. I saw a guy in a Detroit hat win a great big pot, he was stacking chips for like five minutes after he won." Playing $4/$8 with $1 chips, though, they all were great big pots, or appeared to be.

Two interesting people at the Wynn. One was the gal talking to the floorman as we arrived the second day we played, who seemed to expect that Daniel Negraneu punches a clock, or something, as Poker Host or Poker Ambassador or whatever his title is. She seemed upset that the floorman said he didn't know when Daniel would be around. For those who are interested, several people mentioned that thrice-weekly tournaments begin next week, at $300 to $500 buyins, and that Negraneu was going to try to get a $10/$25 NLHE game going after the Friday ($500) one. He doesn't have the advantage of the little glass-walled room at Wynn; I wonder what the railbird action will be like.

The other interesting person was a crazy lady at my table one evening that we were there. She was saying a lot of weird things, one after another, and most of the other players were exchanging smirks and rolling their eyes at one another. Her chief victim was a fellow between us, from Chicago. Since he was from her home state, she must have sensed a kindred spirit, and most of the weird stuff she said was directed at him. Several times she announced she was on tilt, which she proved by leaning one way or the other, leaning her head on her neighbor. She accused a minor-league ballplayer on my right of having "raisitis," several times. After he raised her about the fourth time, she started mock-yelling at him, mock-angry, "You know, you have a serious case of raisitis. You should go to the local hospital immediately, so they can treat it; they'll give you a big shot right up the butt." Nobody at the table was able to contain themselves any longer after that.

She chose a poor target in me, apparently; since I zinged her twice in short succession. (I'm not really that clever, but I had lines ready-made.) When she found out I was from Michigan, she started complaining that her husband was from Detroit, that he was all about Lions this, Tigers that, and how horrible that was. I told her that it was all right, because I'm sure when he moved to Illinois, the average IQ in both states went up. To a chorus of "Ooooh"s at the table, she stared at me with her mouth open, before saying something like, "Why would you say such a thing to me? I think you're trying to put me on tilt, to make me crazy." Of course, I responded, "I don't think you need my help." Another chorus of "Oooooh"s around the table, another slack-jawed stare, and she turned back to Mr. Chicago.

Oh, I had a first at Wynn, too: Four of the players at my table were female. I spent a lot of time talking to one of them (the married one, natch, but she was the best-looking of the bunch), and another may have been a stripper or prostitute. The other two were talking like they came together, but they didn't seem to go together at all. One of them had a thick accent, and the other had really great breasts. Did I mention the really great breasts? Anyway, they were great.

Sam's Town is the lead casino in the Boyd Gaming group, which includes Joker's Wild, and incidentally, the Blue Chip casino in Michigan City, Indiana, east of Chicago. (I've never been to the Blue Chip; they closed their poker room just before the current boom. Great timing.) It's a nice casino, well-designed, well-maintained, with a bowling alley and (presumably) movie theater, designed to be locals’ general entertainment destination. The poker room has eight or ten tables, two of which were being used for cash games when we were there, and seemed well-run. There was also a tournament winding down, but I didn't get the details. The game we were in was decent enough, but here more than anywhere else we played, I got the vibe that we (as tourists) didn't belong. If the level of go-away-you-fucking-tourist was a "2" at the Orleans, the level was at least a "6" at Sam's Town. I did want to play there, though, because at the time it appeared that it was Sam's Town at which I'd be doing my dealer audition, if and when. We only stayed about two hours.

I didn't include many figures in my above comments, partially because I don't remember precisely, and partially because I want to talk about that more below. But first I'll talk about the main reason we went.

Deal Me Out

When I got to Sam's Town for my pre-interview, I was hoping that talking to an actual person would allow me to more-or-less charm my way into a job. Despite the spottiness of my résumé, I do interview well, so getting that far usually gets me the job.

I barely got the chance. The whole point of this interview was to clear up some missing phone numbers and dates in the work history I completed online. I actually talked to a person all of four minutes, maybe, during which she said, essentially, "You applied for poker dealer at Joker's Wild, and we filled that position, but I'll send your stuff over to them anyway, and it's up to them." That was the entire result of the official reason I went to Vegas this week.

The next night, we went to Joker's Wild, for the same reason we went to Sam's Town on Sunday night. I kind of wanted to seem like a fun and cool guy who they just had to have on their staff. And, as far as that went, I think I succeeded, although beating the room's manager out of a couple largish $1/$2 NL pots may have been a bad move. I told them why I was there, and talked to pretty much all the dealers and floor staff, who seemed to like me and were wishing me luck (sincerely).

While I was there, I told Bernie (the poker manager) that I had planned to talk to him, but not in a baseball jersey and a two-day beard. He suggested coming back the next night, and we did.

In the meantime, we extended our stay by a day, since I didn't really want to be on short-time while I was there. Specifically, I didn't want to hear, "Great, let's fill out the paperwork," only to not be able to. It was expensive to stay the extra day, particularly to change the flight plans, but we did it anyway.

When I came back the next night, Gil dropped me off and then headed out to find us a cheaper room (Circus wanted to nick us for $85 for the extra night, when we had been paying $40ish in the flight+hotel package). I got to audition almost immediately, after a small Asian girl did it first. She was pretty smooth, actually; if he had a job to offer her (I don't know) she probably would have got it. Then he had me tap her out.

I really can't put this all into words, my feelings while I was dealing. Basically, it's harder than it looks. It seems as if there's a great deal more to keep track of than you're used to, and it's thus a lot harder to keep going smoothly. Still, despite not being smooth, and being generally unhappy with my performance, the only specific thing I knew that I did wrong is to lose track of the pot for purposes of raking it. (My estimate was high, and I would have overraked the pot by 25¢.) After talking to the Asian girl (which I didn't hear), he told me what I did wrong:

And so, even though I had only the one audition, that was enough. I learned, basically, that it's not as easy as it looks. I learned that I wouldn't do as well as I'd hoped, if I'd had six auditions, or even the three I'd hoped to set up before I went. Thus I'm back to where I started: What the hell am I going to do now?

Conclusions, or Musings, Anyway

I returned to Grand Rapids this morning, expecting to see green for the first time in a week, and surprised to see a lot of brown. I guess we're pretty minus on rain here, this year, and I hadn't noticed. The leaves are just starting to change, too; probably we're at between ten and twenty percent color. That's about three weeks late; we've obviously been having a warmer, drier summer than usual. But I also return convinced that maybe I can't be a dealer, but more than ever, I want to move to Vegas.

Why? I didn't put numbers above, and I didn't keep notes, but reconstructing things, I figure that I made about $1200 in five days of playing nothing higher than $4/$8. At that, I spent about $300 on the four tournaments I entered, so I made about $1500 in cash games. The most impressive score was about +$240 in the $2/$4 game at Joker's Wild; sixty bets. I had only two losing sessions the whole week, both of those very brief sessions (and both at Circus Circus, incidentally). I was, as the kids say, en fuego.

The problem is that I can't really explain my performance. I don't think my cards were running particularly well; I was keeping track of how many sets I hit and I only hit five the whole week. I don't think I was getting more big pairs than normal, and if I was getting great big-blind-special-type flops sometimes, then, well, that happens, and I don't think it was happening much more than usual. I don't think the games were an order of magnitude better than the low-limit games here. That leaves three possibilities, as I see them:

  1. I'm really good, because I've finally internalized the lessons of the Miller book.
  2. I'm really good, because I've finally worked the poisonous advice of the Miller book out of my system.
  3. I've been on an extended lucky streak.

Everything I know about the game of poker tells me that what was really going on was number three. But I never felt like I was running good, and in fact I took as many beats as normal. No monstrous beats, not in cash games, but I ran into plenty of flopping sets and losing to flushes, and so forth. In my mind, the only thing that indicates that I've been running particularly well, is my results.

That indicates that perhaps, as much as I don't want to believe it, the first possibility is the correct one. I think I've been running decently if not excellently in the last couple of weeks before the trip; I'm wishing I'd continued to keep notes, or at least, blogged about it.

All of this leaves me more convinced than ever that I should be in Vegas. Renting a car gave us more of the locals' perspective of the city; we were off the strip quite a lot. My internal map of how Vegas is laid out was filled in quite a lot this week. My overall impression was, I could live here.

Nonetheless, I couldn't take the $900 or $1000 in my wallet and go out there. I'd arrive having spent $300 on gas and another $100 on food and lodging, and arrive without a place to stay and only a couple of hundred bucks to use to turn pro, if I was to do that out there. I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, but that would be monumentally stupid.

However, because I've done so well at cards there this week, I'm considering some things that I wouldn't have before: if I do them in Vegas. A "straight" job there doesn't seem so bad. I'm not sure yet what that would be, but no, it seems doable now. There's a taxi company with a bumper sticker about always hiring drivers, and I could do that, probably (what's involved in getting a CDL in Nevada?), but I'll let things percolate a bit and come up with some other ideas.

Well, I've said about 90% of what I wanted to say in this post, even if I didn't come to a conclusion yet (that's forthcoming), and Cactus Dave mentions that dinner would be a good idea. Thus, I shall abruptly end this entry. In fact, I shall end it so quickly, that this sentence will even be missing its last