4,800 words, courtesy of WestAllisNOW.com's unofficial travel reporter (all times PST and are approximate)...
Saturday 11-7 @ 10:00 AM - Having arrived in Las Vegas an hour earlier, and not needing to claim any checked bags, (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Poker Friends - I'll call the oldest one Pat, the youngest one I'll call Ben, and Ben's step-father will be Scott - made record time through the car rental process and have just arrived at the South Point casino and are playing our first No-Limit Texas Hold 'em tournament of the trip.
On the drive to South Point, Pat made the announcement that his answer to any question would be "yes". This is really helpful in the impromptu-stuff department, not as much in the "Pat, if you win over $1000, do you agree that it should be split four-ways?" department. Ever the opportunist, Pat neglected to tell us that "yes" could always be followed by a comma and the rest of a qualifier, as in "Yes, we can split the money evenly, as long as you sign a contract that I get 25% of your payroll in perpetuity". And we thought Pat would be the fuddy-duddy of the group!
The South Point is a few years old, and is large, modern and brightly lit. Last April, My-Sugar-Na and I had dinner there at Primarily Prime Rib, and I had encouraged the Official Poker Friends to try the tournament here. The entry fee was $50, and the tournament had about 30 or so players. They have three tables playing, and I am not seated with anyone else in our group.
11:30 AM - I have never claimed to be a really good poker player, but I had been holding my own despite not getting a lot of good cards. About 90 minutes in, however, I've been knocked out of the tournament, and a short time later, so has Ben and Scott. Pat is carrying the torch for the rest of us. South Point's poker room is right next to the sports book, so I sit down and watch a little of the Badgers game.
12:00 Noon - I find Ben and Scott playing a video poker machine right next to the poker room and I make the keenest observation of the trip (he says, patting his back)... "We never took into account what we are supposed to do if three of us get knocked out of the tournament and have to wait hours for the last guy". Scott flashes his "Damn, you're right" look. Now, seeing that this is Las Vegas, you aren't at a loss for things to do. However, we are there to play poker and the non-poker-playing down time has suddenly left us with this conflicted "Win the tournament, but we are bored so win it quickly" feeling. This is not to be confused with the "Just lose the thing 'cause we're tired of hanging around" feeling. But it is similar to the "If we hang around waiting much longer for you to win, I will lose my entire vacation fund before we get to the next tournament" feeling.
1:00 PM - The website Las Vegas Advisor has a monthly list of Top 10 values, and the prime rib dinner in the Coronado Cafe in the South Point for $13 has been listed for awhile. I decided to stop in for a quick lunch, and I can say that the prime rib was very good. I was not as impressed, however, with the rest of the food. The salad was ice cold (as if it had just been taken from the refrigerator) and the lettuce was brown around the edges. I never got the bread that I had asked for. I had also asked for sour cream in which to dip my fries (my hatred for that vile red serum that many of you know as ketchup will be lifelong in duration) and the sour cream was hard as a rock. French fries broke in the dunking process. I left very full, and having enjoyed the meat (and let's be honest. I didn't got to eat the salad and fries).
1:30 PM - Pat is high as a cloud and kicking his heals through the casino. He made it to the final three players in the tournament, and all three decided to split the prize money instead of playing on. He now has a few hundred bucks and is practically running back to the car on a self-proclaimed "poker high" (not as novel as Ben's introduction of "food high" from a couple of blogs ago, but clever nonetheless).
As Pat has us all infectiously skipping out of the South Point, the abundance of cowboy hats has become a point of discussion. At first, we saw a couple of people in cowboy hats and didn't think much of it. While waiting for Pat to finish playing, I played a little craps and saw the boxman in a cowboy hat. But as the casino filled up, there were Stetsons all over the place. Scott mentioned that South Point has a lot of rodeo events, so there must have been something going on. It just seemed a little creepy.
Before we left Milwaukee, Pat printed a list of poker tournaments with buy-ins under $100. There are two games that start at 2:00, and I believe that the Joker's Wild in Henderson is a bit closer than the tournament in downtown, so we get back on good ol' I-215 and set our course for Henderson.
2:00 PM - Joker's Wild is a locals joint. A casino not bigger than a hole in the wall, and they may not want to hear it, but it is not particularly inviting. The poker room is four worn out tables in the corner. We sit down with 20 locals who all know each other. This wasn't a tournament ($28 buy-in), this was a house party held at a casino.
Early on, I was dealt A-10, and the flop was A-10-8. I made a big bet, and there was a middle-aged lady who gave me that "Who the hell invited you to the party"? look. She actually said "I don't trust visitors who find our game". Classic! She went all-in over the top of me, and I called her. The problem was that a third person also called us. Oops. This lady had A-8, so she made a bad read on me, but the third caller had two hearts and made his flush when the flop was all hearts. In theory, he should have not called two all-ins when his hole cards were only 2-4... if two people are all-in ahead of him, he should have thought that maybe one of us also had two hearts which had to have been higher than us. But we didn't have two hearts, the turn and river failed me and I was relegated to the casino floor. It didn't take long for the other three to bust out of this tournament. You would think that good poker would favor the good players, but it seemed more like Survivor; like the locals decided to eliminate the intruders first. We busted out so quick that I never even got a chance to play $2 craps!
4:00 PM - We have arrived at our home for the next two days, the Golden Gate hotel in downtown. The building was built in1906 and parts of the hotel (especially the hallways) looked it. But for $57 on Saturday and $19 on Sunday, it was in our wheelhouse. I had seen this review and the photos made it seem like it would be acceptable. The comment was made (and repeated, and repeated, and repeated) that if the wives saw the place, immediate phone calls would have been made to find a "real" hotel, but for a group of guys there to play poker, it certainly fit the bill.
After a quick meal in the Bay City Diner (located in the Golden Gate. Review? It was rated as lousy by all four of us) we headed down the Strip to the Sahara, site of our 7:00 PM tournament. Once our group decided to play there, I was excited. My-Sugar-Na and I spent our honeymoon at the Sahara and had a memorable time. I wasn't a poker player at the time so I never tried their game.
7:30 PM - The game at Sahara was quite large. We were all amazed to see about 140 people at a game that cost a moderate $45 per person. I started this game by not getting any cards to play, and spent a lot of time folding. When Pat (who, remember, won the first tournament we played in that day) was done only 25 minutes in, I was conflicted. On the outside, my eyes were saying "That's horrible. Tough break, man." Inside, my mind was jumping and shouting "OHMIGOSH!! I LASTED LONGER THAN PAT!! Yippie!" As my mind was Yippie!ing, I also saw Ben walk past. Then I got concerned that half of our group was gone in a half hour.
8:30 PM - The tournament took a 10-minute break at the top of the hour, and I had commented to Ben that these players seem better than what we had faced earlier, and that there are so many of them. Don't know why I did it to myself, but talking to Ben about being inferior was the death knell of my tournament. Shortly after the break ended, I was out. I barely found Pat and Ben when Scott came looking for us. At this point, we were pokered-out, and it was time to see the side if Las Vegas you can't see from the poker room.
9:30 PM - We've parked at the parking garage at O'Sheas and started walking aimlessly south. We got to the Flamingo Hilton and the doors were wide open and the music was thump-thumping out. We looked inside and saw the Go-Go dancer in a cage right at the entrance. We all looked for a moment, gaping at what we saw. Then Scott, Ben and I walked away. About 20 steps later, we realized we were short one guy, and I went to drag Pat out of the Flamingo.
10:30 PM - By this time (which translates to after midnight back home) we were all feeling the effects of getting up 20 hours earlier to catch our flight. On a guy's weekend, that means only one thing... "Let's go for 24!" VEGAS, Woooooo!
11:00 PM - We've walked to the Bellagio to watch the fountains Sing in the Rain, and headed over to Caeser's Palace to say that we were in Caeser's Palace. Earlier in the day, I've decided that my new favorite hobby is to collect $1 chips from every casino in which I gamble. While at Caeser's, I stick a couple of bucks in a slot machine so I have met the conditions of getting a chip. I walk onto the casino floor to buy a chip from a dealer and I look for an empty table so I don't look like a big moke. The first table I get to is completely empty... it is a $200 minimum Pai Gow Poker table. I keep walking until I find another table that actually uses $1 chips and I make my purchase. I have realized that Caeser's is not the place for me, and we head back to the car. (Side note about Caeser's Palace... if you begin hopping in the front door to find a bathroom, go to your right. Wanna know how I know? Because we went left and ended up hopping past three restaurants and a gift shop.)
Sunday 11-8 @ 2:00 AM - Our car is asleep for the night, and after moving from Binion's to the 4 Queens, so is Pat. Scott, Ben and I however, decide to soldier on and hit the Golden Nugget next. I am not gambling much as I don't like slots, but I do stick a $20 in a video poker now and again. The Golden Nugget has this big, community E-bay branded row of slots (when one person gets the bonus round, all players currently playing win, too). Ben tells me how much fun this is, so we sit down and play. In a not-too-subtle effort to bleed every penny from a player in a hurry, this bank of slots also has a bonus timer.... the faster you play, the larger the potential bonus. So if you hit the "repeat bet" button within a second or so of the end of the previous game, then you will get the max multiplier when the bonus game starts. I stick a $100 bill in this stupid machine, and very quickly bleed it down to $33 before I bail. It happened so fast that Ben and I never got the drinks that we ordered from the waitress. I do make a point, however, of telling Ben how much fun I had playing the E-bay slot.
2:30 AM - Woo-hoo! 24 hours! 3 of us made it.
3:00 AM - Back at the Golden Gate, we consider heading back to our room, but we see that our venerable old casino also has Go-Go dancers. But these dancers also deal blackjack when not on stage. Ben falls in love with one of the dealers and we sit down at her table (Side note, I don't like blackjack too much. I don't like the dealers getting a five-card 21, I don't like other players who complain because you do/don't take a hit when they think you should, and I don't like the fact that I always seem to have a 9-6 when the dealer has a K showing. However, being one of the guys, I sit down, shut up, and play.) It is a $5 minimum table, and very quickly I've won three hands in a row. I press my bet to $10, and right away get an opportunity to double (success!) and press again to $15. "The Book" is working to perfection. Every time the dealer gets a bust card, she busts. Every time I double, I win. I decide I like this game, as I am about $200 up in about 20 minutes.
3:20 AM - The dealer gets tapped out, and a replacement dealer comes over.
3:40 AM - This Go-Go dealer can't count, and she apparently didn't read "The Book" either. More than once, Scott has busted, but she says "congratulations". When more than three cards are showing, you can read her lips as she is counting to herself. And the worst part? My $200 in profits is down to about $50. She wasn't even as pretty as the previous dealer. All three of us decide that we've stayed a few hands to long, and decide to actually go to bed.
4:30 AM - Wake up to use the bathroom.
5:30 AM - Wake up to use the bathroom.
6:30 AM - Wake up to use the bathroom. Apparently ordering a ginger ale every time a waitress comes around does nothing to help the goal of sleeping through the night.
7:30 AM - Wake up to use the bathroom. However, this time, I also send a text to My-Sugar-Na asking if she is up. She asks me what I am doing awake. I say I don't know. I also get up. This is Vegas, after all. Almost four hours of sleep after 25 hours awake is plenty.
9:00 AM - Before we left Milwaukee, I surfed the internet looking for a Packers bar and I have found a place called Badger Cafe/Rum Runners on Tropicana. Ben has decided to watch the game with me while Scott and Pat decide to stay downtown and play in a tournament at Binions. Not exactly sure how we ended up at the Fremont (oh, now I remember. They had a Dunkin' Donuts there, and it won out over McDonalds at Fitzgeralds). But I make singularly the best and worst sports bets of the weekend. Among other things, I place a too-large bet on the Packers, and a bet on the money line on San Diego Chargers (which pays me 2:1 if SD wins straight up. More on that later.)
10:00 AM - Ben and I arrive at Rum Runners and it from the second we walk in, we are no longer in Vegas, instead we are back in Wisconsin. There must be 150 - 200 Packer fans, all wearing green and gold, getting ready to watch the game. The story is that the owner of the bar moved from New Berlin in the early-90s and it didn't take too long to become a place to watch the Packers play. The advent of DirecTV and the Sunday Ticket package cemented it. They also have a Packer Backers club - for $35 you get a membership card and T-shirt, and every time you go to Rum Runners to watch a game you get a free drink for every Packers TD, and a bratwurst buffet lunch at halftime.
As we settle in, Ben and I have met a few very nice former Wisconsinites. I don't remember the first guy's name (but he had a gorgeous Ferrari) but the second guy, Butch, was an exec at Green Bay Packaging a long time ago, and when they got bought out he took his money and started a company in the Las Vegas valley right at the time the building craze started. These guys have offered us seating at their private table, and have offered us their bratwurst buffet. The welcome that we got from those guys was so 180 different from the eerie feeling we got at the Joker's Wild the day before.
11:15 AM - It's almost halftime, and although we were offered the bratwurst, they also 'fess up that it isn't very good. They recommended the 1/2# burger instead ($3.25 base, add $.75 for bacon and $.30 for a green chile) and it was absolutely incredible. It was so good, Ben and I were licking the waxed paper after eating that last, succulent morsel.
11:30 AM - Hell, we decide to have the bratwurst, too. VEGAS, Wooooo!
1:20 PM - After watching the Packers "Wake up and go to the bathroom" the game away, we thank our new friends Butch and Ferrari for their hospitality, and we head back downtown. We find out that Scott and Pat have just started a poker tournament at The Plaza, so Ben and I go there to join them. The tournament costs $45, and there are about 25 entrants.
4:20 PM - Either I became a brilliant poker player overnight, the players were horrible, or I got damn lucky because I am in the final three players in this tournament (top three cash). It was most likely luck, because once we were at the final table of 9, most of the bigger stacks knocked each other out - at one point, three fell in three consecutive hands. I also got lucky when I knocked out the third guy as I called an all-in with top two pair against a flopped set, but managed a flush when the fourth club fell on the river.
4:20:30 PM - At the same moment as I am trying to win this tournament, I have one eye on the Chargers game, as they are driving up the field for what will become the game-winning score, and a win for my money line bet. But I can't let it distract me from winning the tournament.
4:21 PM - OK, the Chargers winning didn't distract me, but I made a play for the pot with a semi-crappy hand (K 8 off-suit) and my opponent had a real hand. I wasn't all in, but I may as well have been. He probably has four times as many chips as I do.
4:22 PM - Within seconds, I get dealt an Ace, my opponent puts me all in, and I decide that either I will double up my chips, or it will be dinner time. I don't win the hand, and my second place finish is worth $193.
5:00 PM Today, it seems that with every up (having a great time at Rum Runners) there is a down (the Packers giving the game away). So I leave The Plaza on a high after cashing in the tournament... there's gonna be a crash. When we were in Vegas in April, My-Sugar-Na and my parents and I have a great dinner at the Hash House A Go-Go. When I planned this trip, My-Sugar-Na bought me a certificate on Restaurants.com to take my buddies there. Imagine my horror when we found out that it is closed on Sunday nights. Not necessarily the horror of missing the Andy's Hand-Hammered Pork Tenderloin (no, really. That picture is of that dinner. Would I lie to you?) dinner, the horror of having to explain to my beautiful bride on how we didn't use that certificate. Impromptu-ly, the four of us decide that since the certificate expires in early-October, next year's trip will be taken on the weekend of October 1 and 2, 2010.
5:45 PM - Since Red Rock casino is reasonably near the Hash House, and since they have a 6:30 tournament, we are now in this massive, opulent casino, trying to find which of the dozen or so restaurants have the "$15.99 surf and turf" that is advertised on the marquee. A very helpful security guard leads us the 2.7 miles through the casino to T-bones Chophouse. I ask the hostess if this is the place for the surf and turf, and she hands me a menu and says that it is listed. I see that it is listed as an entree, and costs $99 this evening. Certainly, I have the wrong restaurant. But being the good hostess she is, she presumes that four guys dressed in shorts and T-shirts were looking for less expensive food and tells us that the special is at the cafe, which is thankfully right next door.
6:20 PM - We have finished what could be described as the best coffee shop meal known to man. In addition to the surf and turf special (which, surprisingly only Scott ordered), they had a special in which you picked an appetizer, entry and dessert for $15. I have the quesadillas with guacamole, the prime rib with fresh horseradish and the cheesecake. None of the four of us have anything negative to say about the drink service, taste of the food, presentation, nothing. It could probably be described as the perfect meal for four guys.
6:30 PM - Seated at the poker tournament, $65 buy in and 40 people. Never won a hand. These guys are good. Way good. I see that I am the first one in our group to bust out of the tournament, and I make the stupidest decision of the weekend... I re-enter for another $65. Not only haven't I won a hand, yet, but there is nothing that makes me think I can outsmart these guys even once.
7:00 PM - Out. Lost my second set of chips in a little more than 30 minutes. Ben follows shortly, then Scott. We head of to kill time in this massive casino waiting for Pat.
9:00 PM - But Pat won't lose. Every time we look at him, he has about four chips and says flat out "This won't take long". Meanwhile, while Ben and I hold our own in the casino, Scott is going through Franklins like a sailor on leave. We look in on Pat again. He is now at the final table, but again with about 1/10 the chips as anyone else. Finally, he walks out, and we all agree that we are pokered out. We've his six tournaments in 36 hours and we've had a blast. Now the realization hits that we have spent so much time playing poker that we hadn't noticed that we have to leave for the airport in 12 hours. We head back downtown for that last gamble.
Monday 11-9 @ 2:00 AM - We've lost Scott, loosened up Pat by teaching him the wonders of Pai Gow Poker and Captain 'n' Coke's at Binions, and taught Ben about the Mariano Rivera theory (which says that as soon as a group at a table starts having too much fun or winning too much money, the casino goes to the bullpen for the shut-down closer). In this case, we had been having fun with Sherry all night (with breaks covered by Sally), when suddenly Sherry gets tapped out by Add. Add means business, and looks like she just parked her broom. Her face was a scowl, and wouldn't respond to the standard "So, are you going to be as nice to as Sherry had been?". Pat gets up to go to the cashier, Ben and I play two (losing) hands, and I tell him that Mariano has his stuff tonight. We head back to the Golden Gate.
3:00 AM - On the walk back, I've decided that it was my bedtime. However... we see the craps table with only one other guy playing. Ben had wanted to learn craps, so I told him that it was time for his lesson. It did not take very long before the dice are in his hands. He says that he's nervous, I tell him to just roll them. He makes a point or two, starts to get the hang of it, then I shoot for a while, then the guy next to me. To this point - three shooters - we are around even. Then Ben gets the dice in his hands and goes on a baby-monster run... makes me a hundred bucks or so, and a few bucks for himself. Then I get the dice and I am on fire. I am hitting points within a couple of rolls, and the complete lack of sleep has me pressing my bets to un-Michaelable levels (normally I put $12 on the 6/8, I am up to $36 on each).
During my roll, this seedy guy with chains and a crooked hat wanders to the other end of the table and puts $500 on the Field (a one roll bet, pays even money on 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, double on a 2, triple on a 12). My roll does not win his bet, so he peels off another five hundreds, places them on the field, and loses again. I start to get worried. I tell Ben that I really want to get a 3 for this guy. He then tries to bet $2500 on the field, (but the table max is $2000, so he still has some money left). I specifically remember throwing a 5 - my point, the Field loser. As the dealer pulls his 20 black $100 chips off the table and hands me a few $25 green ones, I ask the dealer if security will keep the guy away from me. I imagine that he can't be happy that I cost him three-grand in about 48 seconds.
He plays the last $500 on the field and it wins (thank you Jesus!), lets it ride and wins again (Lord, hear our prayer!), lets it ride a third time and the roll is a 2 - a double win for him. He takes his $3000 off the table (and gets me off the hook). By the time my roll ends, I am up over $500, and Ben (the rookie) over $100. We cash out and go to bed... my knees still shaking.
10:00 AMish - It's a blur. I text my wife before I go to bed around 4:10 (which is after she got home from walking the dog Monday morning), I get about three hours sleep, go souvenir shopping for the wife and kids, collect the guys, check out of the hotel, return the rental car, and arrive at the airport. I have made a gambling profit, and the cost of the trip itself was so cheap that I believe the gambling covered expenses. But I am sad. Bye-bye Vegas.
12:00 Noon - We finish our overdone burgers in the airport food court, and walk to the gate for our 12:30 flight. They are already boarding, but I see those lonely slot machines on the concourse. I tell Ben that it is a tradition to play the airport slots. I stick $21 into a dollar slot, getting a cherry, once. Within a minute or so, that $21 is gone. Half hour after that, so are we.