Friday, December 21, 2007

How to Invade Las Vegas and Play Poker for a Profit

If you are going to Las Vegas to “gamboool it up”, have a good time, and are not concerned with building up your bankroll, this post will have little or no applicability.

However, if you are serious about increasing your bankroll by going to Las Vegas and playing poker, you have come to the right place.

First, do some reconnaissance by scouring the 2+2 forums regarding “brick and mortar” play and the site for info on the various poker rooms in Vegas.
A good sized room known to attract fish that also spreads the game you want to play is what you are looking for. A small room is less likely to have enough fish for you to take advantage of. You also want to avoid rooms that are known to be frequented by too many local grinders. Other “intel” worth gathering is the “$20 Trick” for upgrading your room and to use Koval, Paradise, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin as expedient roads to navigate the Strip without driving on the Strip any more than necessary.

When you get there, avoid the temptation to play the usual “table” games and slots. These will only siphon off your poker bankroll and/or reduce what you can use to buy in. These games will also drain away any potential winnings after a good session if you are not wary. Stay out of the sportsbook. I don’t know about you but I can place a wager on sports from my living room anytime I want to by using a local guy. Why people go all the way to Vegas and then bet on sports is beyond me. Only play games you have an edge in and that are not available back home. For me, that is NL or PL Hold’em cash games and nothing else. Tournaments are much more difficult to win at consistently. Although there are plenty of home games in Texas, to access a never ending supply of tourist/fish, you have to go to Vegas. Cardrooms in Louisiana or Oklahoma (or just about anywhere else) will not have the type or volume of fish you find in Vegas.

Eat well during the day so you will not be hungry later in the evening and limit alcohol intake. Eating a big meal right before playing takes away my mental sharpness and makes me a bit sleepy. You want to arrive at the tables less intoxicated than the players already seated. This will give you an edge over them that you do not want to give up.
Cheap eats are available if you look around and time it right. Eating breakfast in the morning is expensive but eating breakfast between 11pm and 5am is cheap. If you are like me and want to maintain some semblance of a normal schedule, go to Ellis Island anytime and eat inexpensively.

Play at night. Avoid playing during the day if you can. The reason for this is your prey, the drunken donkey tourist, primarily comes out at night. During the day, most of the players are sober and not ready to “donk off” too much cash just yet. 10pm – 3am is the prime time to play.

Leave the iPod at home or in your room. There are lots of tells to be obtained if you are paying attention. I also notice the iPod wearers are always asking how much the bet is when the action is on them. Both the player and dealer have already stated the amount, and then the iPod wearer removes an earbud and asks again. I also do not recommend shades although it is a personal preference, I guess. I do recommend wearing a cap to keep the overhead lights out of your eyes over the course of a long session.

You also want to be able to stay up late and remain mentally sharp. Be prepared by having an energy product or two on you. I avoid the usual energy drinks due to the “crash” when they wear off. I have found a product called “5 hour energy” that is inexpensive, sugar free, and does not cause you to crash when it wears off. I highly recommend it for maintaining mental clarity late at night while drinking. You may also want to have some other pharmaceutical grade caffeine (e.g. no-doz) with you just in case.

You should drink beer or something while you are playing. You want them to think you are a reckless gambler just like they are. I think drinking only water or coffee all night will cause you to receive less action from the rest of the table. They will think you are trying to wait them out by not drinking and staying sober.

Remain well hydrated. Las Vegas is in the desert and is arid. Drinking alcohol in the desert will catch up with you and you will get a hangover. Have plenty of water and gatorade in your room to drink late nights before going to bed and mornings when you get up. Trust me on this. You will probably also want some sort of lip balm to keep from getting chapped lips.

Set a goal. Know when to get up. If you are serious about making a profit, you will want to establish some sort of criteria for when to get up and leave. I decided once I was up 3+ buy-ins or was off my “A” game, I would leave the poker room. If I was up but not tired, I would cash out and take a walk. I could then return and buy back in for one buy-in or I could go to a different casino and obtain a seat for one buy in. Either way, I pocketed the additional buy ins and only had “in play” the amount I wanted to gamble with. If I was tired or off my “A” game, I would simply go home for the night. If you do not leave while you are ahead, you will eventually lose your winnings back to the table. It is called variance and sooner or later you will feel her wrath. Make a preemptive strike on variance and leave while you are ahead. As I stated earlier, if you really want to play more, fine. Buy back in after a short break or go to another casino but pocket your profit and buy back in for your usual amount. You will thank me for this advice later.

Las Vegas Trip Report, part 5

Saturday morning we went back to (yeah, you guessed it) Ellis Island for what else – steak and eggs. If you have not figured it out yet, this place is awesome for inexpensive but good food. I am going to try their ribs next time but I never got around to them on this trip. From there, we headed to the Venetian where the Blogger Tourney was going to be held. I was really looking forward to playing and meeting more of the guys and gals whose blogs I really enjoy reading. At the top of this list was Tripjax whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting the night before. He is also a blogger that writes about balancing poker with family stuff and I can relate to that. While we were walking around the ridiculously overpriced shops in the Venetian mall waiting for the tourney registration to begin, my lovely wife advised me she had really felt somewhat neglected on the trip and would appreciate me spending the day with her sight seeing around Vegas instead of playing more poker. Wow. This was definitely not what I had planned. I really wanted to play with the bloggers. But, upon careful reflection, I knew I had gotten the sweetest end of this deal. We were there in Vegas solely as a result of her business conference and I had been able to party and play poker the entire time while she had been forced to actually work and sleep. I could have said F’ it and been a jerk but I knew that would be wrong and would bring a deluge of bad karma down on myself. So, I made the +EV play and agreed to toss my opportunity to play a poker tourney with the bloggers on the proverbial fire. We did go into the really nice (although open with the general casino) Venetian poker room before we left and I found Jordan. He introduced me to Tripjax. Tripjax was really friendly and sat with me for a photo before returning to the tournament which was already in full swing. After that we left the poker room and I mentally resolved to have a good day with my wife and not think about the action I was missing. We went to the Madame Tussaud’s wax museum at the Venetian and had a good time taking funny photos with the figures. After that, we went downtown to see the Golden Nugget. It is owned by Tillman Fertita, a local legend and businessman from Galveston.
It was recently remodeled and it is by far the swankiest of all the downtown casinos. Good work, Mr. Fertita. While there, we saw Montel Williams playing poker and he waved and smiled at us as we looked on. After walking around downtown for a few hours and going by Binion’s, etc. we headed back to the castle. We had honeymooned at Excalibur back in 2000 so we decided to return to the nearby Wild Wild West where we had eaten plenty of cheap T-bones back then. Unfortunately, it was not as good as we remembered. Then we headed back to the MGM to hopefully see some famous people. The MGM was packed with fight fans and others. We never saw anyone famous and by the time we were through walking around, it was already midnight and although sorely tempted, I decided not to play any poker since we had to get up at 5am to catch our flight home.
Leaving Vegas always sucks. The time/date to leave always seems to come too soon and for some dumb reason we always seem to have to catch an early flight. So, we got up even earlier than necessary since my wife insists on being early and not just on time for flights and such. I do not like airports or flying so I am fine with arriving at the last minute and not wasting any time sitting in the airport lobby buying overpriced drinks or food. The flight home was uneventful and seemed long. The only good thing about coming home was I really missed seeing my Son. We had been away for almost 6 days and I was ready to see and hold him again. We picked him up from the In-laws and finally made it back to our home, cat, and 2 dogs. All in all, a great trip and one I am ready to do again as soon as possible.

Trip Report, part 4 - Night of the Bloggerati

Friday morning was the last day of my wife’s conference and she wanted to do a bunch of things after she got out at Noon so day-time poker was not in the cards. First, we headed back to the Flamingo coffee shop for brunch. Guess what we had (again)? Yep. You guessed it – steak and eggs! Once again the place delivered an excellent meal perfectly cooked and with superb service. After our meal, we went to Excalibur and checked in. Since her business was complete, we now had to secure a room with our own funds. Yes, that’s right. I have been staying at Caesar’s Palace and living it up on someone else’s dime. Now that is what I call +EV. After checking in and successfully using the famous $20.00 Trick again, we went to our room with whirlpool bath built in. Sadly, after being totally spoiled at Caesar’s, the Excalibur Deluxe room did not quite measure up. I was fine with it but my wife was completely disappointed. We then headed over to see the new Planet Hollywood. It was OK but nothing that impressive. Some of it wasn’t even open yet. The poker room at PH was OK but not spectacular and was open to the rest of the casino. Their chairs looked more comfortable than the usual, though. From there, we went back to Ellis Island for their award winning Metro Pizza. The pizza was darn good. Not the best I have ever had but much better than any chain could produce. We washed it down with some microbrews, amber and hefeweizen for me and root beer for her. She wanted to see some celebrities so we went over to the MGM Grand. The MGM is huge. We walked all over the casino, checking out the lion habitat and then into the mall-type area with lots of overpriced restaurants. While in there, we volunteered to review a television show prospect and provide our opinions. This was actually sort of fun and the wife, being a TV addict, thought it was very cool.
After walking my wife back to our room at Excalibur, I headed back to the MGM for some poker. Upon arriving, I encountered a gathering of the Bloggerati. I have read some of these guys since I began playing poker about 2-3 years ago.
Jordan, Pauly, Iggy, Al, Falstaff, Waffles, and lots more were there. They were all very friendly and some even paused to take a photo with me. Pauly, the undisputed King of all Poker Bloggers, has been my window to the vast poker underworld for a couple of years and he really writes well. Jordan’s blog has also been a favorite because I really relate to his writing and situation of trying to balance poker with a healthy wife/family relationship. My wife claims to be a poker widow and that claim is not entirely in jest. They were playing mixed games and hanging out in the sportsbook drinking liberally. This really got my evening off to a roaring start and I had to focus on poker when I got my seat and not let all these celebrities distract me. I was seated in the 9 seat (which I do not like since it is really hard to see the 1 and 2 seats) and started getting a read on the table. The mix kept changing and did not really stabilize for about an hour as players left and others were seated. I was card dead for the first hour or so. Then I started getting a few decent hands. A Swede dressed like a cowboy limped his pocket Kings from middle position and after a few other limpers came in, I limped my Q-10s from the cutoff. The flop was Q-10-6 rainbow. The Swede led into me and I doubled his bet. He called and all others folded. The turn was a blank, he bet and I raised all in. He called and tabled his K-K. I tabled my Q-10 and when the river was another blank, I scooped my first big pot of the night. That got me going and I never looked back. Brett Jungblut (a friend of Dutch Boyd who was also at the MGM that night) was seated at my table and a guy from LA named Tom. These guys were pretty good so I did not try any moves on them and waited for a big hand. Then, the table complexion really changed when these 3 older British gents were seated at our table. These guys were ready to gamble and definitely had their “drink on”. Not long afterwards, I looked down at 2 beautiful black Aces. The first pair of pocket Aces I had been dealt my entire time in Vegas. I was in early position so I opened the pot for 5xBB. A guy in middle position raised to $35 all day and an old guy that had been playing fairly loose re-raised all in. I quickly re-raised all in and the middle position raiser called which put him all in. So, here it comes, three guys all in to the flop, original raiser had Q-Q, the old guy that first went all in had a red A-2s, and I tabled my A-A. My Aces held up and I scooped the biggest single pot I had won during my trip. I played about another hour until about 3:30am when the Brits left and the game dried up. I cashed out for the night with about $420 in chips. On my walk back to the castle, a lady of the evening offered me her company but I politely declined her offer and joined my wife in our cozy room.

Las Vegas Trip Report, part 3 - the Variance

I slept a bit late on Thursday and then headed out for a late morning breakfast at the famous Peppermill restaurant on the Strip. The place was bright, neon, and shiny. The breakfast was enormous. The food was good, the steak was not quite as tasty as the one we had at the Flamingo coffee shop but the service was excellent. I love eggs and I always finish all my eggs and half of my wife’s so when I tell you I could not eat all the eggs they served me with my breakfast, that gives you an idea of the massiveness of this breakfast. After the feast, I went back to Caesar’s and decided to try out their new poker room. The room was plenty big and had a lot of tables. They had 3 tables of 1-3NL going at approximately 1:00pm. I bought $100.00 in chips and I was seated after about a 10 minute wait. The players were a mix of young guys that seemed to know what they were doing and a handful of older players that seemed fishy and deep pocketed. I folded everything for the first 40 minutes and then looked down to see two red Kings. An early player had opened the pot for 5xBB and had 2 callers before the action got to me. Having only $95 or so in chips, I raised all in. The initial bettor called and everyone else folded. I thought to myself, could I really be so unlucky as to have run my Kings into pocket Aces? The caller quickly tabled his Aces and I had that all too familiar feeling of being kicked in the junk. Then, lo and behold, another King comes right out on the flop. He did not improve and as he enjoyed the receiving end of that “kicked in the junk” feeling, I stacked the chips and tipped the dealer. Surprisingly, the dealers at Caesar’s were not particularly friendly and the cocktail service downright sucked. Sticking to my plan of leaving while I was up, I played for about 2 hours and cashed out with approximately $400.00 in chips. After my wife was done with her conference for the day, we headed out to Battista’s for some Italian food. This place was right around the corner and had been highly rated on the internet so expectations were high. The place itself did not disappoint and had a little old man that wandered around and played the accordion. He would ask guests where they were from and then play a brief song associated with that place. For us, he played “Eyes of Texas” and then “I have but One Heart” by request. While we were there, he also played the British national anthem, Australian national anthem, and some songs that referenced other US States. Sadly, the portions were small and the food was only mediocre. We then went to tour the Rio and the Stratosphere. The Rio was thoroughly unimpressive and I doubt I will ever return unless the WSOP is going on. The Stratosphere was also unimpressive. Their poker room was behind the sportsbook, about half full, and open to the casino. After tucking my wife in to bed, I headed back to Harrah’s for more poker. As usual, I bought in for $100.00. Although there were plenty of donkeys, I was card dead for the first hour. I met a guy from Houston and we were both aiming to play pots with the three donkeys in the 3-5 seats (we were in the 7 & 8 seats). I built up my stack to about double my buy in before that Witch known as variance reared her ugly head. I flopped 2 pair and rivered a full house. Sweet. I make a substantial raise hoping to get paid and an off duty dealer in the 5 seat smooth called. The river gave him 8’s full of 6’s for a bigger boat and (I held 6’s full of 8’s) he takes my pot. OK, not good but I wasn’t steaming. About 30 minutes later, I’m down to about $80 in chips and flopped bottom 2 pair in the big blind. I check-raised all-in after the 3 seat opened the pot for 20 with one caller. The caller folds and the 3 seat tables his A-4 for top and bottom pair. Neither of us improved on the turn or river and I am busted out for the first time during my trip. About that time, the table goes sour as most of the donkeys leave so I do not re-buy. The walk back to Caesar’s seemed a lot longer and colder than it had when I was leaving a winner.

Las Vegas Trip Report, part 2

My wife’s conference started at Noon on Wednesday, 12-5-07, and neither of us are what you would call “early birds”, so we grabbed a mid-morning breakfast at the Flamingo across from Caesar’s. The coffee shop at Flamingo was packed but did not seem particularly impressive when we walked up. However, the food was very good and the service was excellent. We enjoyed what I would come to think of as my “breakfast of champions” for the week, steak and eggs. Then while she went to work, I headed to MGM for some afternoon poker. I learned long ago to rent a car in Vegas and that way you can go anywhere you want – any time you want. I also learned that valet parking is the way to go. Why troll through those massive parking garages and end up 2 miles from the casino and lose 30 minutes of time, when for a small tip, you can valet and walk in the front door? The MGM poker room is rather large with lots of tables. It is open with the rest of the casino so it reeks of smoke and you can hear the constant ringing of slots, etc. I bought in for $100.00 and had to wait about 20 minutes to get a seat at 1-2NL. I was card dead and played for about 2 hours before cashing out with $50.00 in chips for a small loss. The MGM room was OK overall but I did not care for the marble ring inlaid on the table. I did like that each table has a card swipe for players cards instead of having to go to the brush/cashier like at other places. I picked up my wife and we headed to Gordon Biersch brewpub on Paradise. We have eaten there every time we came to Vegas since our Honeymoon so this time was no exception. The food and service were good but my medium rare flat iron steak was not as tender as I would have preferred and the winter bock as mediocre. I recommend the Marzen amber as the best beer they have. The best part of a not inexpensive meal was the garlic fries. Yea, that’s right, the fries. I am not even a fry lover but these fries were incredible. We then drove over to the Palms since a guy on our plane said it was a good place to see some celebrities. The Palms has a poker room off to the side of the main casino that was broken into 2 sections. It was about one third full and not all that impressive. Later that night, I went back to Harrah’s poker room. They had 2-3 tables of 1-2NL going so I bought in for $100.00, saw some of the same players from the night before and obtained a seat at their table. One of the guys that had lost his stack to me the night before was giving me plenty of respect and, in fact, I could tell he was avoiding playing pots with me. Sweet. I had him right where I wanted him. He finally got tired of me raising him and played back at me. Guess what? He picked a bad time and I felted him again. He left after that but another donkey took his seat. I had a plan to stop playing anytime I was up more than 2.5 buy ins or I began to feel off my “A” game. I played about 3 hours and cashed out with roughly $400.00 in chips. Wow, do I ever like this room!

Las Vegas Trip Report, part 1

Houston was a foggy 68F on Tuesday, 12-4-07, at 10:20am (Texas time) when we headed West to Las Vegas. We arrived at approximately 10:30am VT (Vegas time) and proceeded to obtain our rental car. We then drove over to Ellis Island on Koval. That place is about the best “one stop” for inexpensive food ranging from award winning pizza, to ribs, microbrewed beer, to good cheap steaks. We enjoyed the first of many meals featuring steak as the primary entrĂ©e. Yum! I always like to eat heavy in Vegas since I know I will be consuming plenty of beer while I play cards later. From there we checked in early at Caesar’s Palace and that’s right, you guessed it, used the famous $20.00 Trick to upgrade our Classic room to a Deluxe in the Palace Tower. That $20.00 may have been the best value I have ever gotten from a single Andy Jackson. The Deluxe room had a whirlpool bath, separate glass upright shower stall, huge flat screen TV, sofa, King-sized bed, huge bathroom with privacy door for the toilet, four phones, fully stocked mini-bar with both all sorts of drinks and snacks. My wife was amazed. She had already told me if the check in clerk looked at me crazy for trying this she was going to act as if she was not with me. Ha! Boy, did her tune ever change! She wanted to see a real Vegas show with dancing and music so we got tickets to Jubilee at Bally’s. I am not really into that stuff but in the interest of balancing family time with poker time, it had to be done. I actually enjoyed the show as it was well done and the performances were crisp. Of course, the fact that it was a topless show did not hurt either. We also went by the Hooter’s casino and were thoroughly underwhelmed. Later in the evening, at approximately 11:00pm, I headed to Harrah’s for some poker. I really liked Harrah’s poker room since it is completely closed off from the rest of the casino. That means there is no second hand smoke, no yammering slot pullers or chiming and ringing slot machines, or any other distractions to take away from the pure poker experience. I bought in for $100.00 and took my seat without having to wait at all. They had 2 tables of 1-2NL going. I played fairly tight until I got a feel for the table. Soon, I was more comfortable and starting seeing more flops. I checked my option in the big blind with 6-8s and the flop was 5-7-9 rainbow giving me the nuts. I checked and a guy in late position opened the pot for $15. I smooth called and so did another player. The turn was a blank so I check raised the original bettor who re-raised all in. I called and tabled my straight which beat his flopped 2 pair. A little later, I limped Ad-6d and flopped a flush draw. I called a small bet on the flop to see what the turn would bring. It was another diamond so I check called not wanting to lose my customer when I had the nuts. The river paired the board and when I checked the other guy went all in. I had him covered but I was worried his set or two pair had become a boat. I re-played the hand in my head and decided he probably did not have a boat so I called and tabled my nut flush. He mucked without showing and I felted the guy. I played for about 3 hours and cashed out $400.00 in chips. A great beginning for my first foray into NL Hold’em cash games in Vegas.