Thursday, March 25, 2010

January 2010, Las Vegas Trip Report, - Planet Hollywood Review

Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well. - Josh Billings

Planet Hollywood was nicer overall than I expected but my expectations were rather low. Our room seemed small but it did have a good view of the strip and the new City Center. It was decorated with stuff from a crappy movie (Judge Dredd) that, to me, seemed cheesy instead of cool. I vastly prefered Caesar’s Palace where the rooms were much more luxurious, seemed larger, and the overall d├ęcor was more attractive. I would rate the rooms at PHO as comparable to Treasure Island but better than Excalibur or Sahara (the other hotels I have personally stayed at).

I do not know who conceived of the idea first, but PHO has this area of the main casino floor called the “Pleasure Pit”. All the dealers/game assistants are exceptionally beautiful women with attractive well maintained bodies. Caesar’s had a similar area outside their poker room, when I was there in 2007, named after the Pussycat Dolls. Do you think the casinos know that sex sells, huh? While at PHO, I did not notice very many working girls, if any. One would think lurking near the Pleasure Pit late night would yield a decent living. On the otherhand, maybe the girls in the Pleasure Pit are the working girls? Now there’s an interesting thought.

The music piped into the casino and poker room is surprisingly good - mostly classic and modern rock with some pop mixed in. I would rate the music as better than what I have encountered at other places.

As for the poker room, it was adequate but nothing special. It is not really separated from the rest of the casino and with some slots and such nearby; there is an abundance of unnecessary noise, smoke, etc. The tables were in good shape but, surprisingly, they did not have the automatic shuffling machines that I have become accustomed to. The dealers actually have to shuffle the cards between hands; meaning less hands per hour and the decks are probably not as well randomized. Despite rather garish colors and attire for most of the casino and staff, the poker dealer shirts were drab and bordered on ugly. Like every place I have been, they have a variety of types of dealers. I like dealers that are friendly and humorous. IMO, Dealers that are entertaining generate better tips. My award for funniest/most entertaining dealer (hands down) goes to Stefen – the thin Scotsman that was always lightning fast with humorous remarks and needles. Honorable Mention goes to Ryan, whose girlfriend plays high stakes and passed him juicy anecdotes about some well known high stakes players that he would share with the table for entertainment.

Another important measure of a good poker room is the cocktail service. Is it quick and efficient or do you have to leave the table to go in search of beer when needed? Are the waitresses shapely and easy on the eyes or are they portly and missing teeth? PHO had a good wait staff. They never seemed to disappear and they brought drinks promptly. They also wore uniforms that served them very well in helping them to enhance the experience of the patrons. I, myself, was served particularly well by Brandy, an attentive and highly attractive young woman.

The undisputed King of the PHO poker room is the courteous and sharply dressed, Joe Viator. Joe, and his team, made me feel quite comfortable in their domain and I had a good time even though I did not win. I definitely think Joe is way ahead of the curve technologically for using Twitter to reach more potential customers. After I introduced myself to him, and we talked about poker bloggers and such, he left me with a nice souvenir chip set as a parting gift.

Overall, while I would not recommend the hotel itself as a place to stay, I do recommend the Planet Hollywood poker room as a place that is fun to play and one that I plan to return to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…..

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell.

Friday, I was invited to a home game tournament with a whole bunch of folks I have never played cards with. I am far from a tourney specialist and when I saw these guys had real poker tables, a computer program for blinds/levels, four or five sets of chips, and expected 24 people, I began to wonder if this was +EV for me or not. However, the buy in was low enough that I was fine with losing that so long as I met one or more new people to bring in to our home game. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the overall skill level was rather low. In fact, I felt somewhat “Seinfeldian” as I was reminded of the episode where Kramer (an adult) is practicing martial arts in class with adolescents (i.e. a man among boys). Several of the player’s wives played and were all dead money. Only the hosts seemed to be even close to competent players. Calling bets to the river with 2nd pair and not being able to fold a single pair when it was obviously no good were typical of the play. Folks routinely allowed their stack to dwindle to an M of 1 or 2 before deciding to shove it all in. Of course, there was one guy that had to cheat. I saw him place less than the proper amount for his big blind (using big stacks of small denomination chips) in a couple of times but did not comment since I was the new guy and he seemed to be a regular and a friend of the host. However, when he got moved to my table, he was the big blind and, after eyeing what he put out for his blind and estimating it was considerably short, I asked him if he had put in the right amount. He ignored me so I asked the host (who was now dealing since he was out) to count the chips he had put out for his big blind. It was about half of what it was supposed to be. After he was made to put in the right amount, it was clear he had no more than one more big blind left. I was the chip leader and on the button so I shoved pre with J-4o just to steal his blind. He hemmed and hawed before calling with 6-4s. Neither of us improved and I knocked him out. I had also knocked out about 6 other players so when it got to be heads up and I had the other guy well covered, he gladly accepted the 2nd place money + the additional $40 I offered him to end the tourney right away. I promptly thanked the hosts and gave the host’s wife $20 as a show of gratitude for the food and good times. As I was pocketing my winnings (12 x buy in), my primary goal (at this point) was to make sure to be invited back.

Something I never really wish for, but that I am always glad to see because it only occurs occasionally, happened at both home game gatherings this week. The guys that rarely ever win won this week. I lost a little at one and won a little at the other but for the most part, the usual winners lost and the usual contributors, won. This is a healthy thing for all games but particularly home games where there isn’t a line of people waiting to be seated at the poker table. Barry Greenstein talks about this sort of thing in his book, Ace on the River. When you have a good game going, nurture it to help it keep going. It’s good when the live ones have a good day. They are the ones that often contribute the most to making a game, a good (i.e. profitable) one. So, although it was a break even week for me, it was a great week for our game and that is definitely, +EV.

Monday, March 15, 2010

High Stakes Poker on TV

Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing; nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead. – Jackie Robinson

I am primarily a cash game player. Almost all of the time I spend playing poker, reading about poker, thinking about poker, etc. is about playing cash game poker. This week’s episode of High Stakes Poker was very entertaining but also rather perplexing (to me).

When I go to a casino to play, I take a minimum of 3-5 buy ins. No one is going to “get lucky” once against me and send me home for the session. That’s not how I roll. In fact, losing one buy in is not likely to affect me much at all. Obviously, it is undesirable to be felted but, if it happens, I am going to rebuy and keep playing. However, three players that are supposed to be good players (and presumably well funded) do just that. They lose one buy in and, instead of wanting to continue playing, they get up and leave the game. Even more strange, 2 of them get it all in with next to nothing and out of position. Huh?

Dario elects to play Kh-3h and bluffs off his entire stack to Durrr.
To recap, he plays a junk hand, flops bottom pair, then he tries to bluff one of the players least likely to fold. Am I the only one that thinks this is poor play for a cash game?

Jason Mercier elects to squeeze from the small blind with Ah-4h. Here we go again, he is oop, he has a marginal hand, and then he tries to bluff another of the players least likely to fold. Phil Ivey had already called the open bet and Jason’s raise pre-flop. Then Ivey raised Mercier’s C-bet on the flop. So, what does Jason do? He bluffs off his entire stack. Ivey had already declined a few opportunities to fold and given every indication he intended to play his hand. Although Gabe defends the play, I think it stinks. Particularly, since Mercier does not re-buy but gets up and leaves after the failed bluff.

If I am going to use my entire stack to bluff, I am definitely going to rebuy if the attempt fails. Otherwise, I would not put my entire stack in the middle. In fact, if I only had one buy in to play with, I would make sure to get all my chips in with (what I thought was) the best of it or not at all. So, maybe the players that lost and left believed they were outclassed by the others at the table?

Another strange play was that not just one but two players opted to limp/call with Q-Q. I do not think this is a good play. Limp/call with A-A? Maybe to be tricky since the A-A doesn’t fear an overcard. Limp/call with K-K maybe (but probably not). But to limp in with Q-Q (or J-J, 10-10, or 9-9) is just puzzling to me given how often an overcard is going to flop. Well, Gus does just that against Daniel (the other player to limp his Q-Q in a previous hand that he lost). By just calling with his Queens, Gus enables Daniel to play 7-5s and flop two pair. Daniel probably would have folded to 7-5s preflop to any raise but got a cheap flop and, instead, felts Gus and his Queens. One pair hands play better when you isolate a single opponent.

While I found the episode good entertainment, I was underwhelmed by the play of these so-called top tier players playing for such high stakes. Finally, although Gabe is still good, he was better with A.J. to use as a foil (Kara does not add anything to the show).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let Freedom Ring - Americans Should Be Free to Enjoy Casino Games

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
– Bertrand Russell

As we evolve and mature as a society, the public at large is rapidly becoming more and more comfortable with gaming and gambling as an acceptable form of entertainment. Although casinos are being approved and built all over the country, growing right along with them is the online casino industry. People are tired of having to travel long distances at great inconvenience and unnecessary cost to enjoy casino gaming. People want to enjoy their preferred form of gaming from the comfort of their homes. The online casino industry has heard the people’s voice and is now delivering the casino experience directly to the consumer at home. However, there are lots of options and the market can appear daunting to newcomers. That is where a site such as Online Casino Spotlight can help one to make an informed decision.

Newcomers looking to become a client at an online casino would be wise to check out Online Casino Spotlight. They review and rate various online casinos. In their reviews, they tell one what sort of games a given site provides and so forth. They also tell one whether or not they will accept players from the USA. They list and compare the various “welcome bonus” offers at the different online casinos. They also have links to articles and other information such as strategies for all of the different games and wagers. They have information regarding how to deposit, what methods are available for each site, and what the minimum requirements are for each one.

Most all casino games are available at most sites and some casinos also have a sports book for placing wagers on sporting events all over the world. In addition to Blackjack, there are also sites that offer Baccarat, Bingo, Craps, Keno, Poker, Roulette, Slots and Video Poker. In other words, they have something to interest and entertain everyone and they have games of all levels and for any bankroll.

Online Poker Spotlight has everything you need to know to get started whether you are a casual/recreational player or a determined grinder; they’ve got the info on your game.

Monday, March 8, 2010

January 2010, Las Vegas Trip Report, Day 4 – Leaving Las Vegas

No wife can endure a gambling husband; unless he is a steady winner. – Thomas R. Dewar

While I still catch some grief from my wife for the amount of time I like to devote to poker, she never bugs me about the money or losing. She used to be somewhat worried but those concerns were put to rest long ago (by me consistently beating the games in Texas, as well as, maintaining a separate poker bankroll). This was my first trip to Las Vegas (been 4 times and won previous 3 times) that I would return a non-winner. I have lost in Louisiana (been 3 times, won twice) and Oklahoma (been twice and lost both times) but I had never lost in Vegas. As I left, I always felt like I owned the place, but this time, not so much so. To compound my misery, the weather is finally beautiful again but we are leaving.
Even though I sleep less per night in Vegas (4-5 hours) than I do at home (6-8), leaving Vegas always sucks because all I can think of is all the stuff I didn’t have time to do or did not get a chance to do. It always seems to come much sooner than it should. I always feel like, “We just got here. How can it be time to leave already?” But, it is. So, we packed up and headed to Ellis Island. They have an off the menu steak and eggs breakfast for 4.99. You cannot beat that price and the food is pretty good (not excellent) but still a great value. Ellis is (as usual) well patronized and the servers are swamped (as usual). Ellis Island absolutely crushes IHOP for about the same price and is equally good in food quality but not service with the PepperMill Lounge.

We return our rental car and get shuttled to McCarran. Although McCarran is reasonably nice as airports go, nothing makes me feel more like one of the hoi polloi than being herded like cattle at airports. I never really liked flying anyway and I like it even less now with all the added hassles. I absolutely loathe the practice of compelling everyone to remove their shoes before going through security since once upon a time one guy had an improvised explosive device in his shoes. I am still waiting for a similar practice of compelling everyone to remove their underwear (before going through security) to be implemented since the guy caught over the holidays hid his IED in his underpants.

Our flight is uneventful but seems to take forever. We also lose two hours in the flight back to Texas due to the time zone change so the whole day is effectively killed. Upon finally reaching my vehicle, I am delighted to pilot my German 5-speed again and we haul ass to get our sons. During the drive, I reflect upon our trip. Obviously, I would have preferred to have won again. However, the loss was minimal and well within my roll’s capability to withstand. As for Las Vegas itself, I already miss the damned place. I just love the energy and excitement of Vegas. It really is a huge playground for adults and an awesome destination for travelers. Although I have no specific plans, I know I will be there again in the not too distant future and I am already looking forward to my return.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

January 2010, Las Vegas Trip Report, Day 3, part 2 – The Fall of “Spew”cypher

I used to be a heavy gambler. But now I just make mental bets. That's how I lost my mind. – Steve Allen

Following the show, we returned to PH. After I tucked my lovely wife in for the night, I made a beeline for the poker room. I was all too keenly aware that this was my last night in Sin City and I was hell-bent on getting my gamble on.
At approx midnight on Friday, there were 8-9 tables of 1-2 going. I immediately notice that there were really BIG stacks on almost every table. I get seated and quickly learn that 3-4 of the big stacks ($600 or so) on my left are actually good players and the going is tough. Why do these guys insist on playing 300-400bbs (or more) deep? Why not play 2-5NL? Anyway, I figure I will introduce them to my uber-tag short stack game. Unfortunately, I can’t get anything playable. Billy (from previous post) is on my right and loses approx $450 when his A-A loses to K-2 on flop of K-2-10, turn (2), river (7). Ouch. After a half an hour of folding and hoping for a good hand, a seat to the left of the tough players opens and I jump at the chance to have position on them. Soon, I get Ac-Kh in LP. I raise some limpers making it $15 to play and get two callers. Flop is Kc-Jd-10c. So, I have TPTK, inside straight draw, and backdoor nut flush draw. It is checked to me so I bet 2/3 pot. One guy folds the other check raises enough to put me all in. I put him on a pair and a draw like K-Q, Q-10, Q-J, maybe A-Q but less likely since he tried to limp in (also I thought if he had the straight he would have just called). I called and he shows Q-9 for a flopped straight. Neither the turn nor the river improved me and I am felted. Undeterred, I reload and keep playing.

Soon I look down to a beautiful sight, two red Aces. I open to $15 and the California cougar and one other guy call. The flop is 10-5-7.
I bet the pot on the flop. One guy folds but the cougar calls. Turn is a (4). Calif. Cougar checks and I bet pot again. Her hand trembled as she check raised, but before I stop to think (I have not seen her bluff all day, she has only raised with 2 pair or better, and I have played with her for 3 hours), I shove and she insta-calls. She then tables her 4-5s for a turned 2 pair. My over eagerness caused me ignore what I should have known - I was beat. The river is an immaterial King and I am felted a second time in under two hours (which is very uncommon for me).
As I am digging out more funds for another re-buy, the dealer says, “Don’t worry”, reminding me of the “Aces Cracked promotion”,” you just won $200!”
I go from rather dejected to somewhat elated instantly. The floor is called over to confirm everything. To my utter dismay, the floor nonchalantly says, “Sir, I’m sorry but the promo is only Monday through Thursday and this is early Saturday.” I am not tilted, but I was frustrated. I could not seem to get anything going and the mistake of seeing the shaky hand check raise and not going with my read against the cougar confirmed the apparent fact that I was not on my A-game. The goofy mix up about the promo did nothing to help either.

However, this is my LAST night in Vegas so I reload again. Before long, I get A-2o in the BB. I see a limped flop with three opponents. The flop is A-2-5! I lead out for a pot sized bet and one guy calls. The turn is a Q, which I do not think helped my opponent. I figure my opponent for a weak ace since he limped in. My stack is not much more than twice the pot so I overbet/shove and my opponent calls. The River is a 7. I table proudly my flopped 2 pair and he tables his A-7o for a higher 2 pair on the river. I groan audibly. I stand up and take a short walk to clear my thoughts. I watch the “Bambi legged” chicks, drunkenly stumbling around in their high heels, waiting to be devoured by some local predator as they emerge from the nearby club while I finish my beer. I quickly come to the realization that I am not on my A-game and not likely to be able to muster it at this point. So, as much as I did not want to, I called it a night. Although I thought to myself (as I walked to the elevators), I could not believe I was voluntarily leaving the poker room before dawn on my last night in the Capitol of the Poker World. However, in hindsight, I was rather pleased with myself for not losing more on a bad night (which I could have easily done). Sometimes, you have to know when to say when. I would never have been able to do that earlier in my poker life, but now, it wasn’t that hard. I know that deep down inside, for me, playing and winning is more important than just playing.