July 10, 2008

A Heads-up for Human Poker Players

I had images of scientists rushing Einstein's dying brain to freezer storage, saving his wisdom for future generations who, they hoped, would have the technology to restore its function and make his incomparable intellect immortal.

I had invited many of the world's top heads-up limit hold 'em players to Red Square in Las Vegas for a drink in their famous ice room. Heads-up games are played almost exclusively online, since brick-and-mortar poker rooms rarely are willing to spare a dealer for just two players. So although I knew many of these guys' screen names and even human names, I'd never met most of them in person until now. (l to r: Heather, QsDaddy, TheComplainer, SallyWoo, RobLP, Quiet Lion, KPR16, pmv55)

Red Square issued us all fur coats and let us do as many shots of Chopin as we wanted inside the freezer room with Lenin's head encased in a block of ice. We shivered enough to soak up the atmoshpere and then retired to the main lounge area.

Head's up limit hold 'em is my favorite game, mostly because you get to play almost every hand and you see a showdown almost half the time. This satisfies both my thirst for action and my curiosity.

It also is the favorite game of researchers at the University of Alberta, where they continue to improve Polaris, their poker-playing program. In fact, they've improved it to the point where it can hold its own against the very best players in the world. Last week it beat Matt "Hoss_TBF" Hawrilenko, considered by some to be the best in the world, over 500 hands. Now Hoss will be the first to tell you that 500 hands doesn't prove anything. But he said he was impressed by the bot's skill.

According to unconfirmed reports in various poker forums, Full Tilt Poker recently caught several accounts using bots, or artificial-intelligence programs, to play heads-up limit hold 'em on their site. Because it was a violation of the terms of service, they seized all their funds and distributed them to the victims. I have no official confirmation from Full Tilt, as they don't discuss the details of such cases for a variety of reasons. But I can't imagine the perpetrators won't modify their programs and try again on other sites. This is a real heads-up for human poker players.

I entered a couple more World Series events but didn't cash. I decided to skip the main event in favor of enjoying summer in Las Vegas. I like hanging out by the pool and cruising the Strip in a limo more than spending 14 hours a day playing poker tournaments.

Can you blame me?

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June 20, 2008

Not the Champ

People keep asking why I came to Vegas. The World Series combines so many things I hate: slow, boring games; bad food; long hours; and losing six out of seven times even if you're a great player. But everyone knows why I came to Vegas. For the waters.

Although I had some luck in the casino, I failed to cash in the $10,000 limit hold 'em championship at the 2008 World Series of Poker. I did make it to day two despite being sandwiched in between Brandon Adams on my right and eventual winner Rob Hollink on my left, then being moved to the right of Andy "The Rock" Bloch.

On day two I faced the rogue's gallery of Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, and Joe Cassidy before Barry Greenstein showed up to round out the table. Nevertheless, I survived until the table broke but then got it all in with Ace-Queen against Ace-King and went busto about 3/4 of the way though this tough field.
I did manage to double my starting stack, but other than that the high point of the event was figuring out I could use the $10 food comp that Harrah's provides each $10,000 entrant to exactly cover a chicken parmesan sub and two bags of smoked almonds.

Desperate for good food, I cruised over to Bellagio for the tasting menu at Michael Mina, washed down with a 2006 Ken Wright Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm not loving the 2006 vintage compared with 2005, but I've never had anything from Ken Wright that wasn't good.
Michael Mina (formerly Aqua) is inside the conservatory, where I imagine Professor Plum killing someone with the candlestick every time I walk through the beautiful, fragrant, ever-changing floral display. This time they had a very clever mini-Bellagio complete with fountain show. Stop by and see it if you get the chance. It's one of the best free things to do in Vegas.
I'm planning to enter the $1500 mixed hold 'em event on Sunday.

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June 10, 2008

Sick Event

The only way to beat Vegas is to hit and run. That’s why I never moved here. If you spend too much time in Sin City it grinds you down, wears you out, and eventually absorbs you, stealing your soul and making you part of the jaundiced, hungry money machine. But if you hit and run you can get in, make a quick score, and get out before it bites you back. Sometimes you get bit anyway.

This was a nine-day trip to the desert playground, which was pushing it. I took five nights at the Palms, the closest decent hotel to the World Series, and then planned to move to Wynn, my favorite place in town, where they were giving away six Mini Coopers in a drawing Saturday night.

But while still at the Palms, I tried the new restaurant at Palms Place, Simon, along with Kyle, Crazy Mike, and Robyn. There are so many gourmet restaurants in Vegas it’s hard to gush about food but it was top notch. What really stood out, though, was the room. Intimate and glass walled, it sat surrounded by the private Palms Place pool. The waiter talked Crazy Mike into ordering his filet medium instead of medium well, and we relaxed as we watched the pool water lap onto the deck in the June desert wind.

I had no luck at the Palms, nor at Wynn when I moved over there. The good news was Nichole decided to fly down for the weekend, but the bad news was I picked up a nasty case of food poisoning that seemed to linger on for days. I dragged myself to the Rio to play the $1500 limit Hold ‘Em event but never got anywhere. The drawing for the cars was Saturday night and I could barely get out of bed but I showered and dressed and went down to the VIP cocktail reception with Nichole to see if I won.

When we got there we discovered they had secretly transformed the drawing into a game show. If your ticket got drawn you had to play “concentration” and match two numbers on a big board to win one of the six cars. If you missed twice they would draw someone else. I didn’t get picked in the first six, or the next four, or the next two. Finally there was one car left and they drew my name. Nichole said, “16 and 12! 16 and 12!” The room was spinning as I walked up to the stage. I decided to go for the drama. “Well, I’m pretty sure one of them is 16.” I said. Then I waited. I wondered if they’d call the clock on me. Finally I said, “How about….12!”

The room erupted into mixed cheers and boos as they revealed the final car. I took the cash option and used it to pay off a marker.

Still not 100% I flew back to Seattle to recover for a few days. Next event is the $10k limit Hold ‘Em championship on Sunday June 15.

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June 3, 2008

Tough event

After chipping up my starting 10k to 17,000, I busted out of the $5000 mixed Hold 'Em event shorly after the dinner break. Sandwiched between Ted Forrest and Shannon Shorr on the right and Gavin Smith on the left, I fell prey to the most active player at the table and made a loose call with Ace-Eight of Clubs when he limp-reraised me all in with pocket Queens. I thought I had a big edge in the limit portion of the event but It's been a long time since I was at the top of my NLHE game, playing several tournaments a day online.

Nevertheless, this is the biggest social gathering of the year for poker players, and although my buddy Matt "HOSS_TBF" Hawrilenko busted out early, he waited around to hang with me at the dinner break. Matt may be the best heads-up limit Hold 'Em player in the world, which poses a dilemma for him as many of his friends also play that game for high stakes and he doesn't want to teach us how to beat him but neither does he want to be rude and dismissive. This leads to conversations such as:

QL: "How do you play opponents who frequently check-raise dry flops with air?"
HOSS: "Very carefully!"
QL: "And you counter that by...?"
HOSS: "Incredibly clever tactics!"

QL: "I've decided I have no idea how to play monotone flops."
HOSS: "If we had four-color decks that would solve the problem completely!"

But it's impossible to get mad at him because he's the world's nicest guy, plus he's a head taller than me, 20 years younger, and an expert in martial arts.

Ted and Shannon were discussing whether they'd rater have a .38 revolver versus a grizzly bear or a knife against a tiger. I suggested I'd rather have the bottle of suntan lotion against the Hawaiian Tropic model because even if I didn't survive -- what a way to go. Ted scowled and said that wasn't one of the choices. I said, "Sir, if you ever want to be a winning poker player you must learn to think outside of the box."

I may play the shorthanded NLHE event on Thursday, but if not I will likely play the $1500 limit Hold 'Em event on Friday.

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June 2, 2008

2008 World Series begins

Although I've been playing far fewer poker tournaments than in the past, having decided they interfere too much with dinner, I'm now in Vegas to play a few events in the 2008 World Series at the Rio. Tonight I will attempt to overcome Harrah's 6% commission and cash in the $5000 mixed Hold 'Em event. Levels will be one hour each, playing limit Hold 'Em the first half hour and no limit the second. Cards are in the air at 5 p.m.

Last night I had dinner with Kyle and his family at Nove Italian restaurant at the Pams. They sat us at one of the large tables overlooking the Strip with gentle flames flickering at the base of the windows. The whole branzino (European seabass) was fabulous. We started with the 2004 Joel Gott "4 Sarah's Metier" cabernet. Gott makes one of the top inexpensive cabs so I was curious to taste a higher-end bottling and wasn't disappointed: it was fruity, well balanced, and finished well. Then we moved on to the 2005 Testarossa Sanford & Benedict pinot noir. I haven't had a California '05 I haven't liked and this one was great: full enough to follow the light cab but as fruity as Hawaiian Punch but without the sweetness. I'll miss them when they're gone.

In gambling, like sports, you're either on a hot streak or you're due.

I'm due.

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July 27, 2007

2007 WSOP Wrapup

Once the Harrah's bigwigs finally figured out I wasn't some kind of criminal mastermind I was free to play at the 2007 World Series of Poker and even get a room at the Rio, although not quite up to the standards of the Palazzo Suites they put me in last year.

I planned to get the Rio room if I made it deep in the main event, but other than that I was staying at the Wynn, where I have a special deal: I don't win and they don't kick me out.

The big improvement this year wasn't Harrah's doing: Nevada made smoking indoors illegal, except for casinos, bars, strip clubs, and brothels. As a result, the noxious clouds were even farther from the action than last year. People were supposed to go outside to smoke, and largely did. They even had big fans to blow the smoke away.

I never did get a straight answer as to why Harrah's 86'ed me. As soon as I got to talk with Tom Jenkin, who is in charge of all the Vegas properties, he immediately realized it was a mistake and reinstated me within hours. My suspicion is that some managers within Caesars Palace simply did not want to risk my hitting even more big jackpots and making their numbers look even worse. But really, to send me a certified letter warning me off the premises when I'd been coming to Caesars Palace for 25 years without a problem -- it just boggles the mind. But Tom assured me nobody thought I did anything wrong and if I hit four more royal flushes tomorrow, I'd be perfectly OK with him.

So that being settled, I went on to enter 10 of the preliminary events. I played with some cool people, including Ross "Rocky" Boatman, Liz Lieu, and Andrew Prock (right), author of the excellent PokerStove software. We had met last year at BARGE, but previously had exchanged posts on rec.gambling.poker in which he had referred to me as a "rich dilettante." I corrected him, as I prefer to be called a rich, arrogant dilettante, and he graciously assented. Andrew is a pleasure to play with, witty and trenchant. I hope to be on his left next time.

The tournaments were grueling. I like to play poker for a few hours, not all day and all night, but the schedule demanded play until two or three in the morning every day, provided I was still in, which I often was. I don't know how guys like Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, shown here after winning a high-stakes pool match, have done it year after year. Frankly it reminds me of my time at Harvard: I loved being around the people if only I didn't have to put up with all those damned classes. Other than an amusing table assignment one day (left), most of the events felt more like drudgery than fun. Of course I'm sure if I ever made a final table that would be a lot more exciting than busting out after 10 or 15 hours of play with nothing to show for it but a $10 food comp.

I staked my 21-year-old buddy Kyle Ray to his first WSOP event, the $1500 mixed hold 'em, and he brought home a nice cash. He's a very serious student of the game and I expect great things of him.

What I was looking forward to the most was hanging out with the math team: Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman, who co-authored the bible of game theory as applied to poker, The Mathematics of Poker, Terrence Chan, and Matt Hawrilenko. These guys are all phenomenal poker players and a lot of fun to hang out with.

I had dinner with Matt, Terrence, and Terrence's new girlfriend Laren at the Country Club at Wynn. Country Club may be my favorite restaurant in town now. They do the steaks charcoal-broiled with a salt rub, but given that I'm eating healthy these days I appreciate the one or two fish dishes they always offer. The service is personal and attentive and the wine list, like the menu, is small but very high quality. We had the last bottle of the Penner-Ash Syrah. Matt approved.

A few days later I made it over to the math team clubhouse, where I hoped to learn something about poker but instead played pool and watched Matt and Terrence engage in the manly sport of wrestling. I met Mike Fong, who was sharing the house with the math team although he hadn't yet established credentials as lofty as the others. We bought a chip set from the Rio and practiced HORSE, showing our cards at the end of each hand for commentary. I got a nice shot of Laren's feet.

The main event was almost a non-event for me. I came within a few chips of doubling up and then ran out of luck, busting on the first day when 3/4 of the field hadn't even started playing yet. That gave me the weekend to relax and unwind at the Wynn before I flew home.

The more I stay at the Wynn the more I think it's by far the best hotel in town, not just for the facilities but for the excellent service top to bottom. Nichole (above right) enjoyed her first Kobe burger on the patio at Tableau while I entered an invitational Baccarat tournament for casino high rollers.

I bombed out but Russell Rosenblum (left), one of the smartest and nicest guys in poker with one of the sweetest and prettiest wives, took his beginner's luck into third place for a nice chunk of change.

But the big surprise was the winner: Full Tilt pro Roland de Wolfe (right), whom I didn't even know played Baccarat. Roland is a frenetic, upbeat guy you just want to root for. He later tried to invite us to his birthday party but the elevator doors closed before he could tell us the details, almost snipping off his nose.

Tournament poker can be a road to heartbreak. Bill Chen told me a great player can expect to cash in one out of seven tournaments. If a bad streak comes, that can easily mean 20 events in a row without cashing. The math team didn't do so well this year. Last year Bill won two bracelets. Why do we do it?

I guess it's fun.

Two more pics of Nichole...she cleans up nice.

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June 22, 2007

A disappointing cash

I just finished my seventh event of the 2007 WSOP, the $3000 limit Hold 'Em. I made the money but then ran out of luck and cashed in 21st place for $7761. At my last table I played a pot against Phil Hellmuth, who still didn't know my name after four years. I reraised his early-position raise in the small blind with QQ and he raised my flop bet on a board of King-rag-rag and I just called, intending to call him down. He checked behind on the turn and I checked the river hoping he would bet. He didn't and showed Ace-Queen, well played to lose the minimum and get the free card.


June 11, 2007

Made day 2 of the limit Hold 'Em championship

I played my first event since Harrah's lifted the ban, the $5000 Limit Hold 'Em championship. Despite having Andrew Prock on my left and Ted "I have a straight" Lawson two to my right, I built my starting stack of 10,000 up to 24,000 before going cold toward the end of the day. I advance to day 2 with slightly more than my starting chips, 10,600. Barry Greenstein and Mimi Tran are at my table.

It would make a hell of a story if I won this one!

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June 8, 2007

I can play!

Thanks to the quiet diplomacy of WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and to many of my fellow poker players vouching for my character, Harrah’s has decided to allow me to play in the remainder of the WSOP and lifted the ban on my entering their properties. I’m still learning the details of why this was handled this way but it’s looking more and more like a big mistake. As usual everyone at Harrah’s was friendly and professional. I will post more details as they become available but I can now eat at the buffet without fear of arrest.

I want to thank everyone who supported me from the bottom of my heart. It is very gratifying to know how much my friends care.

I guess I won’t be needing the “Free Quiet Lion!” hats and t-shirts after all.


June 2, 2007

Fall of the Roman Empire

In an overreaction of thermonuclear proportions to my recent good luck, Harrah’s has barred me from playing in the World Series of Poker, and in fact from even setting foot in any of their hotels.

When Harrah’s Entertainment bought Caesars Palace, many industry pundits predicted they would have trouble managing the high-roller business. Harrah’s was built on the high-margin, low-volume player. They produce a predictable win, cost little in comps, and there are many, many of them. High rollers demand games with a slim house advantage, generous comps, and the possibility of actually walking away with a win once in a while.

Harrah’s doesn’t like that.

For 40 years, Caesars Palace had a reputation for welcoming big action. At one point they were the biggest place in town. They loved big players and didn’t sweat if somebody won. They wanted to keep him coming back. Eventually the house edge would kick in, but for now they’d let the player enjoy his good fortune.

That reputation is gone.

On May 10, Harrah’s sent certified letters to several high rollers informing them that their business was no longer wanted at Caesars Palace or any of the other Harrah’s properties in Nevada, California, and Arizona. I was one of them. I called the office of Tom Jenkins, regional vice president, and got a call back from Terry Byrnes, the VP of customer service. He told me I was being 86ed because they couldn't figure out how to make a profit off me.

Now understand, the only games I play are poker and video poker. In poker, the house makes a 100% guaranteed profit straight off the top. In video poker, the house controls every aspect of the game: the paytables, the amount of the house edge, and the promotions and incentives they offer. There is no way to use skill – or even cheat – to beat video poker. You can’t count cards. You can’t peek at the dealer’s hole card. It’s a machine. The best you could possibly hope for is to play computer-perfect, which I don’t, and even if that were possible the machine still has a maximum theoretical payout chosen by the casino. The only thing the casino can’t control is luck. One reason I like video poker is because you can get lucky and win. You hit a royal flush every 40,000 hands or so. If you’re lucky enough to hit two, you’re ahead! If you hit three, you’re ahead for a long time!

Boy, have I been lucky at Harrah’s.

I hit four huge royal flushes in the last year at three of the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties. Not surprisingly, I’m ahead, although I’ve put 80% of it back. This seems to rub them the wrong way. But I have trouble imagining the thought process that would cause someone to decide that kicking out one of your most loyal customers is an appropriate solution to the problem of him having extremely good luck. If they think the machines are too loose, make them tighter. If they think they are giving me too much in comps, give less. They control every aspect of the game. Except luck. And kicking out players who have been lucky makes about as much sense as banning people from playing the lottery because they win it.

Reactions to lucky streaks in video poker are not unique to Harrah's, but the usual response is to cut down on the promotional offers to players who aren't losing as much as they hoped. Even that is potentially unsound business: lucky players get unlucky and you want them to be at your place when that happens.

If it weren’t for the WSOP, I’d laugh about this rather than cry. I don’t think they’re trying to punish me, I just think they don’t understand their business and are compounding one costly mistake – offering way too much in comps and incentives to video-poker players – with another. My friends, if you can’t figure out how to make money from people who only play games with a built-in house edge, you may as well give up on the casino business and close your doors.

In the meantime, know that the winner of the main event this year cannot be considered a true world champion.

Not when the Quiet Lion isn’t allowed to play.

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February 15, 2007

Heads up

Having been inexplicably passed over yet again for the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship I decided to play the $200+30 rebuy satellite Saturday at Caesars Palace for one seat in the exclusive field. Only 71 people entered so I had a decent chance of getting into what’s becoming one of the premier events in poker.

My buddy Chad Layne was at my table but was busted early by the charming Alex Vuong, who trapped him with top pair and a better kicker.

Terry Fleischer showed up at the table with 25,000 chips but his wild style didn’t work out so well at this table as people kept showing down big hands against him. He doubled me up playing four-deuce suited but I lost most of my chips when my Presto couldn’t hold up against eight-six flopping two pair.

I put my last few chips in with a raggy queen and got called by the same guy who busted me in one of the season two UPCs by calling with Ace-Ten. Once again, he had Ace-Ten and once again I lost the race and busted 25th.

It wasn’t so bad to bust at 5:59 p.m. since I had a 6 p.m. dinner invite from Benjie and Mark at Bradley Ogden, conveniently located steps from the poker room at Caesars Palace. I had a steak tartare and Chilean sea bass, both excellent as is pretty much anything I’ve ever had at Ogden. Benjie always lets me pick the wine and I saw no reason to get anything but the 2002 Casa Dalla Valle Cabernet.

After dinner we went to The Producers, the new abridged version that had just opened at Paris. We walked across the street and enjoyed David Hasselhoff’s performance as the flaming director-actor. I was not a big fan of the show when I saw it on Broadway, not loving Mel Brooks’ score, and it’s fair to say that it in my eyes it benefited by being shorter. The acting and production were terrific and I’m sure it will be popular with tourists.

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January 14, 2007

Aussie busto

I got off to an exciting start in the Aussie Millions, making the nuts twice early and chipping up to 53,000 from the starting 20,000. Carlos Mortensen was at my table but never got cards. After my early success I bluffed into a set for half my stack, made a series of unsuccessful steals, and eventually put my last chips in with top two pair against a flush on the turn, eliminated in the wee hours of day one. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, Melbourne was great. Full Tilt took us on a river cruise, wined and dined us, and gave us a whole bag full of custom Aussie logo swag. This takes over from Aruba as my favorite event. And next year the whole casino will be non smoking!

Maria Sharapova has been hanging around, looking for excuses to run into me, riding up in the elevator, etc. I hope it doesn’t distract her from winning the Australian Open. Well, dealing with many admirers is one of the responsibilities that comes with success. Good luck to Maria and our new friend Andy Roddick. Doug Lee and I have already gone busto in our tournament.

Tomorrow I leave for Thailand to visit my brother.

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December 29, 2006

Pokerroom cheats customers

The online poker site Pokerroom has reneged on an advertised prize guarantee of $19,000 plus a $2000 television, withdrawing money from winners’ accounts and blaming a technical error, according to this thread on PocketFives. Several posters reported emailing Pokerroom support after money was removed from their Pokerroom accounts without notice. They said support confirmed that Pokerroom would not be honoring the advertised prize pool guarantee.

Pokerroom had previously shut their doors to American players based on the recently passed legislation banning financial transactions with illegal gaming sites. A few US States explicitly ban online poker but the Federal Justice Department considers it illegal regardless of the fact that there is no Federal law banning Internet gambling and only 11 States ban any form of online gambling.

The obvious point is that outlawing something a lot of people like to do is not a way to build a stable, safe nation. People will always gamble. Poker is one of the most entertaining forms of gambling, combining skill and luck in an exciting and sometimes frustrating game. When government nannies make it illegal for adults to play, adults will simply play illegally. But so will children, since without regulation there are no controls on who a site can allow. And, as we have just seen, there is no recourse when a dishonest site decides to cheat its customers.

I cashed out of Pokerroom long ago after an extended debate with customer service in which they refused to admit a technical problem in the software that cost me a few dollars. The only site I completely trust is Full Tilt, because I know the people who run it and their integrity is beyond question. I suspect PokerStars is also OK but I don’t know them as well.

Until we succeed in turning around the nanny battleship in Washington: caveat emptor.

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December 22, 2006

Kyle and Tyler’s Excellent Adventure

Every young man, on his first trip to Vegas as an adult, has one great misconception about the town. It’s not about gambling. No, people don’t really expect to win. It’s not about getting a bargain. No, people really expect to be ripped off. No, there’s a greater misconception and it's universal among men. What is it? Read on.

My online poker buddy Kyle and his best friend Tyler had been looking forward to their first post-21 trip to Vegas, planned for right after finals, and I made sure I was in town to properly show them the sin in Sin City. Naturally the first stop was the Caesars Palace Seven Stars Lounge and uberbabe Elisabeth. We got there just before closing but she made a mean martini and launched us to the poker room, where we tried in vain to start up a game of HORSE. We played some 3/6 Hold ‘Em into the wee hours.

The boys had booked an economical package including a room at Harrah’s that was virtually free. I decided to pull a few strings and get a penthouse suite at the Palms, which I handed them the keys to. You shouldn’t have to stay at Harrah’s your first night in Vegas. Kyle liked the steam room but Tyler was all over the five-head shower with light show.

As loyal readers know, my favorite Vegas sin is gluttony. I exposed the boys to some fine victuals – Little Buddha and Nove at the Palms, with a brief stop at the Playboy Club, and Vic and Anthony’s and Grotto at the Golden Nugget. At Vic and Anthony’s, one of the best old-school steakhouses in town, we uncorked some fine vino: 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rosé to start, followed by the 2002 Stag’s Leap Fay Cabernet. I remembered to ask them to leave the butter off the steak and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Grotto was unimpressive but they had a nice inexpensive Italian wine list and we were accompanied by an uberhot pokerbabe geek girl we ran into at Caesars who I had previously met at Binion’s.

The next two nights we got a great 4/8 HORSE game going at Caesars. The boys kept asking about going to a strip club but we ended up playing low-stakes poker every night instead. You see, that’s the great misconception about Las Vegas, that it has phenomenal, earth-shattering strip clubs. In reality, the sex industry in Vegas is overpriced and underdelivers. Like many facets of this money-machine town, it’s a sucker game.

But I told the boys to take a detour next time they’re near Tampa.

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December 19, 2006

The Adventures of Captain Penis

Ah, Las Vegas. There were still 400,000 homes without power in greater Seattle but Las Vegas Boulevard had all the neon lights anyone could wish for. I checked into Caesars Palace, spelled with no apostrophe despite the typo on the new street sign on Flamingo, and caught up on world affairs. Iggy posted a link to the longest thread in the history of the Two-Plus-Two poker discussion board, posted by ex-stripper Brandi Hawbaker, a recent debutante on the tournament circuit. Brandi accuses “Captain” Tom Franklin of offering to mentor her in poker, conning her out of $12,000 and:

The next night, he crawled into bed with me naked. His penis on my back, frighten me, and woke me in the middle of the night. I freaked out and spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. I crawled to sleep on the floor and used the towels as blankets. I was traumatized…Every day he started having talks with me at breakfast/lunch.. how he was doing so much for me and that I needed to do something for him. He said at that time that I could not have my money back and that I had to "huggle" with him…When I got to Foxwoods, everything had changed. He had a young 22 year old girl with him, named Amanda. We were all supposed to meet at the airport but his flight was delayed, so we shared a cab. My friend was still with me at the time, and she confronted Amanda. Amanda came out and said that she met him two years ago when she was with her mom and that for two years Tom has promised her a job in his company ~ which was still yet to happen, as Tom does not have a company. She talked about how he makes her skin crawl and that she has turned into an alcoholic and that she dropped out of school and is now taking care of her mom and dad with the little money that Tom is giving her to have sex with him.
You can’t make this stuff up. I hope everyone now sees why I always ask girls if they are strippers first, before it escalates to the huggle.

I played in the Ultimate Poker Challenge $340 event on Sunday, going busto 25th of 95 starters when my Jacks couldn’t hold up against Ace-Jack. Before I busted I witnessed one of the worst plays I’d ever seen. With several limpers, a good player raised in the big blind and got two callers. The flop came King-Nine-Eight rainbow. The good player, with about 10,000 left, bet 2300, about the size of the pot and 25 less than the third player to act had in front of him. The second player, who had about 15,000, called, as did the short stack. The turn was a blank. It checked to the short stack, who put in his last quarter and both called. The river was a Queen. The good player thought a bit and then checked. The second player moved in and the first player folded. The second player showed Seven-Six. The all-in player showed Ten-Seven and won the pot with Ten high. If you’re not sure why that was the worst play ever, you should probably give up poker and try gardening.

A prior UPC event was the last time I chose to engage Captain Tom in conversation. He had tried to skip his big blind by claiming the button hadn’t been moved before the break and, when caught, accused me of being a cheater. So Brandi’s story is far from the first attack on the character of Captain Tom.

Now let us turn to Brandi. An innocent babe taken in by wolves? Probably not. Online pro Mark “Newhizzle” Newhouse posted a long story of his own involving Brandi and how she blew about $30k in one of his online accounts:

the next day when i got up, i tried to get onto stars, and my password was changed, i asked her wtf is going on, and she said she wanted it to be a surprise how much she was up, i was basically like, [censored] that, get me on my account, and she told me she busted it, i obviously got pissed, but she has a way of making me feel so bad for her that i couldnt stay mad for that long(yes, im a [censored] idiot) she called a few people to try to get money back for me, but she couldnt get anything, she told me straight up to keep quiet while she was on the phone with them because the only way that she could get money from guys is if they think that she wants to [censored] them, that pretty much changed my perspective of her, now i realzed that she was a scandalous bitch anyway, she got all depressed and locked herself in the bathroom that nigth, and i heard a glass break while she was in there(she has cuts on her arms from cutting herself, she gets extreamly depressed) i got really worried about her and knocked on the door and asked if everything was ok and if i could come in, she said she was taking a bath and to leave her alone, i shouldnt be listening outside the door, i was in a complete frenzy hoping that she wasnt going to kill herself and my friend called me and told me that mr. foo(90% VPIP full ring and quite possibly the best poker player ever, he was up easily 200k in like 3 days of destroying all the pros) was downstairs, so i went to go play poker and get the [censored] away from the room when i got back up, she was passed out in the bath, using towels as blankets and on the bathroom wall, written in blood, it said, "i will fly one day" so now im freaking out and i wake her up, she had made a pretty deep cut in her leg
But wait! Here’s the best part:

in the car ride back to vegas, brandi told me that she got her ex to put her in a satellite on the condition that she let him [censored] her in the ass, then she said, id rather let you do it, you want to? i pretty much lost all respect for her after she told me that i ended up putting her in a satellite because i felt so bad for her
No, you can’t make this stuff up. Just more role modeling from the only sport you can play while drinking beer.

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December 10, 2006

Heads up

One of my favorite foods growing up was Peking Duck. Last night I took a couple gambling buddies, Benjie and Simon, and my old friend Kevin Hogan to Wynn’s Wing Lei restaurant for the fabulous five-course Peking Duck dinner, washed down with a couple bottles of 2002 Dalla Valle Cabernet. Kevin had to take a redeye home after dinner but Simon and I went over to the Imperial Palace to check out the new heads-up PokerTek table at the release party all the bloggers had been invited to. By the time I got there the room was littered with empty cans and Chardonnay bottles but a few conscious bloggers were playing play-money poker. I grabbed an empty seat at the 10-handed table and played a sit-and-go, which I won using optimal game theory, although Joanne inexplicably beat me in a heads-up match.

The party descended to the Geisha bar where the sober, Argus-eyed Michael Craig wove through the interstices of the swaying assembly and took furious notes for future blackmail use against the besotted bloggers. Iggy held court as usual, the pokerbabes crowding around to be in the presence of his movie-star looks. Mike whipped out a couple of expensive cigars and we enjoyed the last night in the company of the few fellows bitten by not only the poker bug but also the writing one.

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December 5, 2006

Beat the Players

I just finished reading Bob Nersesian’s new book Beat the Players. He is a lawyer who represents gamblers – particularly card counters and other guys who try to beat the house at their own game -- in disputes with casinos. He recently won a huge judgment for two players who were caught peeking at a sloppy dealer’s hole card (completely legal), manhandled, arrested, and jailed. The book is mostly a summary of Nevada gaming law with a few excerpts from cases thrown in. I like to know my rights under the law so I read it with interest.

One thing that jumped out at me was that Nevada, like most places, still does not enforce gambling debts. There is a law requiring the payment of a winning bet, but the common-law doctrine that gambling debts are unenforceable is still in force in Nevada.

I suspect this means that, regardless of the merits of his claim, Crispin Leyser is out of luck trying to collect half of Jamie Gold’s $12 million first prize in the 2006 World Series of Poker.
By the way, what ever happened with that investigation Harrah's was doing into the extra chips I discovered added to the main event?

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December 1, 2006

Bunnies galore

Everybody’s been after me to write a review of the new Playboy Club at the Palms so I’ll do that a bit later in this uber-ish post. First I have to report that the ebonizzle angel who sat with me at the N9ne bar yesterday actually gave me a real Myspace page and a real email addy. She promised to accept me as a friend next time she logged in so those of you who see my life as some kind of irresistible train wreck can browse though my 200+ Myspace friends and try to figure out who she is.

I had been in Vegas two days longer than my original plans called for. The forecast in Seattle was rainy and warmer so I planned to return tomorrow per my revised itinerary. Meanwhile I took advantage of the extra days in Vegas to hang out with one of my favorite people in the poker world, Chad Layne. I wanted to treat him to one of the great restaurants at the Palms but he insisted on taking me to Hank’s at the Green Valley Ranch. Hank’s is a virtual clone of T Bone’s at Red Rock so I was hoping they still had my favorite side dish, pureed cauliflower and horseradish. They did, and Chad and I shared a chateaubriand plus the creamed corn and grilled tomatoes. Chad and I usually do Grey Goose rather than wine but I snuck a glass of the 2002 B.R. Cohn Cabernet with the steak.

Apparently my having written about eating for the last 10 or so years qualifies me as some kind of expert. Real writers are calling me for quotes on fine dining in Vegas. When I started coming here 25 years ago it was all about $1.99 prime rib and all-you-can-eat buffets. Every hotel had the steakhouse, the Italian restaurant, and the Chinese restaurant. The emphasis was on cheap, not gourmet. Today you can hardly find a celebrity chef who doesn't have a place in a Strip resort. In the middle of the desert, the freshest exotic seafood in the world is trucked and flown in daily. The tip for two at Guy Savoy is more than most families of four spend on dinner. It's a paradise for the gourmet and the expense-account owner, but the day of the bargain is gone.

After dinner I played a little online with some of the many uber-hot pokerbabes who comprise my fan club on Full Tilt. They all use the two hottest avatars, the one that looks like Shana Hiatt and the one that looks like David Grey’s wife Taylor. Railbirds, who used to ask who I was, have now seen me on TV more than they care to, so now they ask who are these people I’m playing with. “Uber-hot pokerbabes,” I answered. “What’s that mean?” one of the babes asked. “Uber,” I said. It’s blogger for “very.” A fellow player corrected me: “It’s actually German for ‘super.’” Yeah, if you want to get all technical and shiznit. Babe und Überbabe! While all this idle badinage was going on, uberbabe karenr was beating me out of every pot in a heads-up HORSE, sending me on uber-tilt. I might have blown my whole bankroll $20 at a time but thankfully I couldn’t do a rematch because Jim had arrived to take me up to the Playboy Club high atop the Palms’ new Fantasy Tower.

The Playboy Club, at first glance, is a casino. It is, in fact, the first casino with a cover charge in the history of Nevada. The floor is filled with blackjack tables with booths and bars around the outside, all framed by picture windows framing the spectacular view of Las Vegas. Jim was a member, meaning we could sit at a table without getting uber-expensive bottle service, so we did and ordered drinks as he whipped out a pair of cigars with labels I didn’t recognize. “Pre-Castro Cubans,” he said. Wow. I thought it was pretty cool of him to share these ubercigars with someone he had just met. “How much money are you planning to ask me to lend you?” I asked. Fortunately he got my sense of humor and we had a great time talking about all things Vegas, poker, and online. Service at the table was superb: our server came by frequently to check on our drinks and a hautboy policed the ashtrays and empties, even stopping to replace the box of matches I had taken from across the table.

The one thing you think of when you hear Playboy Club, of course, is the bunny, and oh, there were bunnies galore. Our server sported black ears and a little white cottontail (they are now sewn on rather than velcroed – apparently people were grabbing them and selling them on eBay) and in fact even the blackjack dealers were bunnies. They were all nice looking but frankly the Palms had already done a spectacular job of hiring beautiful girls to serve drinks and none of these bunnies had anything on the earless bartenders downstairs at the Mint, who all had an attractive air of professional competence in addition to their pulchritude. Still, bunnies are bunnies and the experience was more than pleasant even though I neither asked for nor received Myspace addresses.

I insisted on paying for the drinks, given the magnitude of his tobacco magnanimity, and left Jim there to hold court with his next wave of friends. On the way down the elevator there was a guy wearing some kind of caveman outfit with an enormous bejeweled watch and a silver pendant with a script “A.” A girl asked him if the watch was a Breitling. “Yes, it is,” He said casually. “You’re somebody, aren’t you?” she asked. “Who are you?” “Bob,” he said. “Bob? What’s the ‘A’ stand for then?” “Uh…Andy. Bob Andy.” Now Bob Andy could be the world’s biggest TV star and I wouldn’t know it but maybe one of you can recognize the star sighting from my description. And speaking of seeing stars, if there’s anyone left on the Internet who hasn’t seen the photos of Britney Spears getting out of a sports car with no panties: do yourself a favor and don’t look.

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