"There's more to life than strippers and booze and buckets of blood. Why do you guys have buckets of blood?"
—Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), on Arrested Development
One of my favorite all-time TV comedies was the hilarious, and underappreciated, Arrested Development. The show was filled with offbeat, zany characters* finding themselves in absurd situations, while cracking snappy one-liners. Sounds a lot like the recent WPBT Winter Classic!
I arranged my annual Festivus solo trip to Vegas to coincide with the WPBT this year. I figured I followed many of these folks' blogs, why not meet a few of them? Not to mention their trip reports always seemed to involve a high degree of hilarity ...
So I departed Des Moines Thursday morning, landing in Vegas before noon. My room at Planet Hollywood was not yet available, so I moseyed over to Aria to play some poker. I ran into "Missing Flops", a Vegas lawyer who blogs on Vegas Poker Now, who was playing the 1:00 p.m. tournament. My poker session was pretty meh, but I did entertain myself by tormenting a hoodie. This young kid would glare at me from under his hoodie anytime I raised or called his bet. I had a decent read on his style, which was a basic uber-aggressive approach that might've been profitable three or four years ago. So, I played a few pots with him, winning almost all of them. One interesting hand I had some sort of suited gapper and limped UTG. Hoodie raised to $15, got a couple of callers, so I repopped it to $75 straight; big glare and a muck. The pièce de résistance was when I called him down in position with Q6 soooted for bottom pair after he three-barreled an unimproved Ace-King. The glare after I rolled over that hand probably means I shouldn't expect a holiday card this year. As I was walking back to Planet Hollywood to check into my room (themed around the forgettable—and for me, forgotten—movie Mimic), the Aria poker room tweeted:
@Grange95 thanks for coming out!
Unintentional comedy at its finest.
After checking into Planet Hollywood, I wandered down the Strip to play "flop a Royal" at Mirage. I failed. Then it was on to dinner with Poker Grump and Missing Flops at Dos Caminos in the Palazzo. There was a great deal of merriment and some serious debate over poker and politics. Then it was off to the Imperial Palace to check up on the WPBT crew at the Geisha Bar.
At this point, I was confronted with a horde of poker bloggers. Lots of names and faces were learned and promptly forgotten. Hey, I'm old now, it happens. I do remember meeting Otis (resplendent in a white polyester sportcoat with faux suede trim), BuddyDank (central casting for any middle-aged slacker), Ian (central Iowa resident I had inexplicably never seen at a poker table before, and whose blogger name I forget; EDIT: It's NumbBono!), and Falstaff (a big ol' teddy bear who was carrying a pitcher of beer, but no glass. Epic!). The irrepressible F-Train made an appearance, and I also saw the famed Pauly at the nearby pai gow table, with a rowdy group of compatriots.
Although I'm a fairly outgoing person, being the newbie among a herd of old friends can be a little awkward. So I wandered over to the IP's poker room. I had to play some 2/4 LHE while waiting for a 1/2 NLHE seat to open, but that worked out just fine as Alaska Gal dealt me pocket Kings, flopped me a set, and I managed to get an old guy with KJ to think I was bullying him, resulting in a pot over $75. Excellent! I don't remember much of the 1/2 NLHE game, except that CaityCaity, CK, skidoo, Katkin, and Falstaff all put in appearances at various points in time.
I then wandered back to P-Ho, intending to go to bed, but instead being seduced by the siren song of a juicy NLHE game. There were a couple of young guys I would see several times over the next few days, as well as a crazy Asian guy fresh off a baccarat session. This guy would buy in for $300, leave it in the rack, and then go all-in preflop. After a few rounds of this, with most folks folding, I screwed up the courage to call him with 44 and a $100ish stack. I doubled up. A few hands later, I call again, with 66, and held up. A few hands later, I call again with 44, and again doubled up. The other guys, however, were not doing as well, finding hands like AK, AJ, and QQ getting shot down by the crazy guy's trash hands. It was the most insane poker I've seen, outside several sessions at Bally's after midnight (crazy Gremlin poker there!). The weirdest moment came when the crazy guy mentioned that he was waiting for his suite to be set up. Apparently, he was a high roller, and was hosting a party that afternoon, so he was having a stripper pole and shower installed in the living room. Clearly I don't do Vegas properly.
Friday morning rolled around ... well, Friday noon rolled around, and I headed out to find some poker. I decided to see what Bally's was like in the daylight hours. Apparently, just as crazy. I was seated next to a weird dude who seemed wired. In between jitters, he would run off at the mouth, sharing that he preferred heroin to booze "because it doesn't affect my poker game as much", and bragging he not only once starred in porn (maybe back in the early 80s), he also "once was on TV and used to date strippers". He hit on a nice Swedish lady at the table, including using this gem of a pickup line: "You're from Sweden? I love IKEA and Swedish porn." Unfortunately, he also was a bad poker player. When I flopped a set and had trapped a kid overplaying Aces, PornStar calls my massive check-raise saying, "I need to gamble here." Yes, the poker gods do reward donkeys, letting him flush my set for a monsterpotten. Le sigh.
I met up with my Brooklyn gals, Mary and "Dawn Summers" (too many blogs to link), for dinner at the Grand Wok at MGM. Joining us were several of their NYC crew, including Ross, F-Train, and VinNay. Dawn and I took competing pictures of each other at the table:
After dinner, it was off to the MGM poker room for some cards and hilarity. Instead, there were 2,000 drunk cowboys dancing at Centrifuge Bar, creating quite the ruckus. I did play for a short time, including a hand where Josie dropped by to say hello, and saw me crack Aces with 9h4h; what a hot and fiery good luck charm she is! I stayed long enough to see some smoking woman-on-woman action between CK and The Wife, then bailed for the quieter tables at Mirage.
Error. Turns out, the Mirage was hosting the official National Finals Rodeo party in its sportsbook. The entire sportsbook and surrounding casino floor space was crammed with cowboys and cowgirls dancing the night away.
In case you were wondering, why yes, that is a giant cactus in the middle of the Mirage sportsbook! Now, lest you think I'm poking fun, let me be clear. I grew up on a farm in western Nebraska, was in 4-H and FFA, did my share of showing and judging livestock at the county and state fairs, and had an uncle with a big cattle ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills. So, although I'm not a big rodeo fan, folks that are rodeo fans—complete with cowboy hats, cowboy boots, western cut jeans, western style shirts, and big shiny belt buckles—are part of my original tribe. The band was actually quite good, and ripped through a ton of old school country hits (my favorite that night was a version of "Louisiana Saturday Night" that pretty much had the whole crowd two-steppin'). Regrettably, cowboys also can be donkeys—and lucky donkeys—at the poker tables, and after dodging quad aces then being whacked by two horrendous four-outers (is there any other kind?), I decided to pack it in for the night.
Of course, I had to stop by the P-Ho poker room, since it was conveniently located by the elevators to my room. First hand I ran second nut flush into the nut flush, but then the tide turned as I started pounding greyhounds (to prevent scurvy, of course). For my big hand of the night, I had K8 of crubs, flopped trip Kings, rivered quads, and got paid in full on my river shove (a 2x pot bet) by a young kid trying to impress his girlfriend with his Ace-rag bluff. Now that's a hero call! Thank you, come again! I also had the pleasure of sitting next to a young Hungarian guy who recited lines from Rounders. Nothing quite like a Hungarian doing an imitation of John Malkovich ("Teddy KBG") doing a bad Russian accent.
Saturday started off with the awesome WPBT tournament at Aria. Since this didn't make it into my prior writeup of the tourney, I did want to mention I got to play for a bit with Chilly (who I knew from back in the day when I went to college with he and his wife), and also got to briefly meet the legendary Al Can't Hang (who is much smaller, quieter, and saner in real life than one might imagine). EDIT: I failed to mention a really interesting fellow I met during the tournament and later played some cash games with: Travis, a/k/a "OnAFoldDraw". Funny guy, good player, looking forward to hanging with him more next year.
After the tournament, I found myself walking over to MGM with Katkin, Dr. Chako, and The Wife to play mixed games. The Doc and the Wife are awesome folks, very friendly and entertaining. The Wife grew up in small town Wisconsin, so we found plenty to chat about. For example, she had 50 or so people in her high school graduating class, while I had 7. The mixed games were more donking than playing. I did flop quad 9s in hold 'em against The Wife, and later tilted a fat guy with bad "Flock of Seagulls" hair into leaving the table after I kept calling him down when he tried to bluff (dude, bluffing in 3/6 limit? riiiigghhhttt).
The reindeer games came to a close when CK invited the Chakos and me to a comped dinner at Lemongrass in Aria. This was a fantastic dinner, as we shared a couple of appetizers and four spicy Asian dishes. I would highly recommend eating here with your Aria poker room comp dollars. Even better than the food, however, was the company, as my dinner companions regaled me with amusing stories of prior WPBT hijinks as well as tales of their family lives. That two hours was easily the highlight of my trip, and made me glad I had moved my Festivus trip to include the WPBT. Good folks, those three.
After dinner, we cabbed it to Imperial Palace for some poker and to see who might be at the Geisha Bar. At the bar, we saw Miami Don with his Golden Hammer trophy; a well-deserved win for a guy who had dominated my last table. Pauly and some of the WPBT old guard were holding court, and I managed sightings of Astin and Katitude, two people I would love to chat with briefly next year. Funny thing, I had pictured Astin as a brawny, outdoorsy guy, and in reality he's a sharp-dressing young professional type. Katitude, though, fit my image of her. Both seem to be pretty easy-going and entertaining.
I wandered over to the IP poker tables, where I lost a big pot to Grubette (at least, I think it was her), when my AcTc flopped top pair and a flush draw, and the turn card gave me altos dos pairs. Regrettably, it also gave Grubette her gutterball Broadway, and I failed to improve. My own fault though, for not raising enough on the flop. However, I could hardly be gloomy because The Wife mentioned she was straddling at her table, which somehow led to her straddling me and giving me a lap dance during a Dealertainer rendition of "Achy Breaky Heart". There were dozens of guys jealous of me at that point!
The evening progressed with other friends joining the action at various points, including Dawn, Mary, and CaityCaity. There was one weird guy at the table, who dressed like he was touring with some bad 80s band. The only other memorable hand of the session was when, for only the second time in my life, I folded Kings preflop. A older, nitty guy had raised big, I reraised, and he proceeded to shove without hesitation. I assumed he had Aces, and I also wanted to protect my ~$450 stack. He rolled over ... A8 soooted. Wow. I play so bad. (For what it's worth, the only other time I folded Kings preflop was under similar circumstances, but with far deeper stacks; I was wrong that time, too).
I headed back to P-Ho, where the late night game was in full crazy mode. Two young guys at the table were trying to prop bet on all manner of stupid stuff, like whether the next person to walk past a certain spot would be male or female. Thankfully, the louder one was a bad player, and donated ~$1,500 to the table. Strangely, when the song "Danger Zone" came on, it turned out he not only had no idea the song was in the movie Top Gun, he had never even heard of Top Gun! Kids these days ... However, this did lead to a hilarious remainder of the session, as we nicknamed the three young guys at the table wearing sunglasses "Goose", "Maverick", and "Iceman".
Sunday was much more sedate. I skipped the WPBT festivities at Lagasse's Stadium in favor of sleeping in followed by a fun lunch at Hash House A Go Go with "Local Rock", a frequent poster on AVP. I then tracked down Dr. Chako and The Wife at the Venetian/Palazzo compound in order to say goodbye. This was followed by a rapid shopping trip for something to pay the spouse pass; I ended up getting the sig other a watch, since it was from a trendy designer he likes, it travels easily, and I about threw up in my mouth at the idea of spending $150-$200 for a shirt he wanted.
Shopping done, I returned to the Venetian to play some $1/$2 PLG (pot limit gambooool). Also at the table were entertaining WPBT degenerates Drizz, Falstaff, and Katkin, along with a rotating assortment of crazy Canadians, a scary Scandi, and an alliterative Asian. The game was great fun, and I even cashed out a nice profit. One cooler hand I tweeted, where I flopped Kings-up with a flush draw and turned Kings-full:
Falstaff and I get it in on the turn, my Ks full of 8s vs. his KQ76. He calls for the Queen. I cry. #PLG #wpbt
There was another big hand, this time where I folded on the flop to monster three-way action. I folded a monster draw that I think should have been a call, but I'll post the hand later for comments. Anyway, a little before midnight, Katkin and I cashed out and went to Noodle Asia for some food and interesting poker and politics chat. If you ever have a chance to sit down with Katkin, do it. Fascinating fellow.
I headed back to P-Ho, popping into Imperial Palace briefly to say goodbye to Dawn and Mary. The P-Ho late night game was in full crazy swing, yet I couldn't get much traction. My final hand of the trip involved me getting it all-in three ways on the flop with Ac2c vs. CaityCaity's 99 and some young ET's 88. Final board: Qc56c79. Yup, not only did crubs not get there (thanks so much, CK), but Caity's set gave ET his miracle straight. Yup, I run awesome.
During this trip, I had experienced every kind of negative variance. I lost to 2-outers, 3-outers, and 4-outers. I was outflopped, turned, and rivered. I was outdrawn, but couldn't hit my monster draws. I ran into set over set, straight over straight, flush over flush, boat over boat, and yes, even ran into quads. Still, Vegas did have one last bad beat waiting for me, even after I put away the remnants of my Vegas bankroll.** I got into a cab Monday morning to head to the airport. Upon learning that I play poker, my cabbie proceeded to suck five minutes out of my soul by regaling me with his brother's bad beat story. For those who care, his brother was supposedly playing $5/$10 NLHE at the Venetian, flopped quad Kings, and lost to a rivered royal flush (the other guy had QJ soooted and flopped the open-ended straight flush draw). The cabbie was outraged the Venetian didn't have a badbeat jackpot, "like the Orleans, or other good poker rooms". Please, join me in lighting a candle to the poker gods tonight in memory of this guy who now is apparently also driving cabs, trying to rebuild his poker bankroll.
I returned to Iowa to find single-figure temperatures, sub-zero windchills, and snow. But, a happy Berkeley was there to snuggle up and keep me warm, and it was nice to actually get home. Still, my Festivus/WPBT adventures were a ton of fun, and I look forward to next year when I can see my all my friends old and new, and hopefully meet more of the WPBT folks. Notables on the "to meet" list: Bayne, BadBlood, Iggy, StB, and April, though I quite likely met at least some of these folks and had no idea who they were.
And next year, my 85 offsuit will hold up.
* My favorite character name on the show was "Bob Loblaw", an attorney who also wrote a blog, "The Bob Loblaw Law Blog". Say his name out loud and you'll get why his character always made me crack up.
** Actually, I ran well enough that, although it was a losing trip, most of the big pots I lost cut into my profits for that session, rather than into my initial buy-in. Still, a small losing trip could've been a monster winning trip had the poker gods been just a bit more kind on a few key hands.