January 27, 2013

Seven Virgins, a Mule, and the Gypsy Queen:
Welcome to the MGM Poker Show!

Welcome back my friends
To the show that never ends.
We're so glad you could attend.
Come inside! Come inside!

Come inside, the show's about to start,
Guaranteed to blow your head apart.

Soon the Gypsy Queen
In a glaze of Vaseline,
Will perform on guillotine.
What a scene! What a scene!

Performing on a stool,
We've a sight to make you drool.
Seven virgins and a mule.
Keep it cool. Keep it cool.

Come and see the show! Come and see the show!
Come and see the show! See the show!

~ Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "Karn Evil 9 First Impression, Part 2"

As has been my tradition over the past several years, I found myself in Vegas as part of my holiday travels. Because Vegas is not the usual Christmas season destination, the couple of weeks before Christmas through a few days after the holiday are typically the lull before the Vegas tourist storm that is kicked off by New Year's Eve. It's easy to find bargain basement airfares and free or cheap upscale Strip hotel rooms during that holiday period, making a Vegas holiday trip extraordinarily economical. So, after a few great days hanging with my family at my brother's new home in Denver, I took a three day solo poker journey to Vegas.

This trip, MGM's MLife program offered me two free nights at a variety of hotels. I opted for the MGM Grand, both for quality of accommodations and out of nostalgia for my first trip to Vegas. Way back in the summer of 2006, the MGM poker room was smack in the center of the recreational poker universe. The Venetian poker room had been open only a few months, and was beautiful, huge, and mostly empty. The Wynn poker room had been open only a year. The "Big Game" had long migrated from Mirage to Bellagio, with the latter catering to bigger-rolled players ($2/$5 was the lowest NLHE game) while the former was waging a myopic war against no-limit games, preferring to cater to limit hold-'em and stud players. Many of the other Strip casinos had small poker rooms, with 6-10 tables spreading mostly $1/$2 NLHE and $2/$4 LHE.

MGM's poker room filled a key niche in the '06 Vegas poker ecosystem—the big room that catered to the "little" players. With 23 tables in a prime location between the sports book and Centrifuge bar, poker players could find a game nearly 24/7, and a packed room with waiting lists was common most evenings and weekends. The room catered to low stakes players, offering mostly $3/$6 LHE and $1/$2 NLHE (with a bankroll friendly buy-in of $60-$200), and some soft $2/$5 NLHE games. The MGM poker room had a definite "young gun" vibe, filled with brash, drunk, noisy players. Fortunately, most of those players were terrible, and finding a juicy, profitable game was generally easy.

Although the Vegas poker scene has evolved considerably during the intervening years, in many ways the MGM poker room is remarkably unchanged. Other than the more traditional poker tables replacing the MGM's original unique tables with a marble "racetrack" edge, the MGM poker room still looks identical to how it looked back during my first Vegas trip. Same location, same mix of games, same generally bad players.

Which was a good thing. A lucrative thing. A shooting fish in a barrel thing, or at least some sort of fish-poker-profit metaphor thing.

  1. Buy into MGM poker room cash game.
  2. Identify fish.
  3. ???
  4. Profit!
My first two evenings I played $1/$2 NLHE, and managed to turn healthy two buy-in profits with a pretty ABC style, with the occasional aggressive steal play or semi-bluff thrown in for good measure. The fishing wasn't quite as good as in 2006, but there were some nice poker trout swimming around more than willing to nibble at the lures I was casting.

Which brings us to the last evening of my vacation. It was a Friday night, which would have meant a busy poker room on an average weekend. But this was the Friday before New Years Eve, and tourists were starting to surge into Vegas to get a jumpstart on their holiday celebrations. Dinner and drinks with some friends, with a detour to the Mandalay Bay sports book to sweat the end of the Missouri loss to UCLA, caused me to get back to MGM a hour or so later than planned. Losing that Mizzou investment turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The MGM poker room was jammed, so I put my name on both the $1/$2 and $2/$5 NLHE lists. After a short wait, a new $2/$5 game was opened, so I settled in for what I figured would be a pretty standard game. Rarely have I so badly underestimated a game's potential.

Come inside, the show's about to start. Guaranteed to blow your head apart.

The game was wild from the git-go. No hand went unraised, and 3-bets routinely found three or four callers. I decided to sit back and play an almond-broker strategy, looking to trap the aggros with a monster hand. From the table chatter, it sounded like many of the players were regulars, or at least had played together on prior occasions. The players included myself, two young ladies, and seven guys who fit every stereotype of young, hyper-aggro yahoos.

Ah yes, two ladies, seven virgins, and a Mule (me, natch—the token non-reproducing jackass).

Much of the early action was being driven by two of the aggro dudes and one of the young gals. The lady was quite attractive, if you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not. She clearly was trying to dominate the table, and the two aggro dudes were equally clearly trying to push her around. One of the three would raise or 3-bet nearly every hand preflop, and on most of those hands, at least two of the three would stick around for the flop. The three were fearless, perhaps even reckless, pulling out a steady series of ballsy bluffs, ridiculous draws, sick calls, and improbable catches to win bloated pot after bloated pot.

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that none of the three players respected the others. Many poker games involve a little good-natured joking and even the occasional taunt. These three players were openly critical of each other, making the game a bit uncomfortable. After a while, it became clearer that those three had played together the night before, and one of the guys had caught an improbable runner-runner to snap off the lady's big pocket pair. This yahoo of course taunted the lady that she hadn't bet big enough on the turn, giving him "pot odds" to call. From their description of the hand, I doubt that's the case. Nonetheless, the three continued to trade rapid-fire caustic barbs about the other's poker skills, with a couple of the other yahoos chiming in whenever the chatter lagged.

The action hadn't been going on long when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Rob, of Ante Up and All Vegas Poker fame. Rob likes to recount his poker exploits on his "Vegas and Poker" blog, sometimes at great length. Well, almost always at great length. But still, his posts are an enjoyable read for anyone wanting a low-stakes Vegas poker fix between trips to poker mecca. Rob said hello, then pointed at the aggro lady and whispered conspiratorially, "Do you know who that is?" I shook my head. Rob chuckled, "It's Prudence!"

Keep it cool. Keep it cool.

Ah yes, the famous (infamous?) Prudence, the mysterious Queen of the Degenerates who has been featured in a handful (assuming we're discussing the Hindu goddess Mahakali) of posts on Rob's blog. Rob had always painted a picture of Prudence as a show-stopping diva, a modern-day poker-playing Lili Von Shtupp. Prudence did not disappoint. The Prudence Poker Show was a true masterpiece, blending snarky commentary with blitzkrieg poker tactics, seasoned liberally with a never-ending stream of blue language. In the space of a couple of hours, I heard Prudence flirt with dealers, heckle players, and use both the F-bomb and the derivative MF-bomb as every part of speech. Someone outside the game might have viewed the proceedings as a trainwreck, but in reality it was more like Prudence was playing a game of chicken with the other players, only using taunts and chips rather than cars.

Or, if you like, Prudence was the Gypsy Queen performing on a guillotine (I can't confirm any Vaseline but it's sort of implied, I think).

While enjoying the Prudence Show, I also actually played some poker. I used my tight image to steal a few nice pots preflop with 3-bets and 4-bets scaring off the lagtards who were focused on their d*ck measuring contest. I got a courtesy double up early on when my Queens (obviously) turned a set and another player put me on a bluff. Later, I took down a nice pot with Tens; the flop was low trash, I bet, got check-raised, then shoved over the top, leading to a major tank-fold by one of the mouthy yahoos. My thinking was that the yahoo likely had a medium overpair or was bluffing with big cards; though a set was always possible, the board really wasn't scary enough to make a set ram and jam. The yahoo tanking was a bit odd for big cards, unless he was just Hollywooding. I don't know if my hand was good there, but I suppose it was also possible the yahoo had something like a pair-plus-draw and didn't want to play a big pot on the come. Chickensh*t. Rob was railing Prudence (well, not like that) and asked me about the hand later; it would be interesting to hear his perspective (after all, I apparently inspired Rob to play the Spanish Inquisition to great profit the very next night).

Unfortunately for Prudence, the poker gods were not viewing her performance favorably, and she took several tough beats while also picking a couple of bad spots to make big moves. Some might suggest her steady consumption of "carrot juice" on the rocks contributed to her run of bad fortune, but I think her night was mostly the typical downswing part of the LAG roller coaster. Prudence and I only really tangled once, when I called her preflop raise (along with half the table) on the button with 76 sooooted. Yahtzee! I loved the 7-6-2 rainbow flop. Apparently, Prudence did as well, leading out with a bet that was raised by one of the usual yahoos. I made a big raise, and Prudence pushed all-in, leading the yahoo to fold. I insta-called and rolled my hand. The board ran out trash, and Prudence mucked. I don't know what Prudence held, but I suspect a middle pocket pair or maybe something like A7 sooooted.

Eventually the jawing between Prudence and the two main yahoos took a turn from entertaining to nasty when one of the guys started taunting Prudence after the other yahoo hit a lucky suckout to stack her, reminding Prudence of a similar suckout in their session the night prior when the yahoo's Q6s luckboxed a rivered boat to beat Prudence's altos dos pairs of KQ. The yahoo called Prudence an "effing moron". Prudence suggested the yahoo take his Q6s and do something unnatural that would likely kill his hand, at least in most nicer poker rooms. Suddenly the yahoo was calling for the floor, whining about Prudence's language (which although out of bounds for most tables, was hardly all that objectionable given the general chatter at the table to that point). A rather humorless floor gave a warning to the entire table about language. Of course, Prudence let loose another F-bomb moments later, and the same yahoo was again screaming for the floor.

What a scene! What a scene!

Prudence defused the situation by racking up for the night; probably a wise decision. I stayed for another couple of hours, building up a nice stack with a combination of good tight play and a fortunate run of cards. But the game was no fun without Prudence; just a bunch of social misfits grinding out pots with the only talk being discussion of poker strategy (most of it rather ill-conceived). FML, as Prudence might have said. I racked up a four buy-in profit, then played $1/$2 NLHE and drank for a couple of hours, having a lot of fun with the low stakes crowd while padding my profit for the trip.

I've seen a lot in various Vegas poker rooms. Drunk Englishmen taunting pit bosses and tackling me at the table. Grown men eating ribs at the table, after pulling them out of a jacket pocket. But the Prudence Poker Show was an instant classic. So on your next trip to Vegas, head on over to the MGM poker room.

Come and see the show! Come and see the show!

A little Keith Emerson Band to play you out ...


EDITED (26 JAN 2013): Added in detail re the Prudence-Yahoo throwdown to reflect Prudence's reminder in the comments as to the events in question. Her comments was dead on balls accurate re what the yahoo said.

January 21, 2013

The Mule Orthodoxy

“Heresy is the eternal dawn, the morning star, the glittering herald of the day. Heresy is the last and best thought. It is the perpetual New World, the unknown sea, toward which the brave all sail. It is the eternal horizon of progress.

Heresy extends the hospitalities of the brain to a new thought.

Heresy is a cradle; orthodoxy, a coffin.”

~Robert Green Ingersoll, Heretics and Heresies (1874)

I happen to enjoy quaffing the occasional refreshing, medicinal beverage known as the Moscow Mule. In fact, I'm something of a Mule evangelist, spreading the good news of the Mule from South Carolina to Denver, and from Vegas to Canada. But I am also a Mule traditionalist, hewing strictly to the time-honored Mule recipe: good vodka, ginger beer, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and ice cubes, served in a copper mug. No mint, no bottled lime juice, no sugar or simple syrup, no crushed ice, no garnish other than a lime wedge, no highball glass. An orthodox Mule, if you will.

Part of my Christmas gift to my brother and sister-in-law,
so they can fight scurvy in Denver. Using cubed ice, of course.

Unfortunately, the more I evangelize for the cult of the Mule, the more Mule heresies I encounter. Some are minor, like flavored vodkas offered in a number of Des Moines establishments. Many of these "Mule Ranchers"—sort of a cross between a Mule and a Jolly Rancher—are actually quite tasty, particularly those that stick to fruit flavors which complement the ginger flavor of the Mule—pear, black cherry, apple, and peach seem to work well. Other heresies are more fundamental. "Drug Mules" swap out the vodka for silver tequila, while "Kentucky Mules" get their kick from good bourbon. Perhaps the most esoteric Mule heresy I've encountered was a "Tokyo Mule", based on dry saké and yuzu juice. All were highly unorthodox, yet all were very refreshing.

Maybe "heresy" is too strong a word for these mutant Mules. In a way, these Mule variants are more like a cover song or tribute album, putting a new spin on an old classic. Sometimes, the cover song introduces the listener to the original performer, like Metallica did for me with their cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?". Sometimes, the cover version puts a whole new spin on the classic, rendering the original song accessible to a new generation (e.g., the Moulin Rouge remake of LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" by Missy Elliott, Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Mya, and Lil' Kim) or a different audience (e.g., Travis Tritt's excellent countrified cover of the Eagles' classic "Take It Easy", or in the other direction, Carrie Underwood's great pop cover of the already amazing Martina McBride country classic "Independence Day"). For some songs, numerous wildly divergent renditions of the same song may be equally inspiring; witness the variety of approaches to Leonard Cohen's classic "Hallelujah" taken by artists like Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, and k.d. lang (my personal favorite). In rare cases, a cover version may actually elevate a good song to something transcendent—Johnny Cash covering the Nine Inch Nails' hit "Hurt", or Whitney Houston's iconic rendition of the Dolly Parton hit "I Will Always Love You" (Entertainment Weekly recently published an intriguing behind-the-scenes story about how Houston came to perform the song for The Bodyguard).

Of course, not every cover song is an artistic success. In fact, most cover songs probably hover somewhere between William Hung's American Idol rendition of "She Bangs" and Billy Joe Jim Bob and Ellie Mae belting out a tequila-aided "Friends In Low Places" duet during karaoke night at Finnegan's Corner Tap. When it comes to Mules, often the heretical variations from the Platonic Mule more closely resemble "playing Kenny G on a kazoo" than "Kenny G covering Charlie Parker" (an abomination in its own right).

The most common unforgivable Mule sins are adding sugar or simple syrup to the mix, or garnishing with mint. Look, mojitos have earned their place in the scurvy-fighting refreshment pharmacopoeia. But sugar and spice do not make everything else nice, at least not in my copper mug. Speaking of which, a Mule served in anything other than a copper mug may well be refreshing, but it's like serving a fine red wine in jelly glasses—it will do in a pinch, but the ambience is lost (you'll have to trust me on this).

Which brings us to the ultimate Mule heresy—crushed ice. When sharing the Mule recipe with Otis, I felt confident I had conveyed the central importance of cubed ice. In fact, I said, "Ice cubes—must be 2 cm per side, made from water drawn during a new moon from the Ogallala aquifer (PRO TIP: Any ice from the closest freezer will work fine)." That's right: "Ice cubes". Good lord, could it be any clearer?!?

Owly Images
My WPBT bounty could not have been clearer:

Nonetheless, Otis fancied himself the equal of Daniel Webster and proceeded to orate for his Mule soul, throwing down the gauntlet and claiming a mixology loophole rendered crushed ice superior to ice cubes. As Exhibit A in his impassioned defense, Otis demanded a jury viewing—and tasting—of the crushed ice Mule at Herbs & Rye in Las Vegas. Otis described the Herbs & Rye experience as pure rapture:

A giant man with a Thor-like hammer stood on the other side of the bar. He stuffed ice into a canvas sack (I’d learn later it’s called a “Lewis Bag”), put it on the edge of his bar, and beat it with his giant wooden mallet. It was simultaneously violent, artful, and erotic. I’d never been so turned on by a sweating 300-pound man in a black vest.

Thor went to work in a way I had never seen. It was at once robotic and fluid, like a wax museum bartender animated into a performance artist. By the time Thor finished, I had in front of me what amounted to a Moscow Mule sno-cone made with Fever Tree Ginger Beer and garnished with a paper-thin piece of lime peel.

A Moscow Mule sno-cone? Blasphemy!

Nonetheless, I am nothing if not a fair man. I determined that Otis and his crushed ice theorem should be given a fair trial, then shot like Old Yeller. So, during WPBT, I prevailed upon Lori to take me to Herbs & Rye, accompanied by a security force / jury of Astin and Travis. The scene was much as described by Otis, except for the two young, hipster Asian DJs spinning "Best of the 80s/90s Hip Hop Videos" in the lounge while we dined. Now that was an awesome trip down musical memory lanes!

The waitress brought drink menus, but there was no reason to open them. Three Mules were ordered. Three crushed ice Mule sno-cones arrived. I was duly skeptical. I sipped. The drink was tasty. It was ... very refreshing.

A second round of Mules were ordered by Lori and me, while Astin switched to a "Blood and Sand", a drink requiring an elaborate tableside orange bonfire. Apparently our order required more ice to be crushed, leading to our observing a 250+ pound man beating a block of ice into pulp with a massive mallet. Let's just say, if you own a massive mallet, you can crush all the ice you want for your bar and you will not hear a word of protest from me.

Perfect scene for a "Name that 80s/90s Hip Hop Video" contest.

Travis, Lori, and Astin, with a round of refreshments at Herbs & Rye.

All side dishes are better with bacon.

How to make artisan crushed ice.

Now THAT's a mallet!

An Herbs & Rye ice sculpture. Very refreshing.

I left Herbs & Rye very refreshed. Sure, much like Jabez Stone, I "got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey." Still, although Herbs & Rye was a compelling opening gambit, the jury was still very much out on the crushed ice Mule.

Fast forward to late December when I stopped off in Vegas for a few days on the tail end of my holiday travels. During my stay, I sampled Mules in several spots. Nobhill Tavern in the MGM Grand served a decent Mule made with Smirnoff and Gosling's ginger beer, but it was served in a highball glass with crushed ice. It was good, but not great. Later, I had a Mule at Todd English's P.U.B. in Aria. This was the second time I dined at P.U.B., and the second time I was sorely disappointed by mediocre food. This time, I was also disappointed by a Mule served in a lowball glass with crushed ice and what seemed to be merely a splash of ginger beer. P.U.B. certainly took the mediocre Mule to an entirely new level.

But the greatest disappointment was saved for last. After a tasty dinner at Rick Mooney's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay with Lori, Scott, Julie, and Poker Grump, we adjourned to Red Square to sample their Moscow Mules. When they were served, the Mules were not only sno-cones on steroids, but garnished with mint and served in pseudo-copper mugs (copper exteriors lined with non-copperish interiors). Mint sprigs were duly discarded, and Mules were sipped. Thankfully the straws enabled us to reach the beverage, but the mugs were barely 2/3 full at best. And thus were the two fundamental flaws of the crushed ice Mule laid bare—crushed ice waters down the drink while concomitantly squeezing out space for the beverage itself. Presto! Diluted Mule, and not much of it. Even the use of the uber-ginger beer Fever Tree could not save these Mules from mediocrity, and a second round was actually less satisfying (or more dissatisfying) than the first. The Mules even saved a final kick for when the waitress presented the tab—$17 per Mule. Sacrilege!

Red Square mint garnish gets the proper reception.

pricey refreshment at Red Square.

Frankly, I have seen enough. Mene Mule Tekel u-Pharsin. The Crushed Ice Mule has been judged and found wanting. No more will I permit crushed ice to pollute the sacred Mule. No more will I tolerate watered-down Mules that require a bendy straw to sip. By grand edict of the High Priest of the Mules: Give me cubes or give me death!

Or a Templeton Rye. On the rocks.

“I myself have read the writings and teachings of the heretics, polluting my soul for a while with their abominable notions, though deriving this benefit: I was able to refute them for myself and loathe them even more.”

~Eusebius, The Church History

k.d. lang performs "Hallelujah" at the 2005 Juno Awards in Winnipeg.
(Yes, she's Canadian. Deal with it.)

Johnny Cash covers "Hurt".

Whitney Houston's ultimate rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

January 19, 2013

The Blind Paying the Blinds

Earlier this week, I had to travel to Kansas City for work. As an executive, it's important that I set a good example for our department by finding an inexpensive hotel. So, I had no choice but to accept a comped room from Harrah's North Kansas City. My sacrifice better earn me a gold star from the Morlocks in Accounting.

After a great dinner of veal spiedini at Mike & Charlie's, I headed up to the poker room. The usually busy room had only two tables of $1/$2 NLHE running, sparse even considering it was a Monday night. The players told me that most of the bigger action games had relocated to the recently opened Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway, which apparently has several NLHE and PLO games at the $2/$5 and $5/$10 stakes most days Thursday-Saturday, with juicy $1/$3 NLHE throughout the week. Conversely, most of the regular low stakes LE games had settled in down the road at Ameristar, a move that has been in progress for some time.

It didn't take long to realize that making a big score was out of the question. Though my game was full, there were only three stacks over $300, and my opponents were mostly almond brokers. As is usually the case in these kinds of games, my profit came mostly on two hands. I got a courtesy double up for nearly $200 from a guy who declared he was playing his last hand and was racking up. I called his preflop raise with 87 offsuit, flopped the nuts on a rainbow 6-5-4 board, and maneuvered him into calling my river all-in with just pocket Yaks. My other big pot was picking off a stone cold four barrel bluff when I went with my read and went to war with my pocket 9s which were good against this yahoo's 84 of crubs unimproved on a Q-J-5-5-J board; calling the pot-sized $75 river bet was tough, but hearing the yahoo's sigh as I put in the chips made stacking his chips all the sweeter.

Towards the end of the session, an older guy wearing dark glasses took an open seat at the table, with a younger guy sitting down next to and slightly behind him. Because a player had busted out of the seat the hand prior, the old guy was sitting down in what would have been  the small blind, setting off this exchange:

Dealer:  "Do you want to buy the button?"

Old Guy:  "Sure. How much is it?"

Dealer:  "Three dollars."

[Young guy puts out $3 for Old Guy.]

[Dealer deals cards.]

Old Guy:  "Am I the small blind?"

Dealer:  "You bought the button, so you're actually the big blind."

Old Guy:  "I'm the big blind?"

Me:  "Actually, you're both blinds."

Young Guy:  "No, only he's blind."


Umm, yeah. Old Guy was blind and Young Guy was there to read his cards and the bets to him. I suddenly had a flashback to Dawn Summers' 2010 vacation to the Midwest, in particular where she had an entertaining encounter with a one-legged man in Des Moines. Considering it was pushing midnight, even I could see my "fox pass" was an omen, and I decided to rack up a healthy profit.

Me:  "Good night, and good luck, y'all."

Old Guy:  "See ya later!"


January 15, 2013

Dawn Summers Makes Me Say "Hmmm"

For reasons that will become apparent in a later post, I was doing some searches for a particular blog post by the inestimable and prolific Real Dawn Summers when I stumbled across this interesting quote from conservative political blog "Freedom Matters":

“Obama is all style. No substance. He’s all ‘I want to send children to the moon,’ and then when you ask how he says ‘Hope.’” – Dawn Summers


Well clearly there has to be a FAKE Real Dawn Summers who just happens to hold the opposite political views of the REAL Real Dawn Summers we all know and love. Sort of a matter-antimatter thing. Real Dawn v. Anti-Real Dawn.

But wait. What's that on the Dawn Summers blog Clareified, from way back in February 2008? A tormented blog post, you say?

I called up pearatty last night after watching a particularly horrific Hillary Clinton interview with George somethingsomethingopolis.

“I’m losing faith,” I cried, “maybe Obama is better.”

“Dawn,” she said, “Obama is all style. No substance. He’s all “I want to send children to the moon,” and then when you ask how he says “Hope.”"

That made me laugh.

He totally would say hope. That wanker.

Obama is untested to say the least. He’s 40, has won exactly one statewide election –where his opponent was a transplant from another state — and he didn’t even give a crap about that job enough to so much as finish a half of it before he decides no running the United States is what he’d be better at.

Yeah, me too. I can run the United States. Um…I believe in myself and stuff.
And of course, should the idiot wing of the Democratic party will out and nominate…ack ack ack…Obama, I will work as hard as I usually work at things, to see that he…umm…loses to McCain by as few votes as possible. (I tried typing beats McCain, but I was giggling too hard that I couldn’t see the keyboard.)

~Dawn Summers, "They try to make me like Obama, I say no, no, no."


So, while I was busy in Iowa caucusing for our eventual President, Dawn Summers was calling him a "wanker"?

I am so telling Obama.