OK, so when I left off here, Wednesday at the WSOP last week was a confidence-sapping debacle, and Thursday at the Venetian saw me regain my confidence but without anything to show for it in terms of profit for the trip. Friday, however, saw all of that change, as I lived large in luxury at the MGM, won close to two buyins at the Bellagio cash tables and another buyin at 2-5 nl cash courtesy of the Pavillion at the Rio. I had also won another $600 or so on the Flyers stepping up in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, to get me pretty much back to even for the entire trip, heading into my last day and my last night in the desert in 2010. As midnight passed on Friday night into Saturday morning, I found myself of all things checking out the video poker, one of the few games in the casino that can actually be beat if you play correctly and if you take full advantage of the best payout lines the casino has to offer. Things had been going so well for me in the live poker realm, that I decided it was worth a shot at the $1 buyin video poker machines, where I have had many big hits before in my day. Fortunately for me, my luck continued as over a two-hour span I hit two flushes, three full houses and two four-of-a-kinds. This netted me another $350 or so in profits, and after many many drinks on the night, I awoke bright and early the next morning in my bed, ready to face the world and try to really put a stamp on another profitable trip to Las Vegas by hitting up the poker tables one last time. But first, I had a couple of other items to attend to.
For starters, we called and got a Maybach to drive us out to the pawn shop in North Las Vegas that is featured on the new History Channel show "Pawn Stars". This is not a show that I watch a whole lot, but I've seen it on the tube before, and my sister in law and her daughter are major fans, and I have to say it was fun to see all the guys in the flesh after watching them on tv. That said, the Pawn Shop is definitely a bit underwhelming when you actually get there and take a walk around the store. It's not at all big, and to be honest the majority of the merchandise available to be purchased is jewelry, none of it especially beautiful or nice. I guess that is just reflective of the type of stuff people come by these stores to try to pawn in the first place, but I suppose I was expecting to see more of the interesting stuff that is featured on the tv show every week. I guess that stuff just sells quickly or something, because other than a few old-fashioned radios, cash registers and guns, there really isn't much of interest available for purchase in the shop. And I know I mentioned it's not a big store as it is, but these days, with the success of the tv show, a good 30-40% of the store is actually dedicated to selling Pawn Stars merchandise -- hats, t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, etc. -- which leaves even less room for the stuff I had come to buy. So I was glad I went, but I was just as glad when I saw our gray Maybach turn the corner into the parking lot and I eased back from the 115-degrees-in-the-morning heat into the luxury of my fully reclining seat behind my chauffeur, and back to the MGM we headed.
In my desire to get to see some of the casinos I have wanted to visit but never yet had the chance, and knowing that we had reservations for dinner at Prime at the Bellagio that night, I decided I wanted to go and check out the poker room at Aria on Saturday afternoon, so after a quick jaunt to the lazy river in the MGM pool area to round out a very hot morning, I prepared for my first visit to Aria. But first, I made another quick stop at the MGM sports book, this time to place a couple of wagers on the Belmont Stakes that was set to run at 3:32pm local time on Saturday afternoon. Do I know anything about horse racing, you may be asking, and the answer would be a resounding No. But, my sister in law is hugely bigtime into horses. She and her daughter have been grooming and riding horses for years, they've been to riding camp, on riding trips, and they are currently looking into buying a horse of their own. On one of their many horse-related trips, they had the pleasure of meeting one of these leprechaunesque professional jockeys, a guy they said was super nice and sweet named Mike Smith. Well, as my sister in law informed us on Saturday morning at the Pawn Shop, it turns out that Mike Smith was running one of the horse's in that afternoon's Belmont Stakes, in the big one, Race #11. She and her daughter both love Mike Smith and told me he is a prime candidate to win his first triple crown race as a jockey. So, long story short, on my way out to Aria, I stopped by the MGM sports book and placed two bets: $100 on horse #3 to win, because I liked the name "Uptowncharlybrown" and I liked his odds at roughly 10 to 1. I mean, who wants to bet on a 2 to 1 favorite, where you're only going to get paid the amount you bet, and that's if your horse somehow happens to hold on and capture the race? The 50 to 1 horses are usually dogs, I figured, and the reward from the 2 to 1's and 5 to 2's is usually not worth the risk IMO, so I like to focus on the mid-range dogs like the 8 to 1's and 12 to 1's. In this case, horse #3 in the Belmont fit my criteria. And, of course, I placed another $100 of my new-found winnings on horse #7, Drosselmeyer, jockeyed by the one and only nice guy himself, Mike Smith, to win, who was also in my sweet spot of around 12 to 1 when I placed the bet. And with that, I left for Aria.
Aria is a very nice casino, although a bit dark and maybe a bit stiff for my tastes. The poker room is nice -- it does not quite have the panache of a place like Bellagio's poker room nor the expanse of the Venetian's, but it's comfortable, the drink service was timely, and the dealers did a good job unlike the Venetian where I once again saw multiple examples of major dealer gaffes in what was just half a day of hanging out there on Thursday. Aria's daily afternoon no-limit tournament was slated to start at 1pm, so I bought in for the $150 price using my MGM Players Club card, and almost immediately the tournament was ready to begin. We had in the end 74 runners in this mid-afternoon tournament, and with 20 minute blind rounds (less than the 30 minutes I had been told, but in the end easy enough to adjust to) I figured we would be looking at a good 5 or 6 hours until this thing was done.
Early on in the Aria tournament, within the first hour of play, with my stack only down marginally from its starting level of 10,000 but far from the table chip lead after two early eliminations in what proved to be a very aggressive tournament on the day, I called a preflop raise from the small blind with pocket 7s, and the flop came down 972 with two clubs. I checked since I was not the preflop aggressor here, my opponent led out, and I immediately got the vibe from his super-confident action that this guy wanted to get called. I mean, I didn't think for a half a second that I was behind top set, but rather I read this guy for a big pair, and someone who was not even conceiving that his overpair could possibly be behind. Thus, I did what I would not normally do when flopping a set, and I actually raised the flop. Blinds at the time were 50-100, the preflop raise had been to 400, and my opponent had led out for 650 into an 850-chip pot, so I bumped it up on the flop but only to 1800. I wanted to get some good chippage into the middle, but at the same time when raising the flop with a set, you definitely don't want to push it too hard that you scare away your opponent with the overcard, so I made my raise only about 1.5x the size of my opponent's flop bet, and he smooth called. The turn came a Queen of clubs, a card I did not love for fear of running into pocket Queens -- squarely within the range I had my opponent on already -- or the filled club flush on the turn. But ultimately, my read said big pair, and the way he checked to me on the turn eliminated all possibility in my mind that he had nailed his pocket pair with the turned Queen. No, his confident demeanor still said he thought he was ahead, and with that I had him on either Kings or Aces, so I led out on the turn, just enough to be representing strength but little enough that it would leave my opponent with a large enough raise to think he has fold equity. And that's exactly what happened -- he reraised me on the turn for most of the remainder of his stack, I pushed for a few chips more, and he called, flipping up pocket Kings, and just like that I had secured the early double that is so crucial in these quick casino tournaments.
I managed to slowly chip up from 20k in chips for most of the next hour or so, using my big stack to my advantage and stealing, re-stealing and c-betting with abandon where I could, and before I knew it we were a couple of hours in, more than half the field was gone, and I was still around double the average with close to 40k in my stack. From a quick look around the remaining 4 tables, I appeared to be one of the chip leaders, which gave me the enviable ability heading into Hour 3 to look up some of the tightass Harringbots who would predictably begin pushing on short stacks as we move to the latter half of this field.
Unfortunately, these things did not work out quite as planned. Every single time I raised any pot before the flop, pretty much all during the third hour of play (meaning for three consecutive blind rounds), I got reraised. I mean, every single
time. I absolutely cannot stand when this happens, but it does seem to be a fairly common occurrence if you play enough poker tournaments, in particular if you bully-raise as often as I tend to do. Invariably, because I know how to effing fold, I end up laying down to these reraises, which is what I did on Saturday at Aria, over and over and over and over again. I literally wasted away more than half of my stack from its highs over maybe 4 blind rounds, and by the time 5 o'clock rolled around, we were down to the final two tables, but I was getting short, down to just over 25k with an average of just over 40k in chips. I was extremely frustrated, both at myself for pushing so aggressively for such a long period of time, and at my cards for not allowing me to push back or call any of the action I was seeing seemingly every time I made any kind of a move. I know there is seriously no way to possibly survive in a short, quick tournament like this without pressing the action quite a bit more than one's cards would dictate, so I knew what I was doing in raising and trying to steal as much as I was through the middle rounds of this thing, but the fact is that I probably laid down to reraises at least 7 or 8 times in a row over the preceding couple of hours, my image had to be completely and totally shot after raise-folding so, so many times recently, and I was extremely frustrated and was starting to accept that my image was so destroyed that the others at the table were probably reraising me light at this point, knowing that I still could not profitably call and that I was clearly someone who was willing and able to lay down a hand.
My frustration and lack of cards came to a boiling point early at the last two tables, when down to 16 players left (the top 7 finishers would be paid), I open-raised again on the button, this time with a semi-playable Q8s, and the big blind took one look at me and quickly raised me big with a stack size a bit larger than my own. When I saw the look on his face and then him reaching for his chips, something just flipped in my head, and I figured eff it, this time I'm going with it if these guys think they're going to reraise me allin light over and over and over again. I instantly pushed allin, and he instacalled, showing pocket 8s with a toothy grin as I flipped up my sooted Q8. The flop was clean, but then a miracle Queen on the turn lifted me back into safe territory and slightly above the average chip stack, while my opponent in the big blind flipped out, yelled out the F word as loud as he could, slammed his hand on the table, and started demanding to know what I thought he was reraising with. #1, just like it is important always to be cognizant of your own image at the poker table, it is equally important to be cognizant of everyone else's. If this guy could not figure out that I would be fixing to push allin with almost any two the next time someone reraised me preflop, then he simply was not paying attention, so to ask derisively what I thought he had there just misses the point entirely. And #2, next time perhaps you can take at least 2 seconds before you instacall allin with a hand like pocket 8s. I folded hands at least that good probably four times during the middle stages of the Aria tournament, laying down middle pairs to raises on the flop twice as well as twice folding AT or AJ on an Ace-high board against a guy who had raised from early position before the flop, so I'm sorry if I can't feel bad for a guy who instacalls allin with pocket 9s and then flips out when he loses to an overcard. Obviously it was a gross suckout for me, but at the same time I think an observant opponent would have known that I am likely to push in that spot with many hands that could at least be just 2-to-1 dogs if not basically races against a middle pocket pair like that. Not saying I would have folded the 9s if I were him, but you certainly wouldn't hear me ask an asinine question afterwards like what he thought I had when he pushed on me with his Q8s. Obviously, I was desperate, I was frustrated, and my image was shot, and he should have known that I would be looking to get it in there with any reasonable hand, which is exactly what I did.
Oh, I should as an aside mention that during those difficult couple of hours in the middle of this tournament, I did get a nice emotional boost when they showed the Belmont Stakes, and after not making an appearance in front all through the race, suddenly on the last turn here comes Drosselmeyer and Mike Smith around the outside making his move. "And down the stretch they come!" yelled the announcer as Smith whacked and whacked and whacked his horse some more, climbing ever closer to the front of the pack as the final straightaway loomed ahead. Just seconds before reaching the finish line, Drosselmeyer pulled ahead by a nose, and in the final several gallops that lead grew as Mike Smith ran to victory, grabbing his first triple crown win and making my sister in law and niece extremely happy in the process. And, as Smith's horse ended up going in as a 14-to-1 favorite by post time, I also scored a tidy $1400 profit on my bet on Horse #7 to win, while my brother managed to nail the exacta with his ticket on horses #7 and 5, which paid him a sickening $3600 and change on a $50 bet. Watching a big horse race in a casino is always fun, and having money on the eventual winner despite not knowing jack crap about the sport was a big bonus emotional up in what was otherwise not an enjoyable few hours for me in the Aria tournament.
Anyways, so with 15 players remaining (my big blind guy busted on the next hand with just a very short stack remaining, glaring at me the whole time while he gathered his things and left the table), I was in around 5th place in chips, and from here it was like the dam burst a little bit and I started finding myself in a number of decent situations. One shorty pushed into me from late position when I held AQ and I made the call and held up against A5s. As the shorties continued to drop out, and the action was mostly allin preflop at this point in the tournament, I got lucky and caught a second one to get to the final table when a medium stack in front of me made a largeish allin raise preflop and I looked down to find pocket Queens. I put him in, he called with KJs, and he proceeded to hit a King on the flop before I turned a Queen to put him out of misery and arrive at the final table with the #2 chip stack of 10 players remaining.
In keeping with my usual early final table style, I generally stayed away from confrontations as we neared the 6pm hour, allowing a couple of the short stacks at the final table to consolidate as they beat each other up, and within maybe 10 minutes of starting the final table action, we were down the final 7 spots who would make the cash. The bottom few ITM players would receive smallish payouts relative to the $150 buyin for this tournament -- $500, $700, $900 and $1100 -- but as usual it was the top few spots where most of the payout cash was concentrated, in this case paying out $4200 to first place and $2400 to second, so I was focused on doing whatever I had to do to make it to heads-up play and really get a good start on what I hoped would be a very profitable Saturday in Las Vegas. Seven players left quickly turned to five as we had a three-way allin on the flop with a set of 5s against AK and a flush draw with J7 of clubs on a KT5 board with two clubs on it, with the flopset amazingly holding up to create the new chip leader, and then five quickly became four as the new short stack at the table quickly pushed allin with KQs preflop and got called by AQ, which also miraculously held. With four players left and around 190k in chips, I was still in good position to make a run at the top spots, and I had already secured at least an $1100 payout in what would prove to be my best nlh tournament performance of the week, but I wanted more. I played tighter than I normally might for a few orbits, folding A9s at one point to an allin reraise from one of the large stacks at the table, and before long the shortest stack got it allin with top pair on the flop against the chip leader who had flopped a hidden two pairs, and then there were 3. The stacks were around 400k to my 160k to 140k for the guy to my right, and we went back and forth, exchanging each other's blinds and
antes, for a good 15 or 20 minutes before I finally found pocket Jacks and faced yet another preflop raise to 30k from my opponent. I opted to just push allin, a move I had made twice already recently at this final table against suspected stealers who I knew did not want to bust from this thing without holding strong cards, and the player called me with AT, leaving me in good shape and somehow holding for a near-double. We were down to two players left, with me around 350k to his 400k or so, but this player simply did not have much experience at all in heads-up play, that was very clear. As soon as we got to heads-up, this player raised every single hand without even barely looking at his cards -- almost as if he read somewhere that he is supposed
to play that way, without really understanding the thinking behind it, and I went through a 3-hand run of AJ, A8s and pocket 7s and all three times I raised him strongly and he folded, leaving me with the chip lead for the first time in the tournament. We played maybe another 5 minutes or so, and then eventually we both limped preflop, me with K7o, and when the flop came K64 rainbow I bet out as I had so many times at this final table. My opponent raised me, and try as I might, I just did not think he had the final table tournament wherewithal to only raise here when he was strong, or to fold if he was not. After having made a few decent folds late at the final table, I just didn't think he had me beat here, and I opted to push him to the limit with a large raise right here and now. My opponent thought but only for a couple of seconds before calling allin with 76, for second pair and a backdoor straight draw. Of course the 5 on the turn had to give him an open-ended straight draw to go with his two-pair and trips outs, but somehow I dodged them all with a harmless 2, and I had won the tournament!
We stuck around a little while longer to secure our payouts, and with 42 fresh, crisp $100 bills stuffing up my wallet, I quickly jumped on the tram from Aria directly over to Bellagio, where my friends were waiting to head over to Prime for our 7pm dinner reservation. And dammit if that place does not get better and better every single year! This year it was our usual Prime order -- the seafood platter for 5 as an appetizer, plus the onion soup that is so good there, and then of course for me the 12-ounce filet mignon. I swear that is the most flavorful, most tender steak I have ever eaten, and like I said, year in and year out Prime continues to deliver with a fabulous ambience, excellent, attentive service, and just the top quality food that I have come to expect from what is pretty much my favorite restaurant in the world today.
After Prime, it was off to see the new Elvis-themed Cirque de Soleil show back at Aria, which I have to say I thought was only ok at best. I mean, the acrobatics are cool and all, but I continue to feel like the first Cirque show in Vegas -- Mystere, over at the Mirage since at least 15 or 16 years ago when I first saw it -- has always been the best in that it already included what the Cirque folks thought was their best material. All of these other Cirque shows that have come out over the past several years -- O at Bellagio, Ka, Love (the Beatles-themed show) and at least two or three others spread around Las Vegas Boulevard, all seem to me to pale in comparison to the first. It's like they are all just thinned-out versions of Mystere, showing some but not all of the great acrobatics and feats of strength and balance that Cirque de Soleil is famous for, and I must admit I am no
kind of an Elvis fan which did not help matter either. Still, it was a nice period to relax a bit after a stress-filled afternoon at the Aria poker room and then a massive dinner at Prime.
After the show we headed back to our home base in the MGM Skylofts, and from there it was downstairs for my now-patented stay-up-all-night move until my early morning flight back to the real world. And other than a brief trip for the ladies in our party to get some ice cream around 3am, I hung out in the MGM poker room for the following 4 hours or so, managing to win yet another $800 at 2-5 in the process. This one mostly came in one big hand, when I held AK and raised preflop from late position, got reraised by the button (and I just called), and then he led out on a K88 flop after I checked the action to him. I debated raising right here, but #1 these paired flops are far less scary than three-card flops since there is no straight or flush possibility and since there were basically only two cards (the two remaining 8s) I had to fear my opponent possibly having in this spot, which I was not ultimately remotely concerned about since he had reraised me preflop. And #2, raising him here would just put him on notice that I could have AK, which is a message I did not want to send just yet since I knew this guy probably put me on air with my late position steal-raise preflop. So I made like I was unhappy but like I felt compelled to make the crying call here. When the turn brought a harmless Ten, I pretended to think a bit before checking, a move I love to do in live play because, if executed perfectly, it gives the impression that I am trying to deter my opponent from betting out a second time, and he took the bait by betting out again, this time about 90% of the pot and giving the impression to me that he really did not want me to call. I opted to just call, leaving only about $150 behind in my stack into a pot with probably around $750 in it after my turn call, but I was hoping he might check the river in which case I could check it down as well and save myself from putting everything in with just top pair top kicker. Instead, my opponent instabet the last of his chips, more or less enough to cover me, after a raggy river, and I knew as soon as he shot his chips out there lightning quick that he was suddenly afraid he was losing this pot. I called at the end, and I waited for him to show his cards, which he tried to claim he did not have to do even though he was wrong, I called him down at the river and he had to show. I didn't have to show if I had the losing hand -- this guy would later claim that I would have been required to show my hand anyways even if I mucked it, which was also idiotic since they don't ever make you show the losing hand unless there is collusion or some other similar reason for the house to enforce such a requirement. In any event, he showed pocket Queens and I scooped about $500 on that one hand. Otherwise, I barely lost any big pots in my final session of poker in Las Vegas for 2010, and I managed to win a couple of nice pots on the flop with raises, and one allin preflop with my AQs vs 88 where I won a nice race for good measure as well.
I left the table shortly before 4:30am to head up to pack my things in advance of my 7am flight, and that was the first time on the trip that I really had the chance to take stock of my total winnings. On Wednesday I lost $1500 in the WSOP, and probably another $400 or so at the cash tables throughout the afternoon and evening hours at both the Rio and the MGM. On Thursday I lost $340 in the Venetian DSE, and another $400 or so donking around at poker for a few hours late in the day when I really was too pokered-out to be playing a solid game after two straight days of high-pressure mtt play. On Friday, however, I busted out with an $880 win at 2-5 no-limit at the Bellagio, followed by winning another $880 in the Flyers Game 4 win in the Stanley Cup Finals, and ending the night with yet another winning session at 2-5 nl, this time at the Rio while the WSOP was going on all around me, plus booking a $350 profit over a couple hours of Jacks-or-Better double bonus vide poker. This $2500+ win on Friday basically made up for all of my losses from Wednesday and Thursday and then some, and set me up just slightly ahead as we headed into my final day in the desert on Saturday, which saw me win $1300 net on the Belmont Stakes, plus a whopping $4200 score in winning the daily afternoon tournament in the new Aria poker room. I then rounded out the trip by cashing out with another $800 profit at 2-5 cash as I waited for my plane to leave, meaning that I managed to win well over 6 grand on Saturday alone after winning nothing in my first couple of days and managing just to scratch myself back to near break-even on Friday. That Saturday, with its broad wins in both horse racing, tournament poker and 2-5 no-limit cash, will go down as one of the most fun and most exciting days of gambling I have ever experienced. In the end, as I packed up my bags to head to McCarron and close the books on another fun and successful poker trip to Las Vegas, I stashed away 70 hundred-dollar bills deep in my carry-on, easily more cash than I have ever won in one place before, and probably ever even seen before in one place. I mean, last year when I chopped for 51 grand in the Venetian DSE tournament, they offered me cash but I was insistent on a check, so I've seen that amount of money before but just not in cash, right in front of me. All those hundies really would not even fit into the money envelope I had brought my first WSOP buyin out to Vegas in, so I had to find an overflow spot for the rest of my cash that would not fit where I wanted it to go, all along well aware that this is a great problem for me or anyone else to have.
I had little trouble getting to the airport, and although getting through security was its usual painful endeavor on a Sunday morning in Vegas, I got to my gate in plenty of time to enjoy some breakfast and try to reflect on the past few days' events. As usual I was asleep in my seat even before takeoff, and I slept most of the way home after depriving myself of sleep pretty much non-stop for the preceding several days in the desert. Unusually, we arrived more than half an hour early at JFK, and I got to surprise my daughters by showing up way earlier than expected and getting back to see the family that is the whole reason I exist these days.
I will be back tomorrow with some closing thoughts on this trip to Vegas, where it fits in with the best poker trips I have taken, and other notions that occurred to me during my time in the desert last week. For now it's already fading to just a happy memory, although my sense is that I will have that pile of hundies in my hamper to remind me of my success this week for a long, long time to come.
Labels: Aria, Bellagio, Bloggers in Vegas, Las Vegas, Prime, Vegas