Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vegas Trips I've Taken

I saw a great meme on Terrence Chan's blog, where he tried to recall every trip he has ever taken to Las Vegas, and I thought I'd take it up myself and see how much I can really remember of all these trips. As I've written about here several times before, I actually started vacationing with my family in Las Vegas earlier than many others out there, frankly very shortly after they started building the place up anew in the early to mid 1990s. The first several trips I took out to Sin City were with my family, when I was still in college and would come home from school during one of those awesome long intra-semester breaks you only seem to get in life when you're a college student. So for the first several trips, it was my parents doing all of the planning and making all of the decisions as far as where we would stay, what we did, when we would go, etc. But for each Vegas trip, to the extent that I can, I will try to recall some kind of a detail about something that happened on that particular trip, in addition to roughly when it was, where I stayed, and who I was out there with.

1995 -- MGM, August, with my entire family. My first trip to Las Vegas was back when the MGM was still pretty new, and it was basically the shiat in Las Vegas. Bellagio? Not yet. Venetian? Nope. Paris? Still the Aladdin. Wynn? Not even close. Mandalay? Nope -- still just a big, empty space up at that corner of the Strip. I don't remember much of the details about this first trip, but I do remember that my entire family had an amazing time, ate some incredible meals, and I played about a million hours of blackjack. But most of all, I remember being moved by the incredible heat in the desert in August, and how funny I thought it was that the big resorts had those funny sprinkler-type of things in front of the buildings to help keep the patrons cool. And the pool at the MGM, still my favorite of all the pools in the big resorts on the Strip. I also remembering my parents taking us to see MGM's musical show EFX, back when Shawn Cassidy (yes, of "Partridge Family" fame) was still the star.

1996 -- Mirage, in August, again with my family. My next trip to Vegas wasn't until a year later, again with my family, as I was a poor law school student and not quite at the point where I would have had the funds to get out to Vegas on my own and still have any money left to play with. This time we tried out the Mirage -- also one of the "new" resorts in town at the time -- and really got to know the "other" end of the Strip. This, still long before the Venetian or even Bellagio were even a glimmer in some young real estate developer's eye. But Treasure Island was there. And I specifically remember this trip because it was the first time I ever saw Cirque de Soleil -- at Mirage, they showed Mystere for years before any other Cirque shows hit the Strip -- and I'll never forget those two incredible strong men, moving below and above each other super slowly, which to this day remains one of the most amazing feats of strength I can recall.

1997 -- MGM, July, again with my parents and brothers. Still in law school, still no money, still no going to Vegas unless my parents were chipping in on the costs. So we went out again as a family in 1997, this time in July, which for all intents and purposes is the same weather as August -- typically well over a hundred degrees, and usually not a cloud in the sky. This time, my parents got a rental car, and we drove off the strip somewhat for a few meals and to get to know the surrounding area. One thing I remember most about this trip was the first time I ever drove to (and through) Red Rock Canyon. Located less than ten miles from the Strip, it's really amazing what kind of nature you can go and see this close to the middle of the desert, but there are joshua trees galore, and all kinds of rocks and hills, mostly with a red tint (hence the name).

1998 -- MGM, April, with my family. This was kind of a graduation present of sorts for me, as I would be done with law school in just one short month, and I actually had some money for the first time due to a job I had worked during the year in my last year ever as a professional student. Being that it was April, we knew we might not get too much use out of the awesome pool at MGM, but by this time we were kind of old pros at the Vegas thing and spent as much time exploring the city as we did playing at the tables -- Bellagio was about to be finished, and work had already started on Mandalay Bay in the other direction down the Strip. More than anything else from this trip, I remember there was construction going on all over the city, it was really crazy. You couldn't look two feet to the right or left without seeing some half-constructed building, or at least a bulldozer or some other huge machinery sitting around to be used as part of some large-scale building project. I also remember this trip because, after my brother and I each went on nice winning streaks at the tables, we treated our entire family to the first of what has proven to be several helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon. For those of you who have never done this, I highly recommend it -- they know how to do it in style in Las Vegas. They pick you up in a limo right at your resort, whisk you straight to the tarmac at McCarron airport, and you get right into the helicopter there and off you go to one of the nation's finest national treasures.

1999 -- MGM, mid March. And so began my habit of flying out to Vegas sans parents. With me now working at a big law firm and flush with cash, and with my interest in craps and blackjack growing exponentially, I took my first sojourn to the desert with just my brother and a friend of ours, for the first week of March Madness. You really haven't experienced Vegas until you've spent those first four days of the NCAA basketball tournament in a major sportsbook, with all the other degens cheering loudly and basically going crazy over the outcome of every single game of the 48 that occur over that first weekend. Although I've never been back to Vegas for this particular week since that first time, I would not consider my Vegas experience to be complete if I had never been in town for these games.

1999 -- MGM, July, again with my brother and some friends. This is what came to be known during this and the next couple of years as one of my "standard" blackjack and craps trips, which really started to increase in variety once I began going to Vegas without my parents to keep an eye on me and my level of debauchery. My brother and I always did ok on the debauchery front even when my parents were around, but these "boys" trips really saw us step it up a notch or five, and we had an incredible amount of fun and generate copiuous memories to cherish as a result.

1999 -- Bellagio, November, with my brother and our friend, J. Our buddy J, the younger brother of a good friend of ours from Philadelphia, had two free rooms for the weekend at the still fairly new at the time Bellagio resort we had heard so much about, and we definitely want to see what all the hubbub was. We secured an adjoining-room suite for the three of us, and we played more blackjack in two days and three nights than I ever thought possible. After averaging more than 14 hours of blackjack a day for the entire weekend, we headed back to our daily lives, up some 10 grand between the three of us, while having barely slept a wink out in the desert.

2000 -- Harrah's, for Superbowl weekend in late January. This is another very memorable trip to Vegas, for some good and some not so good reasons. I went out with an old college buddy of mine who had never been to Las Vegas at the time even though he and I had probably spent about 5000 hours playing blackjack in Atlantic City and other venues since meeting half a decade earlier, and V and I had a great time. Four years later, this same friend V would be the one to get me into playing online poker on pokerstars, but for now it was me showing him the ropes and just generally going crazy and partying like what we were at the time -- young, rich kids with no children or family to worry about and more money than sense. This made for an incredible first night in the desert, until my friend suffered what can probably best be termed an "overdose", and very nearly died. Some day I'll tell that story here, if I haven't already before. It's a quality story, but at the time, especially given my own level of sobriety, it was without a doubt one of the most terrifying nights of my life. On a happier note, once the guy slept it off and was back (barely) on his feet the next day, we hung out with Charles Barkley in the Mandalay Bay sportsbook and won about 5 grand between us on the Superbowl, with my buddy correctly picking not only the final score of that amazing 23-16 Rams - Titans 2001 Superbowl but also the identity of the first player to score a touchdown in the game (Torry Holt, amazingly not until the 3rd quarter), both at pretty long odds for a nice score.

2000 -- Monte Carlo, April. This would be my first stay at the Monte Carlo, a reasonably new resort at the time that had gone up in the space between the Luxor and the Bellagio. We had a great suite, full or marble and many nice amenities, and on this trip not only had our friends J and J come again, but my parents and both brothers were there as well. This March 2000 trip will always be legendary in our minds because it included "The Roll" -- an 80-minutes-straight roll at the craps table, by me, where I devised for the first time the system I still basically practice when I play craps today -- take the pass line, with max odds, plus make a come bet on every single roll, and take the maximum odds on each inside come bet once they are on the board as well, plus the hard way bet for whatever the point is, when the point is even. It's been tweaked a few times since then of course, but ultimately, those of you who know craps can imagine how great that system worked on an 80-minute craps roll, replete with number after number after number even when I wasn't making one of my ten points during the roll. And the best part was, starting only about 15 minutes in when I'd already hit each number at least once and was bet up on everything on the table already, I began pressing my bets, inching my come bet up from $10 to $15, then $20, and so on -- of course taking max odds on each number when it hit as always. Long story short, 80 minutes, ten points and about a gillion numbers later, I was up to over $350 on the come bets, and 3-4-5 odds on the numbers, such that when I eventually sevened out, I walked away with about 8 grand, losing probably a good 3000 on the table in the process on that last roll of the dice. To this day it's the single greatest craps roll anyone in my family has ever been a part of, and it was nice because my entire family and friends on the trip were all there around the table, making money and just generally being able to participate in what may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of run at the dice.

2000 -- July, New York New York, with my older brother and three college friends, for another standard blackjack and craps weekend trip. As the college guys were all big New Yorkers, we let them pick and decided to spend the weekend at NYNY, where my greatest memory is of us riding the roller coaster at least 25 times consecutively, cutting in line many of the times when we could.

2000 -- November, Monte Carlo again, this time all alone. I don't remember the details at this point, but I recall having received an incredible offer from Monte Carlo in the mail for a completely free suite for the weekend, and I had just recently broken up with a long-term girlfriend, I had a high-paying job but little time to enjoy that money, and on a whim I just decided to call up, book the first flight I could catch on Southwest out of Boston's Logan Airport, and just try to recapture the craps glory from earlier that year. Suffice it to say, I did not in fact recapture the craps glory of "The Roll", and I ended up solidly in the red for this trip, one of my worst ever setbacks for an entire gambling trip to Las Vegas or anywhere else for that matter.

2001 -- MGM, January, with my two brothers and my best friend from growing up in Philly. Ultimately, this was another of the "standard", by this time four-or-five-times yearly trips I was taking out to Vegas back in the 1999 - 2001 timeframe, and we were back at our "home base" at the MGM. Not only was this the trip when I learned how to play baccarrat for the first time, but my brother and I also got in wayyyy too deep at the roulette table, taking essentially a 1-to-1 bet on Red, and making it spin after spin after spin, losing each time but agreeing up front that we would double our bets on the next spin each time we lost, a method designed to ensure that we got back to break-even eventually even if we lost early. Suffice it to say that this of course turned out to be the longest streak of non-Red that anyone in that pit claimed to have ever seen on the roulette wheel, and by the time my brother and I finally hit a Red number to get back to break even and run out of there with our tails tucked between our legs, we had been through more gut-checks than you can shake a stick at, and had to each make separate runs to the ATM to get ourselves the cash to withstand this run of extreme variance. Let's just say there were some sweaty-ass palms going on in the Hoy family that night.

2002 -- Mandalay Bay -- Valentine's Day, with my wife. My wife and I decided on a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate our budding new love back in 2002, and we settled on the Mandalay for what would be the first and only time I would still at this particular resort. I got to show the woman who would eventually turn out to be Hammer Wife all around the city that had become like my second home over the preceding two years, with me going out there seemingly every other month or so for a good long while. I took her to see Mystere. We ate at Renoir, at 3750, and I even took her to the rotating restaurant atop the Stratosphere. I'll never forget getting drunk at dinner and then riding that freefall-style ride at the top of the Stratosphere right afterwards. But most of all, my wife got me really into playing these slot machines in one corner of the Mandalay casino called "Love to Win!" I'll never forget them because it was the first time I really started paying any attention to how much slot machines were not really like the slot machines of old anymore. "Love to Win" was basically a "Dating Game" of sorts, where, yeah you had to pull the handle and spin the reels, but ultimately you weren't trying to win money so much as just to figure out the right combination of look, car and behavior with a number of chicks to have the perfect date and ultimately get your character laid. It was amazing fun and Hammer Wife and I must have spent about 20 hours chasing these slots over our few days in the desert in what was a super fun trip back in 2002. Within less than a year of this trip, that lucky lady would officially become the Hammer Wife.

Late in 2002, some things happened in my personal life that greatly lessened my desire to go to Las Vegas, and my trips out to the desert took a bit of a breather after having become an every-couple-of-months thing in the years leading up to this point. My wife and I got married early in the year and took a big trip to the Caribbean and near South America, and later in the year we also took a super fun trip together to pre-Katrina New Orleans, gambooling it up at the Harrah's there amost every night in the process. But I did not get back out to Las Vegas again for over two years since that last trip with Hammer Wife in early 2002.

2004 -- June, with my older brother and our two friends J and J, this time staying at the Venetian for the first time in my life. I loved it there, as the Venetian continues to this day to be perhaps my favorite resort in town, and it was like old times as we blackjacked and crapsed it up for three straight days without hardly sleeping at all. The highlight of the trip was probably playing $100 blackjack with this nice guy and chatting him up for several hours at the table, only to find out later that he was none other than Dave Burba, formerly a pitcher for the Cincinatti Reds, who was just about done with his major league career after parts of 14 seasons in the majors. Burba was a super nice guy, seemed very down to earth, and although we never took him up on his offer, he gave us an email address and told us to let him know if we were ever in Toronto (where he was playing at the time) and he would get my brother and I tickets to one of his games. Having spent time at the roulette table previously in my day with Tiger Woods at Mandalay, and at the sportsbook with Barkley, this wasn't exactly a major celebrity sighting in Vegas terms, but it's always cool to shmooze with someone for a while and only later find out that they are actually a professional athlete.

2005 -- June, with my brother and our childhood friend with whom we had been in Vegas some 5 years earlier. Once again we stayed at the MGM, knowing we would want to be getting our pool on in the desert June air. The standout memory from this trip -- other than every last one of us getting our clocks cleaned at the tables for four straight days -- was playing craps for a good long time next an older guy with a long, gray ponytail who had about 300-400 thou on the table at all times. As amazing as it was to watch this guy slinging chips around the table with chips of colors I had never even seen before, the best part of the story had to be when he left "to go to the restroom", and he asked the craps dealers to just "play his system" with his chips while he was gone, since he did not want to miss out on any of the action while he was dropping trow. So, fast forward about 40 minutes later, and the guy returns from wherever he had gone, at which point the dealers simply slid over to him a pile of chips, explaining that these were his winnings on his system from while he was gone. His total take, while absent from the table? Over 800k. MBN. Also, interesting, this would be my first time sitting down in a poker room in all of Las Vegas, which I did at Caesar's one night as we found ourselves at the far end of the Strip during our travels. Chris Moneymaker had recently won the WSOP ME and started off the poker boom in full force, and I wanted to get back into the swing of things with poker after having grown up playing in the casinos of Atlantic City since I was a boy.

2006 -- April, at the Excalibur. This was not only my first time ever visiting one of the off-Strip casinos in many, many trips to Sin City, but also my first appearance in the World Series of Poker as well as my first WPBT trip. I had excitedly won a Bracelet Race on full tilt (remember those, way back when?), and I spent much of my time at the Rio hanging out in the full tilt and pokerstars hospitality suites, something which was done away with a year or two later when UIGEA went in effect and scared all the online poker sites from being directly associated with the WSOP and helping people win their seats through online poker satellites, and I must have left the desert with more online poker swag that first year than you would ever think possible. Unfortunately, I got donked out of my first WSOP tournament when then-reigning WSOP ME champion Joe Hachem got me allin on the turn with just his pair of 4s and a flush draw, but then hit his 20% shot at the river to dust me off early, far earlier than I had ever conceived of happening in my first WSOP experience. I also stayed at the Excalibur for the first and only time in my life, along with a number of other bloggers at my first WPBT gathering. The live WPBT tournament was at Caesar's in the private poker room, and back then when being a bunch of "poker bloggers" sounded a lot bigger and cooler than it does today, big poker stars Howard Lederer and Phil Gordon actually came to Caesars to talk to us live about the state of the game and their thoughts on the future of poker. Phil Gordon also gave out advance copies of his new book (the Little Blue Book, as I recall), and played a Roshambo tournamet with us (Veneno won, as I recall), and Jay Greenspan also spoke to us live about his new poker book about playing in poker games at venues all across the country as part of a cross-country poker trip. It was pretty awesome. I did very well in the live blogger tournament as well -- I won StB's bounty shirt which I still wear when I play poker in the evenings from time to time, and I busted author and former full tilt pro Michael Craig on the same hand, when we had a 3-way allin with StB's 99 vs my JJ vs Michael Craig's AA, and a Jack flopped. I'll never forget Michael Craig slamming his cards down so hard on the table, he was so furious about the suckout. F-Train eventually won the tournament, and I busted just short of the final table out of 130 runners, after getting no cards for hours after my big suckout with the pocket Jacks. This was also the weekend when I had my first awesome live blogger cash game experience -- sitting as I recall with Iakaris, Chad, Don, Blinders, Smokkee, Columbo, Alan Penner and Brian "StatikKling" for an entire night until the sun came up, where I got tightass Blinders to play the hammer by repeatedly attacking his manhood, we all abused the heck out of smokkee who was playing wayyyy too tight, and we managed to squeeze in tilting a few tourists who came by to fill our table's one empty seat off and on during the night. The highlight at that table, however, had to be me doing a live straddle and then finding KK UTG vs a brand new guy's 99, who eventually pushed allin on me on a TT6 flop for his full stack, a $400 pot that I felt I had to call with. I tipped the dealer a green chip for that deal, and she was still talking about it the next night when I saw her again at the MGM when I hit up the new poker room there for some late-night cash poker action.

2007 -- June, where I spent the first night myself before my WSOP event in the fatty giant suite at the Rio, and then the next three nights in a decadent three-room suite at the Bellagio. This would be my first trip to Las Vegas with my older brother once he had turned into a full-fledged millionaire -- let alone one with a sick degeneracy love for gambling to boot -- and it really changed things for these trips, compared to the way we used to live while in Vegas just ten years earlier as kids with no real money of our own to speak of. We were there with one other college friend of my brother's, and we had a great time as always, including of course my first (and only) WSOP cash, in the $2000 shorthanded nlh event. This was a $2000 buyin event, and it proved to feature the longest bubble in WSOP history -- literally almost exactly three hours of playing hand-for-hand as nobody wanted to bust and be the last guy left without a payout in the field of over 1300 runners. Mercifully, after three hours of super-slow and tense play, the bubble finally burst, and I had cashed in my first WSOP event. For some reason I remember pokerstars blogger Otis coming over and shaking my hand, and that's when I knew I had finally made it in the world of poker blogs.

2008 -- MGM, June, again with my brother and the same college friend from our 2007 trip. This time we had an awesomely spacious and modern full two-room suite at the MGM, with a bathroom that itself was about 400 square feet and a really incredible view of the Strip. I ran fairly deep in $1500 WSOP event I played that year, but I busted in around 150th place out of 1250 runners, with the tournament slated to pay 99 spots. The action just got so fast and furious as we neared the money, and I simply could not get enough going to stay ahead of the escalating blinds and antes. One table change sent me to a table full of almost all ginormous stacks, and eventually one of them snapped me off when I went for a desperately-needed late position steal, and I was out with nothing but a decent run to show for my efforts. Other than this WSOP run, I recall having a couple of nice sessions at the cash poker tables while out in the desert, but otherwise it was all about the decadence -- limos everywhere instead of cabs, the beginning of our now annual tradition of dinner at Prime in the Bellagio, plus I learned for the first time how to bet baseball games in the sportsbooks -- as stupid as that is.

2009 -- June, MGM. Back out to Vegas for a combination of my usual summer WSOP trip as well as my older brother's bachelor party. The MGM gave my brother one of the sickest rooms I've ever seen, just perfect for a place to have a kickass Vegas bachelor party in, with two large bedrooms on either end, each with its own 400-square-foot bathroom, and a massive living room space in the middle, probably the size of three regular MGM rooms. To this day it remains one of the largest single rooms I've ever seen in a hotel, anywhere in the world. Although fun times were had by all, I ended up missing out on most of the festivities on this trip, because I was busy doing a little thing I call winning 50 grand at the Venetian Deep Stack nlh tournament, as I detailed here on the blog. I ended up having to stay an extra day in the desert to pick up my check from the Venetian, and in the process I managed to win another 5k or so just trying my best to lose at craps and blackjack. Everything I touched turned to gold for the last two days of that trip, I'm sure the overall best run of gambling I have had over a 2-day period in my entire life.

2010 -- June, MGM once again. This time my annual summer WSOP trip would double as the bachelor party for my little brother. As I wrote at length about here last year, we stayed in the Skylofts at MGM, which is quite simply a whole different experience from staying in the regular hotel. It was like a massive, modern apartment overlooking the Strip from 30-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows, with butler service to attend to your every need. Actually, my brother and his new wife stayed in the Skyloft, while I also managed to land a free suite in the same area of the building just a couple of floors below. Although my WSOP performance in 2010 was my worst since my first year -- busting after about 7 hours of play in one of the standard $1500 nlh events so common on today's WSOP schedule -- I did have a very profitable trip, finishing a winner in three separate cash poker sessions, winning the Aria daily tournament on my third afternoon in the desert, plus nabbing over 2k when Drosselmeyer and jockey Mike Smith won the Belmont Stakes, and another grand or so on the Flyers in their 5-3 victory in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

So there you have it. My sense is that I might have missed a trip or two in the 1999-2001 range, as my memory is of literally heading out to Vegas almost every other month for a few years there when I was a single guy working in a big law firm. But you get the idea. It's always a great stroll down memory lane when I sit back and really take the time to think back to what amounts to at least 20 trips I have taken out to the sands of Las Vegas over the past fifteen years. And it's a great way to get excited all over again for my 21st trip, which I am planning for mid-June of 2011. More on that as it gets closer and my plans firm up a bit, but you can expect me to be out in the desert once again in a few short months, making a run at that elusive gold bracelet while debauching it up like only a couple of nearly-40 fathers of three can for 3 or 4 days a year.

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Blogger Shrike said...

For the life of me I don't remember Dave Burba as a Blue Jay.


12:57 PM  
Blogger Shrike said...

Which, y'know, would make sense since his career info doesn't show him ever playing in Toronto.


1:44 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Toronto, San Francisco, what's the difference really?

7:48 PM  
Blogger pkessler1 said...

I just found this blog today and couldn't find the summary of the AA hands in your Venetian chop where you scored $50K. Did that post get written? If not it is long overdue! Ha!

2:18 AM  

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