Vegas 2019

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I decided to spend only four days in Vegas this year for the World Series of Poker.

That trip was this past week, from Sunday to Thursday. If you want the Reader’s Digest version, the poker experience was at best “meh” but everything else was amazing. For more details, continue reading.

Sunday, June 16

So this was the setup. My buddy Britt was incredibly generous with me the entire trip. He had a free room at Caesar’s Palace and allowed me to stay with him. We flew on Allegiant Airlines, where we got roundtrip airfare for under $200. So even after paying for food and taxi/Uber fares, my non-poker expenses were less than $500. Which is pretty hard to do in Las Vegas. Our friend Jeremy came to town on the same days I was there and the three of us shared some pretty dadgum good meals.

The first of those came on our very first night in town. For years, Britt has been raving about Wolfgang Puck’s “Cut” steakhouse at the Palazzo. He insisted that he was treating us to this meal to start our trip. Again, incredibly generous on his part because this is definitely the type of restaurant I can’t afford to go to unless it’s an anniversary-type date with Missy.

Usually when someone hypes up a restaurant the way Britt did with this one, it’s hard to not be disappointed. But I was certainly not disappointed with Cut. They specialize in American Wagyu steak, and the three of us each got a different cut of American Wagyu. All three were amazing but I favored the New York Strip that I ordered. We washed those down with some really good craft cocktails and some great side items, the macaroni and cheese being the highlight in my opinion. I’ve had a lot of great steaks in my life, and I can only think of one that I’d put above this one.

White asparagus, spinach, mac and cheese and the American Wagyu strip steak at Cut.

There’s a really cool cigar lounge right down the hall from the restaurant called The Dorsey, which seemed like a perfect way to end the evening. They have a massive whiskey menu so I tried a rye I’d never had before and it was great. Went great with the cigar too. All of these fancy lounges serve their whiskeys with the one oversized ice cube, which I love. Makes me feel like James Bond I guess.

My younger cohorts went on to do some classic Vegas gambling well into the night, but this old man was already up past his usual bedtime so I walked back to Caesar’s (the weather was very pleasantly mild while we were there) and crashed.

Monday, June 17

The reason I picked these dates to go on the trip was to play the $1500 pot limit Omaha event at the World Series of Poker. This would be my fourth WSOP Omaha event and I had cashed in two of the previous three, so I was looking forward to trying something different than my usual cash games and hopefully making a deep run. I feel like I’m better at PLO than I ever have been and it’s fun to challenge your brain by having to think in terms of tournament strategy.

Yeah, um, that didn’t pan out. I’ve mentioned in the past my disdain for the typical douchebags that populate the Rio during the WSOP. For some reason they like playing tournaments more than cash games in general. Well, I had either eight or nine of them at my table at all times during this tourney, depending on whether the dealer seemed to be a douche or not.

The guy sitting directly across from me was the worst offender. He would not quit talking, and he talked about only two different things. The first was how great he was at poker. We heard about 85 stories of how he manipulated his opponents into giving him their money during past tournaments and cash games. Without fail he knew exactly what cards they held and exactly how to extract the maximum value out of his winning hands. Sometimes he would make massive bets (oh my!) to make it appear as if he were bluffing when he wanted a call all along. Sometimes he would make tiny bets to induce a raise (epic!). Sometimes he would check to bait his opponent into a bluff, just like Johnny effing Chan.

The other factor that was present in 100% of his poker stories was that he got incredibly unlucky at the end of every tournament. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, this chap. Always had a 90% chance to win with one card left before his hopes were dashed on the final card. Such a shame.

The other thing he talked about nonstop was wrestling. Like, actual college wrestling. I almost preferred the poker talk. This dude’s breaking down the 198-pounder at Nebraska against his rival from Wisconsin. Supposedly, Nebraska thought they were going to run roughshod over the Big Ten but got a huge reality check when they saw how good those Badgers were (sick burn).

This dude didn’t stop flapping his gums for two straight hours, except for the rare occasion when he decided to play a hand of poker. Then, as soon as the dealer was about to put the flop out, this guy would quit talking mid-sentence, put on his sunglasses and stare straight ahead for the entirety of the hand. Didn’t matter if it was 30 seconds or 8 minutes. Then when the hand was over he’d take the glasses off and pick up right where he left off. I’m not making this up. I literally laughed out loud the second time he quit talking and put the glasses on.

One of the highlights of my poker life was baiting this cauliflower ear into bluffing off his entire stack as I laughed and lit up a cigar in the middle of the poker room. OK, that didn’t happen. At least it was a different player who put the cold deck on me to knock me out of the tournament around dinnertime.

I was a little unsure of what to do next, as I felt like I should be playing some kind of poker since that’s why I was in town but didn’t feel like I wanted to play Omaha or play all night since I was already a little tired from the tournament. I decided to go back to Caesar’s to rest a bit, and once there I decided I might as well just play there instead of going somewhere else.

I hadn’t played at Caesar’s in probably 9 years. Back then I did tie an all-time poker record by literally winning a pot with no money in it whatsoever. The dealer had dealt the cards but didn’t inform the small or big blinds to put their money in. I raised and everybody folded, including the players in the blinds. The dealer then tried to collect the blinds but they refused to put them in, saying they might have called my raise had they known they already owed money to the pot. This is patently ridiculous, those guys still owed their blinds. The dealer instead said she wasn’t going to make them pay but would reimburse me what they owed out of her tips. I said we could just call it even and thus was the proud winner of a $0 pot.

Perhaps incompetency like this is part of the reason Caesar’s doesn’t host very many poker games anymore. All they had were a handful of tables of $1/$2 hold em and two tables of $2/$5 hold em. These aren’t anything close to “high stakes,” yet because it’s the biggest game Caesar’s has to offer they were in a roped-off section in the back of the room. I never knew I was so big-time, but I dominated the biggest game in the room to the tune of about 1/8th of what I had lost in the tournament that day. But a win is a win, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 18

Now that I was out of the tournament, I knew I’d be playing cash games the rest of the trip. One of the benefits of playing cash games is that you can start and stop whenever you want as opposed to having to jump into a stupid tournament with stupid wrestling guy right when you wake up.

So Jeremy, Britt and I spent a couple of hours at the Caesar’s pool before getting cleaned up and grabbing lunch at Javier’s, a great Mexican place at the Aria. I had the spinach enchilada, which was superb. The chips, salsa and guacamole was top of the line as well.

Javier’s at Aria

Everything was set up for the three of us to crush the cash games at Aria, but that’s not how it played out. I got unlucky on a couple of hands early on and then felt myself trying to press a little bit and getting away from my game. As the sun started to go down I didn’t feel like I was playing my best and I certainly wasn’t getting lucky, so I decided to call it a day…at poker, anyway.

By this time Jeremy had also booked a losing session and retired to his quarters, and Britt had won but was ready to quit as well. I didn’t know what to have for dinner but after our steaks the first night I was definitely trusting whatever Britt would recommend. We ended up at Holstein’s, which touts itself as the best burger on the strip. And it actually was the best burger I’ve had in a really really long time. The onion rings and sweet potato fries were also on point.

Holstein’s is located at the Cosmopolitan, and after we were done eating Britt was in the mood to gamble. I was in the mood to watch Britt win a lot of money, and luckily the evening worked out for both of us. He won some quick money at the blackjack table and then we moved on to craps, where we both took our turns throwing the dice.

The last two times I played craps, the sessions ended abruptly. The first time I kept throwing the dice real high into the air and they kept bouncing off the table. I was doing pretty good but management did not care for my technique, or for having to chase down my dice on the reg. I figured they were just being sore losers and kept throwing the dice real high and off the table. I made some money but as soon as my turn ended I was pulled aside and told I was no longer welcome to play craps at the Venetian for the remainder of that evening. Boo hoo.

The next time I was staying at this little casino off the strip with my friend Tim, and the casino screwed him out of a bet he had clearly won because they said he didn’t specify the amount he was betting in time. This despite the fact that he was betting the exact same amount on every bet he was making at the table, and he had about a dozen other bets on the table at the same time. So Tim gave the pit boss an earful and we quit playing.

This Tueday at Cosmopolitan, everything was bouncing my way. I kept the dice for about half an hour. We guessed I hit around 10 points before crapping out. When my turn was finally over, the table gave me an ovation. I could have made some good money on myself had I not been making the minimum bet, but luckily Britt was betting more so he made some decent money out of it. And, again, he was incredibly generous with me and gave me something for my efforts even though all I did was throw some dice.

Wednesday, June 19

Jeremy was up and at ’em early since he had gone to bed at 6 p.m. the night before, so we decided to get some Lotus for lunch and hit the Wynn for the PLO games afterward. Lotus of Siam is a high-end Thai place off the strip. This was my second visit and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

The highlight of this meal was the crispy duck curry we split. Neither of us are generally a fan of duck but this place does it just right. I can still taste it, it went perfectly with the curry sauce they served over it. I also got a Thai tea, which I don’t think I’d had since my other visit to Lotus several years prior.

Jeremy and I at Lotus of Siam. We each got noodles and then we split that crispy duck curry in the middle.

I had high hopes for this cash session as well. By that I mean I really hoped I’d get lucky and win enough to cover both the tournament and my Aria losses. Things got off to a good start when I doubled up very early. I thought I was going to double that stack again, which would have accomplished my goal of getting even, but the last card beat me in a big pot. Me and that wrestling guy, I tell ya we’re always just one card away from glory. After losing that pot I was back down to even, and after eight hours of play I counted my chips and found that I was down $3. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be on this trip.

Thursday, June 20

I was able to hit the pool for an hour and half before getting packed up and heading back to the airport. Obviously this wasn’t how I had planned the trip from a poker standpoint, but I also couldn’t have expected it to go so well from every other perspective.

I’m not sure I’ve had such consistently great food over the course of several days like this. Definitely put on a few pounds and I ain’t mad about it. Like I said, the weather was nice and the pool time was relaxing.

But the best thing was hanging out with my friends. I had never gone on a trip like this with Britt, so you never know how those things will work out. Turns out we have a lot in common and it was way more fun than I envisioned. We both like to walk a lot so instead of taking cabs we walked from Caesar’s to Palazzo for dinner, from Caesar’s to Aria for poker, from Aria to Cosmopolitan for burgers and gambling, and then back to Caesar’s. It saved us money and gave us a little exercise after sitting on our buns playing poker for most of the trip. I’ll say it again — he was incredibly generous with me the whole time and it was cool to see him win some money even if I couldn’t.

I’m not planning on going back to Vegas again this year, and who knows what 2020 will bring. I just hope the wrestling douche goes broke.

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