April 29, 2003

40 Hours in Vegas: Day Two I woke up early, repacked my luggage, looked out the window at my view of what could only have been a $6 motel, then headed downstairs. After checking my bags, I strolled through the wood-paneled, almost-too-cozy casino towards Careful Kitty's coffee shop for a plate of Vegas Corn Flakes: steak and eggs with a big cup of coffee. Loaded up with some gamblin' fuel I headed back to Binion's, but not before giving you chiselers another chance. In some off the more...affordable downtown casinos the standard $1 minimum for roulette chips is actually only a measly quarter, so with a Lincoln full of chips I replaced all of your bets, with the winning number this time being...32! Um...none of you had that either, dammit.

After enjoying the sights and fried Twinkie offers of Fremont for a while I headed into the belly of the beast: Binion's, home of the World Series of Poker. Over a month of daily tournaments — including such events as the $1500 entry Pot Limit Omaha and the $2500 Stud Hi/Lo — would culminate in the championship $10,000 No-Limit Hold `Em, and pretty much every top poker player in the world would be inside this building over the next month. And like the giant schmuck that I am I decided to take them on. Unfortunately, the tightness of my schedule kept me from playing even one of the small-limit tournaments that take place after hours, so I had to make do with some regular live action Hold `Em. (Brief explanation: in Hold `Em, each player gets two hole cards and can use one or both of thern in conjunction with the five 'community' cards that are dealt face up on the table.)

I'd rather not say what limit I was playing, but it was a bit more than I normally play for. The table was good but obviously tough, the dealers and players were friendly, I was having a fine time except that...well...I was getting absolutely no hands. I literally did not show a winning hand for the first two hours, which is never a good thing. Occasionally folks would fold to my raises and I'd pick up some small pots, but nothing even slightly impressive as I just kept bleeding chips. Once I had pocket jacks up against Ace-King of hearts when the flop came a King and two hearts; great flop for him, another loss for me. My pocket 10's seemed safe when the flop came 234, but a raise and a reraise got me to fold, fearing an Ace-5; I was close, pocket 4's (a flopped three-of-a-kind) took the sizable pot.

With a large percentage of my bankroll circulating in the other players' stacks, I figured I'd try to build it back up with the remaining weak stack in front of me, and if that failed spend more time on the streets than at the tables. On the next hand it started, and while it started innocently enough — my pocket 9's hitting a 9 on the turn (the first three of the five community cards are called the flop; the fourth the turn; the final card is the river) to beat pocket Jacks — my Best Hour of Poker Ever had indeed begun. My 34 of hearts somehow managed to make two pair against a couple of players who never knew what hit them. I raised with pocket Aces only to get reraised and reraised again; when the shooting stopped it turned out one of them had pocket Kings and the other Queens, and with no card higher than a Jack on board I pulled down a monster. In a hand I misread and had frankly had no business being in I caught a 9 on the river to give me a winning three-of-a-kind against an on-tilt opponent. I raised with Ace-Queen to see the flop come Ten-Jack-King, a dream flop with lots of callers. There were one or two others, but for that hour I couldn't lose, and when I was finally able to count my chips I had not only won back what I had lost but enough to pay for my airfare. Knowing when to walk away I stuck a souvenir chip in my shirt pocket, grabbed some empty racks and headed for the cashier.

After that little miracle I headed upstairs to the tournament area to see how the pros did it. The tournament area is fascinating for a low-roller like me who checks out the events on ESPN and the Discovery Channel whenever I can. There at the final table of the Pot-Limit Omaha event are Erik Seidel and Men "the Master" Nguyen going at it, while over on the first day of the $2000 H.O.R.S.E. (rotating rounds of five different games) tourney I watched 1998 champion Scotty Nguyen and 2000 champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson play at the same table. (Hall of Famer Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson would eventually win the H.O.R.S.E. event, an emotional victory similar to Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters in 1986.) I sat in the bleachers watching the Omaha final table for over an hour, chatting with a nice guy from Minnesota, trying to figure out if The Master was bluffing.

But goshdarnit, there was a whole Strip waiting for me! I headed back to the El Cortez, played a little $3 blackjack to wish it farewell, picked up my bags and hopped a bus down to the southern end of the Strip.
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