Day 1 (December 15): I arrive at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon and check into the Monte Carlo. It has a nice poker room and is centrally located. There are no Hold ‘Em tournaments that afternoon or evening and after eating I enter a live $4/$8 HE game. Big mistake. I’ve been up since 5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. Las Vegas time) and have endured seven hours of traveling. I play poorly and lose $75 over a four-hour period. I go to bed early.
Day 2: A leg cramp wakes me at 4:00 a.m. I head down to the poker room to see if I can at least beat the drunks. I sit down next to an Englishman who is killing the last few hours before his morning flight back to England. He is not drinking, neither is the kid in his twenties next to him. After watching a few hands, I peg them both as good players. At the other end of the table I recognize a few of the dealers from the casino. One of whom I had played with my previous trip-technically good, but I remember seeing her go on major tilt after a player had drawn out on her. All of the dealers are drinking. And not beer. Martinis, double whiskey and cokes, scotches. I wait for a good hand.
In the mean time they bring in an attractive girl in her twenties who smiles big and announces she has just had her first lesson in Texas Hold ‘Em. Several players grin. I feel sorry for her. Sitting behind her is a huge guy who seems to be her bodyguard. She is the happiest person I’ve ever seen. She is either a student or a bartender or an architect, depending on where she is in her conversation. The kid looks at me, points to the girl and does a big X on the table. I’m a generation ahead of the girl and the kid and I give him a blank look. He whispers Ecstasy. Ah, I’ve heard of this, the happy pill. And she is happy. She is out most of her ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล $100 buy-in in less than a half an hour, but just as happy as she can be. The person who took most of her money gives her $3 back. Since we have only eight at the table, the rest of us kick in a buck to the cause. She smiles at everyone and announces: “I am so happy.”
The dealers play poorly. I have heard that the typical dealer is not a good player-that they get their tip money and try to double or triple it up at the tables, slots or poker. The English fellow and I are hungry and I buy us a sausage and egg biscuit at the food court. This is a game I don’t want to miss.
I am soon up. I get KQs. A Queen falls. I bet. A call from one of the drinking dealers. An Ace on the turn. The player who called hesitates for a fraction of a second before betting $8. I know he has an Ace with a bad kicker. Without any hesitation, I raise. He folds. He tells me I am a player to watch out for. Not many say that about me. The game goes shorthanded and I leave a small winner.
My first tournament of the trip is at the Luxor 10 a.m. HE tournament. I walk to New York, New York (nippy for Las Vegas-upper 20s), then over Tropicana via a pedestrian walkway, through the Excalibur, then another walkway (enclosed this time) to Luxor. A $25 buy-in gets you $250 in tournament chips. For an extra $2 you get $50 more-a tip fund for the dealers. The betting starts at $10/20, escalating every fifteen minutes. A slow Sunday morning, it is only one table. I sit where they have written my name on a slip of paper. A guy comes over and tells me I’m from Florida and I teach economics. Did I meet him on my last trip? He tells me he is Payshints. A light comes on. Payshints is the screen name of a Poker School player. I had posted that I was coming to Las Vegas and he said he would try to hook up with me. I do poorly in the tournament, playing too many drawing hands A9s, A8s-deadly in a tournament, especially when you only get $300 in chips.
Payshints drives us over to the Orleans for a NLHE tournament. It is a $30 buy-in with one $20 rebuy. Most rebuy. I make a terrible play early on. On the button I get Q6s. For some inexplicable reason I call. I should have either folded or tried for a steal with a big raise. The flop is 446. The big blind checks. I go all in. I get called. The big blind has a four and ends up making a full house. It’s rebuy time. I am more careful this time. I get few hands, but survive several all ins. I go out at 17th out of 60 entrants when I am forced to go all in with 33 because of my short stack. Payshints goes out 16th. Both of us were one good hand away from the final table and getting in the money. Payshints drives me back to the Monte Carlo. He works during the week and we make plans to hook up the following Saturday at Luxor. (Although I didn’t know it at the time I played with another Poker School friend in this tournament – Mick16. We put two and two together when we were both playing on line at Poker School and chatting about Las Vegas.)
That night I take a cab to the Sahara. The cabby takes back roads. I know Las Vegas a little and know I’m being taken for a ride. I ask the cabby if going by route of the Hilton is the fastest way. Soon we are back on track. A $12 cab ride. One third of my entry fee. The Sahara’s card room is small and packed with tables. The tournament is costlier than I had thought. $35 for the initial buy-in, $5 dealer tip fund, and a surprise rebuy of another $20.
This is a strange tournament. I know you want bad players, but still you hate being drawn out on time after time. The first hand I get involved with, I get QQ in mid position and I raise four times the BB, just like the books say. I get two callers. The flop is perfect: 7,9,J off suit. I pop it all in. I get two callers. Did someone stay in with 10,8; JJ? A 3 comes on the turn and a 2 on the river. I confidently flip over my Queens. One of the players mucks, the other flips over 7,9 os. I rebuy. A player at the other end of the table talks non-stop. I wish I wasn’t here.
I build up my chips through a series of small wins. But everyone is all in, all the time. I can get no reads on players this way. Another player goes all in with a medium stack. I have twice his stack and hold AK. I call. He has AJ. I am confident until the J falls on the turn. The antes kick in and I am forced all-in in a bad situation. One of the few players who has not been involved in every pot puts in a substantial raise from the button. I have JJ. I calculate that I have 2 blinds left. I chance it that he doesn’t have QQ, KK, or AA and that he something like AK. I go all in. Surprisingly so does a player behind me. The conservative player does have AK, suited. An A falls. So do three of his suit. The other player flips over K8s. I am fourth out of three players. Beaten by a pair of Aces, and by two flushes. I leave 22nd out of 31 entrants.
Day 3: Monday morning it’s the Mandalay Bay for the 10 a.m. HE tournament ($25 buy-in for $300 tournament chips) I get AA twice, misplay it once (an inadvertent slow play-I meant to raise but only called), and manage a three-way chop for first, netting out $155. I feel like this is a good sign for the rest of the trip. The noon tournament at the Luxor is uneventful.
That night it is off to NLHE at the Orleans. It is $20 buy-in with unlimited $10 rebuys in the first hour. Unlimited rebuys definitely change the pace of the game. There is a lot of wild play the first hour.
I am sucked in on a very basic trap. I have 10,8os in the BB. The flop is Axx. No one bets. The turn is 10. I bet, am raised and stupidly call. Of course he has an A. I end up rebuying three times. I play a much better game after that, but still find myself short stacked when the antes kick in and three tables are left. I make a couple of good all in timing plays, one of which is KJs. I quadruple up my short stack when I catch a flush on the turn. Then the blinds go up and I must make a move again. This time I mistime it. A player in middle position raises, a reraise comes-not all in though, so not AA. I have A7. I should have chanced it, but I was afraid the first player had AK and I would be drawing practically dead. I fold. The first player had QQ, the second KK. An Ace hits on the flop. Oh well. I have four antes left and get K5s. I go for it. An A hits on the flop and I’m out. 30th out of 130. Not too bad, especially considering my early poor play.
Day 4: Midway through the Mandalay tournament I call from the button with A3s, am reraised and see a very expensive flop that doesn’t fit. (Didn’t I just read an article about how Axs is a poor tournament hand?) I’m out: 10th out of 16. At the Luxor it gets down to 4 people and I’m the big stack. I’m the SB, have Q,10 and pop it $600. I get reraised all in and I fold. The BB, a very nice local lady-and a good player, tells me she had JJ. I’m in second now, and when the blinds go to $200/400, I’m out in third and get $55.
It’s the Bellagio buffet for a late lunch, then a nice one-hour nap. That evening I take the tram from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio then walk to Caesars Palace. It has warmed up and the 40-degree air refreshes me. I walk into the Forum Shops where I buy a chocolate bar for some quick energy during the tournament. The Mirage is next door. Their poker room is big and nonsmoking. Even though I smoke, there is nothing worse than sitting next to a chain smoker-especially during a tournament when you are locked into that seat.
I buy in ($60, unlimited rebuys at $40). I have an hour to kill and play in the $15 Satellite-if you win you get the $60 buy-in plus $60 more. The table fills up quickly. One player comes late and makes a big stink about being shut out. He is a young kid and very loud. Somewhere during his short life he lost about 1/3 of his right ear. I figure with his mouth, someone bit it off. They make the table 11 players and he finally shuts up. One of the players is Oklahoma Johnny Hale. He plays seemingly loose, going all in early. No one calls and he shows his K10s. I think he is setting people up for a later all in with a more powerful hand. Later he does make another all-in play where someone calls him and he is out. He mucks without showing his hand.
It is all-in all the time after that, and soon we are down to four players. Three of us have even chip stacks and one has a huge stack. I catch a flush from the big blind with a lowly 6 of clubs (with a K of diamonds kicker). I go all in. So does the player with the huge stack. His 9 of clubs wins it.
At the main tournament (NLHE), I am in the 10 seat with Oklahoma Johnny (OKJ) in number 9 and Susie Isaacs in seat 1. In seat 4 is a player I recognize from an article in a major poker magazine. We start with $500 in tournament chips and each rebuy gets you $800. A gambler has the BB in seat 3 and he tells OKJ not to challenge his blind. Of course OKJ goes all in (with K10s again) and when a 10 falls, beats the gambler who had A3. The gambler rebuys and play continues. I catch KK twice, but once it is folded around to me in the BB, and the next time I get no callers to my raise. Both are very small pots. While I’m buying either Susie Isaacs’ book or OKJ’s, I catch AJ on the button. Two callers in front of me. I should call, right? I raise, get three callers. Two of whom have AK. But I catch a jack and rake in a big pot. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than smart.
OKJ has been talking about how tired he is, that he never rebuys, and that if he doesn’t double up he’s going to go home and get to bed early. The last hand finds me one in front of the button. OKJ goes all in. I have KQs and four times his stack. I call. I am surprised to get a call from the BB. The flop is xx10. The BB goes all in for about 1/8 of my chips. An easy call. The turn and the river bring nothing. The BB takes it with J10. I’m still in good shape though. With my rebuy I have $1,900 in chips.
Susie Isaacs is out the first hand after the break when her pocket kings gets taken down by pocket sixes (a 6 falls on the river). I get KK twice more, but make very little on them. Same story as before. I catch nothing for the next hour and soon it is time for the second break. Forty-five minutes later, I am short stacked. I catch AQ in the SB and put my chips all in (maybe $700) against a limper from the button. He thinks for a good 30 seconds before calling with half his stack. The board is K,x,10,9,10. He flips over QJ. I think I’ve won at first until the dealer shoves the chips in his direction. I finally see the straight. I wish the player good luck and leave with my head high. I had made only one major mistake and that one had actually made me money. And I had timed my all in move well and was a heavy favorite before the flop to win it. I finish 26th out of 60.
Day 5: At the 10 a.m. Mandalay tournament, I play too loosely and am out early. At the Luxor I tighten up and finish 8th out of 30 and get $25. I eat at Alladin’s buffet, find a Christmas gift in one of the Desert Passage shops for my wife (big relief), and take a short nap.
That night it is limit HE at the Orleans. Unlimited rebuys in the first hour. I could have gone back to the Sahara for NLHE, but didn’t want another $12 cab ride each way. I have been playing NLHE exclusively at Poker School. My limit HE game is weak. I stay in on too many hands. I don’t play the turn and river well.
I have no game plan for the Orlean’s tournament and it shows. I fail to see a small straight made by the BB and call with my A10 (top pair) all the way to the river. Just before the first break I have $325 in chips. If I go below $300 I can do a double rebuy, if not I can only do one. It is $700 in chips versus $525. I make the mistake of telling the guy to my right (the one who had beaten me with the straight) what I am going to do. The last hand before the break (and when the rebuys end), he knows I am going to call with any hand. He raises up front, costing me $60 versus $30. I think this is dirty pool and tell him I feel like I’ve been flim-flammed. Then I am reraised from my left. I have a 10, 6. The pot odds are huge and I call. This one bet has cost me $90. The flop leaves me with an inside straight draw to a jack. I don’t get quite enough pot odds (another reraise on the flop) to call. In retrospect the implied odds were huge (people play extremely loose immediately before the last rebuy) and I should have called. Of course the turn is a jack and I miss out on a monster pot. Things don’t get any better and I finish 42nd out of 80.
Day 6: At the Mandalay the next morning, I meet another Poker School friend: bbrown09. He is a good player who was in first place for most of the month of November and would have gotten a high qualification for our March 30th WSOP tournament. Unfortunately three players came in with a higher percentage on the last day of the month to knock him out of the running. We talk Poker School and tournaments until we are seated at different tables. I play my tightest play of the trip and in the first 45 minutes I only call twice and that is for a half bet from my SB. We get down to two short tables of 7 each. I catch 99 on the button and raise. I get reraised (This is an omen for my night tournament). I have $100 left and the call will cost me $50. I call, knowing I’m a 4.5 to 1 dog to a big pair-what I am most likely up against. In retrospect I should have folded (this turns out to be an omen for much of the rest of the trip). The flop does not bring a 9 and I fold. The raiser had KK. I finish 11th out of 18 a couple of hands later. Bbrown09 makes the final table but is gone soon after that.
It is on to the Luxor. Some terrible players make it to the final table. I ‘m in mid position with QQ. Two $100 limpers are already in the pot. I reraise it $400. One of the limpers calls. An Ace flops. The caller puts me all in for my last $100. I should have folded and saved my $100, but I call. He has AQ. I finish 9th out of 20.
It is a big one at the Mirage. NLHE $120, with a $100 rebuy. The initial buy gets you $500 in tournament chips, the rebuy $1,000. The total prize pool is over $6,000. I’m in seat 6; in seat 8 is the well-dressed man I had seen from my first tournament at the Mirage four months ago. He places a small, framed photograph on the table. It is him sitting with a mountain of chips. He is smiling in the picture. The picture had obviously been taken at the Mirage. One of his tournament wins. I find it odd that he carries it around with him, but when other people come over to look at the picture, I find out he won the tournament three nights ago and just now got the picture. In seat 3 is the player from two nights ago who was featured in the poker magazine. He has what looks like a chicken foot next to his chips. The well-dressed player asks him if he’s going to use voodoo against the rest of the table. The guy with the chicken foot laughs and tosses it down to our end of the table. The chicken foot turns out to be a plastic octopus.
I get AA early on and rake in a decent pot but get no other hands in the first hour. I rebuy and have a little less than $2,000 in chips at the break. Not a bad spot. One or two big hands and I’m one of the chip leaders. The crash and burners are gone shortly after the first break and soon we find ourselves down to 2 tables and 14 people. Play is tight. I have been blinded down to $800. The blinds are $100/200 and due to go up shortly. I catch Q10s on the button. I figure I have a maximum of 14 hands left, 21 hands if I can steal. Both the SB and BB have less than $1,500 in chips. My $800 will at least make them think. I make it $600. With no hesitation the SB pushes all his chips in. Either KK or AA. I’ve got $200 in chips left. The next BB will wipe me out. If I fold I get to see 5 more hands. Even if I triple up the $200, I’m crippled. I at least have a straight and flush draw on this hand and would be back up to around $2,000 in chips if I win. I call. Of course I don’t get my draws, and of course he had AA. I leave thinking my raise was fine-if he had anything JJ or below he may fold. My call was questionable.
Day 7: At the Mandalay I make kings full of fives early (against sixes full of fives) and rake in a monster pot. I use that pot and tight play to survive to get into the money. But I am tired and desperate for a win. Not a good combination. The Luxor has thirty-one players that morning and I start out at a 12 person table. I am squeaky tight. Then I make a horrible play with two tables left. I get a $100 raise just before my button. I have QQ. This is a TOURNAMENT. I should probably fold. The best I could have faced was JJ or AK. I’m a big favorite on the first one, a little favorite on the second. Or I could be up against AA or KK. I call, then compound my error by calling on flop, turn and river. He has AA. A $350 mistake. I’m down to $100 and go out 18th out of 31. I’ve called all the way before and been right, but in those cases I had a read that the player was bluffing. This time I had no reads. What evil force invaded my body and forced me to call three times against a hand that most likely had me beat?
At the NLHE tournament at the Orleans that night I call an all in with KK. He has AA. I have a rebuy left, but I wonder about the call. I haven’t got to the point where I can distinguish all in with AK or QQ vs. all in with AA. I’m not sure even experienced tournament players are able to do this consistently. I play tight the rest of the night and finish 40th out of 88. It is in this tournament I find that not all poker players are math geniuses. With the big blind at $60, one player throws in $160 in chips for a raise and says “four times the BB, just like the books tell us.”
Day 8: More tired and more desperate. At the Luxor I make 4th out of 11. We are all close to even in stack size and I propose a chop. Since we started with just one table, only two will be paid. Three out of four agree. The fourth doesn’t. Of course I go out fourth, when I raise all in with AJs against 55.
At the Orleans that afternoon my play is bad and I have my worst tournament results of the trip-60th out of 88. I got myself into a pattern of desperation at the end of tournaments and would play the last hand for all my chips no matter how badly I was beaten. I do this my last hand at the Orleans with top pair (10s) but with two eights on the board. The player got the hook in deep (88x on the flop) before betting out on the turn when I catch my 10.
I had rented a car the previous day so I could make the only Hold ‘Em tournament of the night. My flight is the next morning so this is my last tournament. NLHE at Sam’s Town. After several wrong turns I find it, make the trek from parking to the poker room only to be told they had cancelled it. I play nickel video poker and have a 46 to 1 shot on getting a $430 win when I get A,K,Q,10 of spades before the draw. I don’t catch the Jack of spades.
The bright spot of the day was that I did not play live poker that night. I was tired, mad, disappointed and know that this is not the time to play.
My next trip is Tunica for the World Poker Open-to watch only (a $500-$10,000 entry fee tournament attracts world-class players-I would be dead money for sure). I will play in some small tournaments ($100-200 buy ins at other casinos) during my stay. I hope to be in Las Vegas again at the end of March. Only a six-day trip this time.
What did a beginning player get out of this trip:
You play bad, you lose.
You play good, you got a chance. But in a tournament, luck has to find you. As Oklahoma Johnny Hale puts it: “To win a poker tournament.you have to stay in the game long enough for luck to come your way.”
I was more than competitive in the smaller buy-in tournaments. I made the money 4 out 12 times. I noticed that there is a lot of dead money in the smaller buy-in tournaments. I would guess 33% or more of the money is from poor players.
I make at least one major mistake per tournament. (Particularly the bigger buy-in ones where I’m still a little nervous)
There is dead money in the $100/$200 buy in tournaments. Based on my limited experience I would put it at 25%.
Given, #5, the rest of the competition is intense in the nighttime Las Vegas tournaments. Still, if I play well, I am a hand or two away from making the money most of the time.
Playing a lot of tournaments in a row showed additional weaknesses in my game: My biggest is weakness is to give up when down in chips and throw the rest of my chips in on a hopeless hand. I need to remember: A Chip and a Chair.
My NLHE game is competitive. Because of Poker School I have seen the same types of situations over and over again on line. I play only quality starting hands (most of the time). Even experienced Hold ‘Em players (who are leagues above me in playing the flop and turn) have not played NLHE as much as I have.
My Limit HE is weak. Several players put moves on me that I only figured out after the hand was over. Fortunately Poker School just opened up limit HE tournaments.
I need to have a game plan in place before every tournament. It could be as simple as five do’s and don’ts written on an index card that I review before play and during the breaks.
The biggest thing I learned was that I played too many tournaments over too short of time. For a more experienced player, eight days would be a cakewalk. But I am still in the learning process. The longer I was away from school, the worse my play got. Well, I’m back in school now and my play is right back on track.