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Las Vegas Trip Report Part 2: Touring Las Vegas and Playing Poker

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Part Two of Steve's Las Vegas Trip

In Part 1 of this series, I detailed my experiences at the Global Gaming Expo 2014 (G2E) which was my reason for heading to Las Vegas last week.

This time around I’ll fill you in on my adventures away from the conference (Spoiler Alert: not a single alcoholic beverage was consumed, so don’t expect much debauchery, I’m not 22).

Monday evening arrival

I flew into Vegas at about 4:30 local time, and after being on a plane (actually two planes) for six or seven hours, and having it take a good 12 hours total from my front door to the casino lobby, I was quite tired. But I was in Vegas! You can’t sleep in Vegas!

Well, tired won.

I went down to the Aria poker room, and within two minutes was back on the elevators up to my room. There is not a doubt in my mind I would have lost had I played cards that night.

So I was in Vegas doing what every visitor does during their first couple of hours in town – well, at least the ones who are in their late 30’s. I ordered some room service, ironed and laid out my clothes for the morning, and fell asleep at halftime of the Monday Night Football game.

Tuesday

Tuesday started early (I was up at 4:30 local time apparently ready to put my kids on the bus for school, thanks to the time difference) with a trip to Jean Phillipe, a little bakery with some delicious breakfast food located just off the hotel elevators at Aria. I ended up eating there all four mornings I was in town, because I can’t find a cherry or blueberry Danish anywhere near my house, and all told it was super convenient.

After my first day at G2E I headed to the poker room, and sat down in the $9/$18 12-game mix they run nearly every night at the Aria.

Winning helped, but even if I had lost this was the most fun I’ve had playing poker in close to a decade.

Everything about the game is perfect.

It’s played with $3 chips, so it’s a three and six chip game, which makes the pots look absolutely huge (side note: every card room should stop spreading $10/$20 and run $9/$18 as the game becomes immediately looser). It also masks the amount of money you are tossing in, sort of like how a price tag that reads $18.95 doesn’t necessarily feel like $20.

The regulars are friendly and understand the importance of creating a good environment, otherwise the game wouldn’t run. Actually, I found the entire Aria poker room to be far more upbeat and pleasant than any other poker room I’ve ever been in.

The 12 games played are for the most part extreme variants that even professional players have no experience with, as I came to learn when Karina Jett sat down in the chair that Jimmy Fricke vacated an hour or so before on Wednesday night.

You’re not going to find a specialist in a 12-game mix of this sort at these stakes.

I ended up doing ok on Tuesday, booking a nice profit despite a couple of avoidable mistakes due to confusion about the game being played and my general inexperience – I’m still trying to figure out proper strategy for a couple of the games.

A quick note about the games played

I think I had played four of the 12 games previously (2-7 Triple Draw, Omaha 8, Badugi, and Five Card Omaha 8) making me a .300 hitter at this table.

The rest were wild variants like Pineapple RazzDacey, Ace to Five Triple Draw Badugi, Five Card Triple Draw 8 or Better, Pineapple Stud hi/lo with no Qualifier, Pineapple Holdem 8 or better, and a slew of other games that needed three to four lines of a plaque to explain.

The good news is that if you have experience in split pot games (I do), and know the basics of starting hand selection in games like Badugi and Razz (I do) you’ll be fine.

Wednesday

Wednesday night I returned to the Aria poker room after placing a couple bets for my father in the sportsbook, and literally lost every pot I played for the first hour. From there I hovered between down $150 to even for another hour or so, and then won a couple big pots to secure my second straight win.

This one was much bigger – for those that don’t know, in split pot games it only takes one or two big pots to make you a huge winner for the night.

Wednesday I played pretty flawlessly and was really focused on the game throughout – sort of “in the zone.”

Wednesday was also an interesting night due to the couple professionals that sat in the game (Fricke and Jett) and unlike Tuesday night, there wasn’t an extreme live one in the game. Most of the other players were trying to change seats to avoid the known players having position on them, but I’ve played enough poker to understand a tight solid pro on your left isn’t necessarily a bad thing – at least in limit games. It can actually be very advantageous.

What I also had reaffirmed is my strong belief that (outside of high-stakes players)  good players simply need to play mistake free, tight/aggressive poker. Even being completely out of practice, there is little difference between my game and a winning regular at the stakes I play.

Thursday

Thursday I pretty much had the entire day to myself and spent it checking out a couple of the other poker rooms in town. I visited the new Caesars Palace WSOP.com branded room and talked to the poker room manager a bit, and then headed over to the Bellagio.

Caesars is a nice room (it’s brand new) but only regularly spreads low limit No Limit Holdem games, while the Bellagio has a lot of selection (tables, games and stakes), but the room is starting to show its age and the atmosphere is more like Foxwoods than Aria.

I had every intention of sitting in the $9/$18 game on Thursday night, but when 6 PM rolled around I had frankly had enough of Vegas. Plus I was unsure how my back would feel about me sitting in a chair for four or five hours the night before I flew across the country again – my back can be a bit of an asshole in that respect.

So I decided to pocket my winnings (which I used to buy a new laptop when I returned home… although $50 of it went to a chair massage at the airport, you know, to apologize to my back) and get a good’s night sleep, considering with the time changes I would be starting out at McCarran Airport sometime around 9 AM and arriving in Boston sometime around 9:30 PM.

And for my Vegas oddball story, comedian Eddie Griffin was behind me in line for Quiznos at the Vegas airport.

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve is a well-recognized voice in the regulated U.S. online gambling industry. He writes for a number of online and print publications including OnlinePokerReport.com, USA Today, and others, with a focus on the legal market.

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