After a delicious Banzai Burger with mushrooms, bottomless steak fries, mozzarella sticks, and freckled lemonade (containing strawberries) with unlimitted refills at Red Robin, Pauly and I endured Las Vegas afternoon traffic to visit Imperial Palace.
We figured we'd get a jump start on the lay of the land, get a sense where things are located pre-WBPT, and pick out cocktail waitresses under the age of 50 to hit on.
Alas, the IP has slummed down since Harrah's bought them, and I suspect they're just marking time before their inevitable implosion, which I'm guessing will be announced next year. The poker room is on the second floor and accessible by escalator, but the only one available was out of service, and on top of that it was gutted and pulled from the ground as if King Kong had stopped by. Not even dead stairs were available to walk up and down.
A lone elevator (not to be confused with the hotel elevators, which bypass the second floor) must be ridden to get to the poker room, which itself is next to an under-construction keno area.
The poker room can't be doing as well as it could because there's no strong push advertising where it is. If they'd placed it on the casino floor, at least tourists may see "poker" and decide to try it out. Where it is now, it's an effort to find, which means only determined poker players are playing the game, which means a tighter game than most Strip rooms.
We put our names down on the waiting list for the two running tables but decided pretty immediately to find another place to play before Pauly had to get back to New York.
Excalibur was an easy decision, and driving toward South strip we began to feel home again as tensions eased, traffic lessened, and the Castle beckoned.
Pauly was schooled by the granny in the 10seat who had amazing luck. She reraised on pocket 2s but limped with Kings. She outdrew, outplayed, and outlasted everyone.
Her Kings gave her quads, and she spun the wheel. Another hand, Pauly turned a straight which gave her a set of Jacks and then a runnered case Jack. She spun the wheel again.
Both of us left down a good amount (considering 2/6), with not even a chance to spin the wheel and our favorite floor manager (dressed in cowgirl jeans) gone for the day.
After Pauly flew out, I headed to Green Valley Ranch where I was trounced within minutes against one of those runner-runner, one-card wonders. Big pair vs. medium pair with all chips into the pot preflop and with medium pair getting lucky with a ridiculous straight. And that's about as general as I can get without having bad beat flashbacks and being boring with a dull hand recap.
That hand frustrated me more than most, and instead of rebuying, I got up to walk off the steam. If only I smoked.
And then I decided to just leave and head to Binion's to meet up with a friend.
The Binion's NL game contains some surprisingly good players. As well as dealers-as-players. In general, I've found dealers aren't the best players, but here they were full of bluffs and bravado. They're pleasant enough when behind the box and receiving tips, but as opponents on the other side, they don't remember any of those customer niceties and take full advantage of their stack and position when playing the customer. So much so, it must irritate tourists there to have fun.
I stayed about even at the must-move tight table (my friend busted out and left after an hour). Then moved to the main table, where I decided to leave if it didn't become looser. Had my wish granted, where the guy to my left had a schtick, easily running over the table with his stack and calls and bluffs. No way to place him on a hand, and he called any raise preflop, then would outplay post-flop.
I got him to double me up, with my preflop AKs raise, a Queen on the flop (which I bet big on), then a flash of a King on the turn where I immediately moved all-in and he called (if not for the King, I think I would've lost all my chips... and I had even fewer outs, because I saw another player fold a King on my flop bet).
That and another hand put me at +$350, but it was short-lived when Dan the dealer sat to my left and river raised me on a complete bluff that he showed. That one I had no problem letting go, but I filed it away in my brain too much in stone, because his next play of raising caused me to think he was bluffing on a draw and I check-reraised all-in with bottom two pair.
It wasn't a bad move, but unfortunately he flopped top two pair. (The turn was an Ace, which would've scared both of us, but had I waited until then, I think I could've taken the pot with my all-in.)
Down to $150, the table broke when the 2 a.m. tournament began.
I milked my remaining chips at the only NL table running, which wilted down to three-handed with the addition of Buck, a player who bled and drank Hennessey by the gallon.
And that's when all hell broke loose.
A true no-limit player, Buck was a local, knew all the dealers and regular players, and had the style I'm striving to achieve and adopt. Though it would probably cost me, I decided to sit for awhile and watch how he played, chocking it up to a learning experience the next four hours.
There are always new things to learn about the game from other good players. He was easily the best player at the table, but people thought he was the worst. His play was designed to loosen up the table, which it did, but I think it also backfired because I began playing back at him with some of his same moves.
At one point he did an interesting move of betting $2 dark each street, which I raised to $15 each time and he called except on the river. The flop had an Ace and a Jack, and he showed his Jack, mucking at his perceived good fold while saying, "You don't ever bluff, do you?"
I said, "Just on this hand,"
glad to have successfully bluffed and mucked.
Another hand I showed a King-high bluff and each time I again raised his blind bet, peering at the flop and saying, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to raise that."
He said King high was good, but I suspect he had a piece of the flop.
I was selective in which hands to show, knowing he was cataloguing every move and play in his head. It would have been best not to show any hand.
What I've learned down to the bubble in SnGs was put to test here. Rarely do I get to use this skill, as players seldom stay at a table when shorthanded.
The other player at the table was tight with $600 in front of him, and I watched his stack dwindle until he had to rebuy. Buck picked up some sort of tell on him, while also catching cards against him.
We were seated next to the rail, and a few times when Buck literally straddled the rail to smoke, he'd play his hand blind. He'd say to the dealer named Gilbert:"Gil, put a chip on my cards."
We'd limp in."Okay Gil, throw out a $15 raise."
We'd call. Then on the flop, we'd bet out."Raise him $45, Gil. Throw out eight of my chips."
The final street, he would climb over the rail and look at his cards. Sometimes he pushed all-in at this point, sometimes he folded.
Playing with the unknown like this, knowing he's watching your every expression and not caring about the cards or the flop, it's plain exhilarating and made me excited about poker.
In limit, this doesn't work as well because people have the safety net of a capped bet. But in no-limit, he very easily pulled people off hands with his big bets. Sometimes he'd show the bluff, sometimes he'd show the nuts.
A couple times he would hold his hand up to the flop so he couldn't see it, and stare at me to see what I would do. I always took this opportunity to try out a bluff, to see if he could read any of my tells. I also tried blatant reverse tells, such as quivering my left eye a bit or purposely shaking (or not shaking) my hand while betting.
Once I picked up on his moves, I held my own and mirrored some of his plays back to him. He seemed like a proud father, particularly when he was outplayed. I had the impression he appreciated the competition and strategy much more than the money.
The main weakness I saw in Buck's play was that after awhile, he slowed down his aggression, changing his play to limping or min-raising. If he had kept it up, he could've steamrolled both of us. But hopefully, I would've been long gone by then.
I've found I can play back at players like Buck. The question is, can I be the instigator?
After the tournament ended at about 6 a.m., the table filled and I reverted to tight play after gaining $200 of Buck's chips.
A dealer named Phil returned to our side of the table and played, rivering a boat to my flopped straight. When he check-raised me on the river for all his chips (though he had a $100 bill in front of him), I considered putting him all-in. I said, "Is that one bill or two in front of you?"
Not to gauge a reaction, but because I wanted the rest of his money. I decided not to risk it just in case. His raise of 2.5x my bet was a little suspicious. However, I believe this was a wrong play by me. I should've gone ahead and put him in for his final $100. I can't be scared when the board pairs. I didn't show my beat, and am otherwise satisfied with my play. There was little chance of me doing anything to get him out of the hand with a flopped two pair.
Earlier, someone else suffered a worse beat when he flopped a straight and his opponent bet all-in (for $214) on the flop with top pair, then hit runner quads.
Hands were so crazy that at the 4/8 table, someone had quad Aces cracked by a straight flush. With no bad beat jackpot at Binion's, the floor went to the back to find something for the poor guy. She brought back a souvenir pen (a ballpoint Binion's pen), a money clip (a rubber band), and a lighter (a matchbook).
Dan ended up chopping the 2 a.m. tournament for the win and sat down to my left, giddy with a tilt-inducing laugh, reeking of Coronas, and holding a heck of a chipstack. With Buck to my right, it was a losing battle. Whoever raised, the other would reraise bigger. Setting traps was only possible with big hands or a big bluff. Raises were respected, but also called. Both just pulled out more $100 bills to set on the table.
Buck hit a horrible beat with pocket Aces, but he was trying to trap Dan by just calling him down. Dan raised preflop with A5s, bet $100 on the flop, turn, and river... and runnered the nut flush.
Dan continued to catch like mad on the hands he showed. Hands he wasn't called on, he showed, which were usually bluffs. Most hands he raised or reraised big enough preflop or on the flop that he was able to take it down.
I can handle one maniac. But two... my schooling was done and it was time to go home.
Racked up $223 -- up $23 (though down $200 from Green Valley) -- and left at 8 a.m. to fight morning traffic back. I barely fought sleep on the way back, and made it home in time for a two-hour nap before a job interview.
I often scratch my head why I stick around after doubling up. Oh yeah, because of the potential to double up again, just being patient for that one little hand.