July 27, 2007
I planned to get the Rio room if I made it deep in the main event, but other than that I was staying at the Wynn, where I have a special deal: I don't win and they don't kick me out.
The big improvement this year wasn't Harrah's doing: Nevada made smoking indoors illegal, except for casinos, bars, strip clubs, and brothels. As a result, the noxious clouds were even farther from the action than last year. People were supposed to go outside to smoke, and largely did. They even had big fans to blow the smoke away.
I never did get a straight answer as to why Harrah's 86'ed me. As soon as I got to talk with Tom Jenkin, who is in charge of all the Vegas properties, he immediately realized it was a mistake and reinstated me within hours. My suspicion is that some managers within Caesars Palace simply did not want to risk my hitting even more big jackpots and making their numbers look even worse. But really, to send me a certified letter warning me off the premises when I'd been coming to Caesars Palace for 25 years without a problem -- it just boggles the mind. But Tom assured me nobody thought I did anything wrong and if I hit four more royal flushes tomorrow, I'd be perfectly OK with him.
So that being settled, I went on to enter 10 of the preliminary events. I played with some cool people, including Ross "Rocky" Boatman, Liz Lieu, and Andrew Prock (right), author of the excellent PokerStove software. We had met last year at BARGE, but previously had exchanged posts on rec.gambling.poker in which he had referred to me as a "rich dilettante." I corrected him, as I prefer to be called a rich, arrogant dilettante, and he graciously assented. Andrew is a pleasure to play with, witty and trenchant. I hope to be on his left next time.
The tournaments were grueling. I like to play poker for a few hours, not all day and all night, but the schedule demanded play until two or three in the morning every day, provided I was still in, which I often was. I don't know how guys like Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, shown here after winning a high-stakes pool match, have done it year after year. Frankly it reminds me of my time at Harvard: I loved being around the people if only I didn't have to put up with all those damned classes. Other than an amusing table assignment one day (left), most of the events felt more like drudgery than fun. Of course I'm sure if I ever made a final table that would be a lot more exciting than busting out after 10 or 15 hours of play with nothing to show for it but a $10 food comp.
I staked my 21-year-old buddy Kyle Ray to his first WSOP event, the $1500 mixed hold 'em, and he brought home a nice cash. He's a very serious student of the game and I expect great things of him.
What I was looking forward to the most was hanging out with the math team: Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman, who co-authored the bible of game theory as applied to poker, The Mathematics of Poker, Terrence Chan, and Matt Hawrilenko. These guys are all phenomenal poker players and a lot of fun to hang out with.
I had dinner with Matt, Terrence, and Terrence's new girlfriend Laren at the Country Club at Wynn. Country Club may be my favorite restaurant in town now. They do the steaks charcoal-broiled with a salt rub, but given that I'm eating healthy these days I appreciate the one or two fish dishes they always offer. The service is personal and attentive and the wine list, like the menu, is small but very high quality. We had the last bottle of the Penner-Ash Syrah. Matt approved.
A few days later I made it over to the math team clubhouse, where I hoped to learn something about poker but instead played pool and watched Matt and Terrence engage in the manly sport of wrestling. I met Mike Fong, who was sharing the house with the math team although he hadn't yet established credentials as lofty as the others. We bought a chip set from the Rio and practiced HORSE, showing our cards at the end of each hand for commentary. I got a nice shot of Laren's feet.
The main event was almost a non-event for me. I came within a few chips of doubling up and then ran out of luck, busting on the first day when 3/4 of the field hadn't even started playing yet. That gave me the weekend to relax and unwind at the Wynn before I flew home.
The more I stay at the Wynn the more I think it's by far the best hotel in town, not just for the facilities but for the excellent service top to bottom. Nichole (above right) enjoyed her first Kobe burger on the patio at Tableau while I entered an invitational Baccarat tournament for casino high rollers.
I bombed out but Russell Rosenblum (left), one of the smartest and nicest guys in poker with one of the sweetest and prettiest wives, took his beginner's luck into third place for a nice chunk of change.
But the big surprise was the winner: Full Tilt pro Roland de Wolfe (right), whom I didn't even know played Baccarat. Roland is a frenetic, upbeat guy you just want to root for. He later tried to invite us to his birthday party but the elevator doors closed before he could tell us the details, almost snipping off his nose.
Tournament poker can be a road to heartbreak. Bill Chen told me a great player can expect to cash in one out of seven tournaments. If a bad streak comes, that can easily mean 20 events in a row without cashing. The math team didn't do so well this year. Last year Bill won two bracelets. Why do we do it?
I guess it's fun.
Two more pics of Nichole...she cleans up nice.
June 22, 2007
June 11, 2007
It would make a hell of a story if I won this one!
June 8, 2007
I want to thank everyone who supported me from the bottom of my heart. It is very gratifying to know how much my friends care.
I guess I won’t be needing the “Free Quiet Lion!” hats and t-shirts after all.
June 2, 2007
When Harrah’s Entertainment bought
Harrah’s doesn’t like that.
For 40 years,
That reputation is gone.
On May 10, Harrah’s sent certified letters to several high rollers informing them that their business was no longer wanted at
Now understand, the only games I play are poker and video poker. In poker, the house makes a 100% guaranteed profit straight off the top. In video poker, the house controls every aspect of the game: the paytables, the amount of the house edge, and the promotions and incentives they offer. There is no way to use skill – or even cheat – to beat video poker. You can’t count cards. You can’t peek at the dealer’s hole card. It’s a machine. The best you could possibly hope for is to play computer-perfect, which I don’t, and even if that were possible the machine still has a maximum theoretical payout chosen by the casino. The only thing the casino can’t control is luck. One reason I like video poker is because you can get lucky and win. You hit a royal flush every 40,000 hands or so. If you’re lucky enough to hit two, you’re ahead! If you hit three, you’re ahead for a long time!
Boy, have I been lucky at Harrah’s.
I hit four huge royal flushes in the last year at three of the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties. Not surprisingly, I’m ahead, although I’ve put 80% of it back. This seems to rub them the wrong way. But I have trouble imagining the thought process that would cause someone to decide that kicking out one of your most loyal customers is an appropriate solution to the problem of him having extremely good luck. If they think the machines are too loose, make them tighter. If they think they are giving me too much in comps, give less. They control every aspect of the game. Except luck. And kicking out players who have been lucky makes about as much sense as banning people from playing the lottery because they win it.
Reactions to lucky streaks in video poker are not unique to Harrah's, but the usual response is to cut down on the promotional offers to players who aren't losing as much as they hoped. Even that is potentially unsound business: lucky players get unlucky and you want them to be at your place when that happens.
If it weren’t for the WSOP, I’d laugh about this rather than cry. I don’t think they’re trying to punish me, I just think they don’t understand their business and are compounding one costly mistake – offering way too much in comps and incentives to video-poker players – with another. My friends, if you can’t figure out how to make money from people who only play games with a built-in house edge, you may as well give up on the casino business and close your doors.
In the meantime, know that the winner of the main event this year cannot be considered a true world champion.
Not when the Quiet Lion isn’t allowed to play.
April 26, 2007
I had been asking the bosses at Caesars to put in one or two of my favorite machines: $100 video poker where you only needed to bet $300 to get the maximum payout on the Royal Flush rather than the usual $500. I strolled into the high-limit room and saw them right in the front, where a trio of Red, White, and Blue slot machines used to be. I drew a marker and had them set the machine for credit play, so it wouldn’t stop every time I hit a payout of $1200 or more. Instead a watcher would watch me and write down all the information to report to the IRS.
The marker lasted about as long as a lap dance from a 20-year-old stripper, and a second marker vanished just as quick. I texted Jenni to meet the limo driver when she arrived at McCarran, then stuck the Nokia back in the cell-phone pocket of my Lucky Brands. Jeans have had that pocket as long as I can recall, back even before cell phones were invented let alone small enough to fit there. What the hell was it originally for? I took out another marker.
It was one of those gambling sessions you always remember, and not in a good way. I got stuck fast. Then I dug the hole deeper and deeper. I wanted to get unstuck before Jenni arrived. But by the time her plane landed all I had to show for my gambling was a stack of markers big enough to plug up the toilet if you tried to flush them. I licked my wounds and took Jenni over to the Wynn where we ate at the only gourmet restaurant that was still open, Corsa. She had an eggplant parmesan that would make Julia Child swear off red meat. During dinner and after, we remembered all the things we enjoyed about each other.
I came back in the morning and played the same machine some more. I couldn’t hit anything so I went over to the Palms to play in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour tournament. I advanced all the way to the semifinals, where I got seated at top pro Anthony Curtis’s left. I decided my strategy would be to get one chip ahead of him and then copy him. Of course, we both busted.
I went back and played some more and kept losing. I thought I had to bottom out eventually but I finally gave up stuck a whopping $150k. I took Jenni to Okada for some Divine Droplets. Good sake drowns all sorrows.
The next day my parachute finally opened. I played and played on the same money and then held the queen and ten of clubs and in popped a royal flush for $240,000. Unstuck! I had been hammering on these $100 machines all over town for a couple years now and this was my first royal flush. I snapped a pic with my Nokia and sent it to Jenni. Then I hit the ducks, twice, for $60k a pop. It was the kind of day that makes you feel like you can walk on water in your black Bruno Maglis. The girls all went off to their concerts and we went for a smoke afterwards overlooking the
I came back Sunday morning and started feeding the ducks again. At first, I wanted to get unstuck and stubbornly played the same machine till it hit. Now I was on a roll and wanted to play it while it was hot. There was something vaguely wrong with that logic but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I was stuck about $60k on the morning when it dealt me the ten through ace of diamonds.
A dealt royal flush, my first ever, and it was another $240k. Now I was playing on the house’s money, big time, and I decided to just keep riding my streak. I had clubs and diamonds; now I was going for hearts and spades. Royal for the cycle, yeah.
I had to wrap up at eight because the girls had spent the afternoon shopping for me at Nordstrom and wanted me to do a fashion show for them before they went home that night. They were the kind of clothes that would make Paris Hilton drop her cell phone. The girls went home and I had dinner at the Country Club with my friend Barry and the 2004 Justin Isosceles.
Monday morning I got up but my machine was being played by one of the local high-limit players. Bastard. He told me he’d be wrapping up around 9:30 if I wanted to play it then. Oh yeah, I did. I got coffee and came back around 9:30 and started playing. Around ten, a supervisor approached and asked me if the technicians could check something. I wasn’t surprised. When machines pay out like that they always check to make sure the chips are sealed and so on. I cashed out and watched as they opened up the machine. To my great surprise, though, they found something they didn’t like and told me they were going to have to shut it down and change the chip. Apparently it had been set looser than they had intended. They were going to tighten it up, which would take them about an hour. Since I was scheduled to fly out to
March 20, 2007
March 5, 2007
“I like those uniform tops you wear at Sapphire,” I said to the 22-year-old over a trio of tuna tartare and a bottle of 2005 Rombauer Chardonnay.
“Those aren’t a uniform,” she said. “They like us to dress edgy.” I imagined her fishing through her lingerie drawer looking for something to wear to work. I took a gulp of the Chardonnay. Edgy worked for me. We decanted the 2002 Darioush Cabernet to drink with dinner. Sarah had peppercorn
“Is elk some
“I did do a pole dance once on amateur night,” she said. “But I was flipping my head around and crashed it into the pole.” I could see how that might bring an end to a stripping career. “I have some friends who are strippers,” she said. “You know the worst thing about the job isn’t the customers – it’s the other girls.” Apparently it was a very competitive business and some of them played dirty.
It was 9:15 Sunday night in
Like the rest of the Peppermill, the Fireside Room was decorated in lights and colors that were trendy in 1980, either a tribute to the death of disco or what actually killed it. We sat at the large circular booth surrounding the gas fireplace and ordered a 60-ounce scorpion with three straws. The waitress was Brazilian. There was some kind of nutty hotel exchange program going on and
I had brought a couple of Dunhills so Gabe and I lit up and enjoyed them by the fire. We ordered another scorpion, on the rocks this time. By the time we finished the cigars, Sarah was too warm and wanted to move to a booth away from the fire. There was a thin man sitting alone there so we asked if we could share and he said fine. His name was Chris.
I asked Chris if he lived in
“Actually, I’m having some health issues right now and I’m not working.” I looked him over and offered that he looked healthy. “They’re not visible,” he said. “I have about a year to live.” Chris had aneurisms in a couple places on major blood vessels. They could go at any time.
Sarah hailed the Brazilian and asked for a cocktail menu. Without needing to ask what any of us wanted, she ordered two huge drinks that looked like they came from an ice cream parlor for Gabe and Chris, a pomegranate margarita for herself and a pomtini for me. I guess when you run cocktails for a living you get to know what people drink.
Chris said, “I’m trying to decide right now if I want to have an operation. There’s only a 20% survival rate, but if it works—” He motioned like a plane taking off. “I’m good indefinitely.”
I asked if he had found the very best doctor in the world for his condition.
“There’s a guy in
Chris nodded. “Funny,” he said. “I used to be an auto mechanic. I worked on Ferraris my whole life.”
“Then you understand,” I said. He nodded.
Sarah asked if Chris would take a picture of the three of us. He did.
“Ferrari will take me back at any time,” he said. “If I get this health problem handled I’d like to go back to work. There’s an opening in
The Brazilian came to tell us she was leaving and had to close out the check. It was late anyway.
“I live in
“When you get there,” I said, “look me up.”
February 27, 2007
He was sitting at the video-poker machine at the end of the row at the Grand Sierra Resort in
I asked him if he lived in
I nodded. “Good luck to you, sir,” I said. Then I asked him if he showed an ID when they gave him one of these tax forms. He said yes. “Does it have your address on it?” It’s a mailbox, he said. “Then the mailbox company has your real address,” I said. “Well, they did at one time,” he said. He had moved around a lot. “Aren’t you worried they’ll show up at your mailbox one day and cart you off to prison?”
“What are they gonna do?” he said. “Stake it out for two weeks?
“Maybe,” I said. “If they want you bad enough.” They came with the money and the tax form, which I signed hurriedly like you signed your monthly rent check. He asked if I was married. “Used to be,” I said.
“I have an 18-year-old wife,” he said. “Well, it’s not a legal marriage.”
“Eighteen,” I said. “How old are you?”
I told him I was going to have to put this in my seamy underblog but given the circumstances I wouldn’t use his real name. “I’ll call you Marty,” I said.
“Why Marty?” I shrugged. “Can you call me Scooter? I’ve always wanted to be called Scooter. Wait, on second thought you’d better not. Everybody knows I want to be called Scooter.”
“I’ll call you Marty.” I started playing again and he showed no signs of leaving. “So how’d you meet this 18-year-old, Marty? On the Internet?” He said yeah. “Chat room? ‘Middle-aged guys seek teenage girls who like daddy types’?” His eyes widened like I’d given him a good lead he hadn’t thought of.
“Is that a good place to meet 18-year-old girls?” I asked. He shrugged.
“She was 16 when we met. We chatted online for a couple weeks and then met in person. On her 18th birthday I drove to
Marty’s eyes narrowed. “How’d you know?”
I shrugged. “
“Yeah,” said Marty. I played a few hands of video poker but he was quiet like anything he said could be used against him.
“Why marry an 18-year-old?” I asked.
“We have a lot in common,” Marty said. “We like food, and wine. And sex.”
“Wine?” I said. “But she’s not old enough to drink.”
“Oh, anyone can drink wine,” Marty said. “It’s a religious exemption. The Supreme Court ruled.”
I blinked, but decided not to pursue it. “So what does she do all day when you’re out gambling?”
“Hangs out at home,” he said. “She’s not old enough to come into the casino.” He brightened. “Pretty soon I’m going to buy a sailboat and sail to
“Say,” said Marty, “How’d you like to meet my wife? We could have dinner!” I was in too far to stop now so I said I’d love to. I told him to meet me at the steakhouse at seven. I cashed out and went up to the suite to start writing.
At seven I came down to the steakhouse. I half-assumed they wouldn’t show but Marty was right on time. The vampire girl I expected to be all decked out in Goth but she surprised me by showing up in Gap instead. She was cute with shoulder-length blonde hair and a pink sweater that covered the kind of territory Lewis and
I told Natasha I expected her to be all Goth and she said she didn’t do that any more. She didn’t like being around all the negative attitudes. She just had the one piercing now, on her belly button. Did I want to see? Of course I did. She lifted her top to show a cute teenage navel with a stickpin through it. I don’t remember much about the stickpin.
“So, do you like vampires?” I asked.
“I am a vampire,” said Natasha.
“I thought you had to kill someone and suck their blood to be a vampire,” I said.
She scrunched her face. “No,” she said sweetly, “you just have to have a fantasy of sucking blood – or wanting your blood to be sucked.” She glanced knowingly at Marty.
“So you had ads posted on VampireFreaks that you wanted to suck each other’s blood?”
“Actually,” said Natasha, “he wanted to deflower a virgin and I wanted to be deflowered.” I ordered a bunch of appetizers to share and, true to Marty’s word, they both enjoyed the food and wine. “I still have my lesbian virginity,” she said. “I keep trying to meet someone online but the ones who want to meet me always turn out to be guys.” I nodded sympathetically.
Natasha suggested we go up to my suite after dinner so Marty could sober up. I figured the worst that could happen was they would kill me, suck my blood, and steal my PIN number, so I led them up. Marty asked for some water and I pointed to the $6 liter of Voss on the counter. He poured himself a glass. Natasha asked for one and he poured one for her too.
We sat on the sofa awhile. Marty was pretty quiet, probably thinking about his sailboat. Natasha took off her shoes and put her bare feet up on the coffee table. With the toenails painted red, I figured if she dangled those feet out a car window they were good for six or seven blocks of gridlock. I snapped a photo and her cheeks turned red to match her toenails but she didn’t move.
Natasha said it was close to her 19th birthday. Marty piped up. “Yeah, you’re gonna be too old for me.”
“You keep saying that,” said Natasha.
“It’s just a joke,” Marty said.
Natasha turned to me. “There ought to be some limit on how many times you can say something and have it still be a joke.” Marty was silent. I figured she still had a good six and a half years till she was half my age.
Marty excused himself to the T-room and I asked Natasha if she had career plans. “I want to be a wildlife photographer,” she said. “I’m worried about going to
Marty returned and drank the last of the Voss water. At about the same time we all decided it was time to call it a night.
Before they left, Natasha gave me her Myspace address. I gave it 10-1 it wasn’t fake. “You know,” whispered Natasha, pausing at the door, “I don’t let just anyone take pictures of my feet.”
February 19, 2007
Gabe is my man in
I remembered very well the night last month we all went to the Keystone Cue and Cushion to shoot some pool and hang out with Kenny, the dying bartender. Kenny was best friends with Brian, the male dancer, who was dating Veronica, whom we kept calling
When I had woken the next morning, Kyle heard me making coffee and tiptoed out of his bedroom wrapped in a white towel. “Shh,” he said with a bashful grin. “
I roused myself from my reverie and blinked at Gabe. “She’s getting married?” I said. “To Brian?”
“No,” said Gabe, “to Kenny.” The redhead had dumped Brian and was marrying his dying best friend. That made less sense to me than most nonsense in this crazy town. Why would a dame dump a guy and then marry his dying best friend two weeks later? I texted Kyle with the news but my subconscious was working overtime. Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, had told me it only took seven seconds from the moment of the Challenger disaster to the time the first sick joke was posted on the Internet. I felt horrible but it jumped into my throat like a rabid bullfrog and banged on my vocal chords from the inside until I choked it out. “Gabe—” I slapped my hand over my mouth, trying not to say it, but Satan grabbed my arm with his clammy claw and pulled my hand away.
“I married a man in
Gabe and I finished off the SLV and called it an early night.
I forgot all about the redhead the next night when Gabe and I went back to the FQ Men’s Club and partied with a hot 38-year-old Ukrainian named Elena who chain-sipped $10 Pinot Noirs while saying over and over again, “I am bad girl.” Gabe and I drank $7 waters and sat back and enjoyed the show while I smoked a Macanudo. “She’s getting married tomorrow,” Gabe said. “Veronica.” I took a deep puff on the Macanudo and let it out slowly.
The next evening I was ready to see the redhead. Gabe had told me the early, non-topless show “Let the Good Times Roll” was way better than the topless show (if only by virtue of not having a puppet) so we got a comp and went in. The house manager gave me a warm greeting but then sat us way in the back, at a booth where we had to look through people’s heads to see the stage. Gabe went to talk to him and we got moved to the front. I wasn’t sure if Veronica would be there but sure enough she came out smiling and dancing, a real pro. I texted back and forth with Kyle, who still wasn’t sure if I was making the whole thing up. You can’t make this stuff up.
The show was hot – hot enough to make a fat man drop a plate of nachos piled high with guacamole and jack. The girls, including the redhead, changed clothes on stage until you thought the lace on their white underwear would wear off. They started in pajamas, then stripped down to basics, then modeled a wardrobe that would have been on the cover of the catalog if
Halfway through the show the manager came down and leaned into me. The points on his lapels were sharp enough to spear a boiled shrimp and dip it in cocktail sauce. “Have you been taking pictures?” he yelled through “I can cook too” from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. “One of the dancers saw you taking pictures with your cell phone,” he yelled. I had finished texting with the kid and had put my cell phone back in my pocket so I just showed him my empty palms, thinking that would end the kafuffle. It didn’t. The guy persisted, now yelling at another big player we were sharing the table with. That guy was on the verge of tears. He wasn’t a small guy.
The manager turned to Gabe and yelled, “Make sure all photos are deleted.” We were all very confused. My cell-phone camera barely had the horsepower to snap Jimmy Durante’s nose from six inches and I was pretty sure the other guy didn’t even have a camera. They sure were afraid of someone taking grainy pictures of the kind of show you usually see for free on a cruise ship. It didn’t add up, but then not much did in this batty burg.
After the show the redhead didn’t make an appearance in the lobby with the other performers. I guess she was in a hurry to get to her wedding night. Gabe and I had dinner at the Italian restaurant. We tried the 1999 B.V. George Latour. I thought about taking a picture of the label but who knows, they might have called the cops. I thought I could hear the whistle blowing…
As nutty as all this seemed to me, Kyle, stuck back in
I figure it all came down to the boyfriend, Brian. He was close to the redhead. Maybe even in love with her, who knows. And when you lose the one you love, you look for someone to blame. You can’t blame your best friend, dying of cancer. Maybe you blame the guy with glasses in the front row, the guy enjoying your performance and texting his buddy in
Or maybe you just hang your head and cry.