Monday, November 29, 2010

The Pai Gow Diaries: Lucky Cards

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"These are lucky cards," Mai said. She winked simultaneously and pushed forward cards to Otis and myself.

Mai was my favorite Pai Gow dealer at the Gold Coast. It's no coincidence that I won the most money when she was in the box. The more that I win, the more I like a dealer. It's nothing personal, but if I get cold decked, it doesn't matter who is across the felt from me -- I hate them to eternal hell. That's the biggest difference between online casinos and real life -- the intimate relationship between the dealer and gambler which makes the gambling rush a more visceral experience than the repetitive nature of online gambling, which is just like more like a video game (and therein lies the danger).

I think Mai had a thing for Otis. I wasn't jealous. If anything, I encouraged it. The more she got smitten with Otis, the better hands she'd deal to us.

"I like lucky cards," I blurted out, one of a hundred words that rolled off my tongue in a short spurt. Machine gun bursts of speech and unfiltered thoughts are my downfall during the tail-end of Vegas benders. I had a little secret how I got ahead of the pack, but none of that mattered as dug in deep for one final binge before I called it a night. I had been in Vegas for three days and got around six hours of total sleep and squeezed in a 19-hour work day on Saturday that included doing a shit-ton of press for Lost Vegas. The rest of the time was spent catching up with friends and indulging in as many hands of Pai Gow as humanly possible.

Otis had been bribing the dealer with tips on the Fortune Bonus. Essentially, he was gambling on a tip for the dealer -- if he lost, then the house kept the potential tip, however if he won, then the dealer got paid out anywhere from $3 and upwards depending on the strength of his hand. At heart, Pai Gow dealers are some of the most degens on the planet. Those are the feisty middle-aged Asian women who make up the bulk of the Pai Gow revenue at off-the-Strip locals' casinos like the multiple Station properties.

Otis slid a stained $1 chip an inch above the Fortune Bonus that contained a single red chip, worn down and smooth from years of abuse. If Otis hit a big hand, both he and the dealer got paid a bonus. Otis was running good from the moment Mai relieved the previous dealer who had been treating us like we were new arrivals at Gitmo.

Even when things didn't work out at Mai's table, everyone was jovial about it. She made us feel better even when we lost. Most men have to pay a few hundred dollars in Vegas for that sort of intimacy.

For the most part, we were riding a wave of good cards. "Very lucky cards," as Mai explained.

Mr. Gold Coast must have realized how much he was paying out to our Sunday late afternoon crew at the Pai Gow tables, so he called in a cooler. I'm paranoid about the random bots that they send into the pits to decimate the morale of anyone on a hot streak. This bot was non-Asian, which through me off for a few minutes because she looked like someone I knew. That's when I figured it out -- my dealer was the 40-year old version of Kelly Osbourne. She was relentless. She was brutal. She was an incorrigible and continuously beat down any of my stellar hands. I got caught in that horrible bad trip where she constantly beat me out by the slimmest of margins. If I had a straight and a pair of sevens, well she had a bigger straight and a pair of eights. If she showed J-10 up top, I was behind with J-9. I couldn't win anything. Even when I tossed in a desperate chip to the Insurance circle, I came out a loser.

Otis had a rough time as well. He had lost a hand, but he hit a straight bonus to cushion the blow. He was also gambling the $1 toke for the dealer and Kelly Osbourne the Bot Cooler also got paid off for the bonus.

"I'm sorry I only won you $4," apologized Otis.

"That's OK," said the dealer. "You lost $25."

What a heartless twat.

Despite the hurricane, we were all fairly calm and just weathered the storm. We counted down the minutes until our rough dealer finished her shift and a new dealer took her place. The Asian guy in the first seat was on mega-tilt. He had been betting small -- no more than $25 a hand, and then all of a sudden, he jacked up his bets to $250 to $300. When an Ethiopian dealer took his turn in the box, the Asian guy lost his cool. He was a cook. I could tell by his checkered pants -- standard uniform for someone who toils away in a kitchen. He wore a green sweatshirt, but no one paid attention to his pants. I wondered if he worked in one of the kitchens at the Gold Coast. Maybe he was a Rio cook responsible for those awful kangaroo burgers in the Poker Kitchen? Just like my colleagues in the poker media looking to blow off steam, the cook also headed to the Pai Gow tables to have a little fun and excitement. Except this guy's patience had worn thin after the brutal mugging from Kelly Osbourne. The new dealer didn't help things. He kept fucking up Otis' hands. He scooped up his cards twice without properly paying Otis. He also forgot to pay Otis' bonus on more than one instance. One time when the Ethiopian didn't pay Otis, he unleashed a growl that sounded more like a wounded jaguar. The Ethiopian nervously apologized and paid Otis his bonus money. Even the most even keeled Otis was getting testy with the inept payout procedures from this dealer. We longed to have Mai back. She was sweet. She took care of us. She knew exactly what we were about and the purpose of our agenda -- to hang out and get free drinks and gamble as long as possible without losing much money. Mai joined in on the fun, but all of the other dealers didn't want anything to do with us, which created large gaps in my session when I was bitter about the silent and humorless bots dealing to us.

We held one table for over six hours hours. I started on the table around 4:30-5pm and didn't leave until close to 11:15 or so. My session had lots of twists and turns, but I ended up a bit because I maintained discipline with the size of my bets. I kept them small and didn't let the outcome of the previous hand (or hands) affected the amounts of my wagers. I maintained a limit and stuck to it. That's a difficult task in the land of indulgence.

The Gold Coast uses commission squares to indicate how much you owe in past due commission. Other casinos take out the juice when they pay you, but the Gold Coast waits every thirty minutes to collect from you. In one way, I prefer the delayed commission payment because you can see whether or not you're doing well for a particular dealer. If you have nothing in your square, it means you've been getting violated by the dealer. If you have any red chips, it's a sign that you've been running good.

Considering the maelstrom of non-sexual pain that Kelly Osbourne inflicted upon us, I stumbled upon a stunning realization -- for the first time in a long time, I had red chips in my commission square. Somehow, I caught a few lucky cards at the right time. I paid my juice, colored-up chips, slid the blackbirds into my pocket, and shuffled off to the cage.

Lucky cards.

Editor's Note: This is another edition for a series of posts on Pai Gow addiction. Other installments include Cult of the Dragon, Dilettante and Mr. Pai Gow.


  1. "The Pai Gow Diaries"

    Sounds like a great continuation book to "Lost Vegas".

  2. Good company, 'free' booze and a good dealer, can a person ask for anything better for a few hours of fun?

    Well, perhaps the Tao of Luck?


  3. The Don Sturdy crew is going to be in Vegas this weekend, this is just fueling the fire for some Pai Gow degeneracy.

    Hope to see you at the tables.