Thursday, April 27, 2006

Glass Eyes, Red Rocks, and Omaha Suckouts

I sat on Grubby's couch with a sizzling Miles Davis bootleg from Paris echoing loudly throughout the apartment. Grubby's living room has become a graveyard for old issues of Poker Player Newspaper, several film magazines, fast food coupons, and promotions for various casino comps like a free room at Harrah's or free tickets to the Amazing Jonathan. Strewn around the room were various casino gifts that he's collected over the last 16 months, like a luggage set from Palms, a crystal vase from Monte Carlo, and jumper cables from Fiesta Station. That's just some of the things that doesn't fit in his "prize closet" which is stacked from the floor to the ceiling with casino freebies such as soap dishes and ear hair tweezers.

I was finishing up the last two paragraphs of my magazine article on the WPT Championship that was supposed to be due in 10 hours. "It needed more hot sauce," as Change100 would say in her cryptic Hollyweird-speak.

She was right. I could have done better, but my editor put a word restriction on this article. He was holding the entire issue of the magazine as he waited for my contribution. Talk about a moment that was both flattering and terrifying. He estimated that with a few of my pictures, he had about 1300-1500 words of space remaining. The last three articles I submitted were 2,000 to 4,700 words in length. Most editors struggle with lack of content and writers submitting short pieces. Not me. I give them as much as I can and let them make the decision to cut it up. Although I get paid by the word for my highest rate too, there's a max on how much I can make per article. I get paid to write double the rate as I do for other places and usually I max out my pay at the 1,500 word mark.

I glanced at my cellphone that danced on the table in "vibrate" mode for a few moments. It was Grubby. When I answered, I could hear the muffled noise of ambient casino sounds and slot machines in the background. The majority of my conversation with Grubby over the time I've known him have either been conducted by him on a casino floor somewhere or in the Diamond Lounge at the Flamingo.

"I'm at Red Rock playing poker with Carla. Come by after you finish your article," he said before he quickly hung up.

I had not played live poker in days. Whenever I cover a lengthy poker tournament, I have a dire urge to play. I felt like a junkie sweating out the shakes before scoring a few grams of black tar heroin smuggled in the anal cavity of an illegal immigrant scurrying across the border near Nogales.

I quickly wrapped up my piece and sent it off to my assistant Jessica for editing and Change100 for notes on the content. That's when I realized I had to go feed Friedman's cat in Summerlin. Fortunate for me, Red Rock Casino is just ten minutes from his house and I wouldn't have to be running around.

Red Rock Casino opened up the week before and draws it's name from Red Rock Canyon national park which is located only a few minutes away. I went hiking and rock climbing at the magnificent Red Rock Canyon last Saturday.

The new Red Rock is a local's joint owned by the Station Casinos but having the flair of a Strip hotel. In fact it's the most expensive and luxurious hotel and casino off the Strip. It cost twice as much as Green Valley Ranch (also a Station property) to build at $925 million. Back in 1946, mobster Bugsy Seigel spent $6 million on construction costs and bribes to build the Flamingo. The pool alone at Red Rock probably cost twice as much.

I wandered into the casino and got lost immediately. Red Rock was packed for a Tuesday night. Usually I ask for directions, but I felt adventurous so I took the scenic route and checked everything out. Red Rock reminded me of a cross between Green Valley Ranch and the Palms. The latest trend is to try to attract younger visitors to an off-strip property by providing extra luxuries such as a kick ass pool, an acclaimed spa, excellent restaurants, and a trendy club or lounge. Green Valley has the Whiskey Bar and Red Rock's version is Cherry.

There's a circular bar located in the center of the casino which is surrounded by endless rows of slot machines. There were plenty of elderly gamblers chained to the slots and they looked like locals. Over the first month or two, a lot of the locals check out a new casino for the free stuff and because it's something different. Plus if you live in Summerlin, there's a new place to gamble nearby. I spotted a lot of 20 and 30-something Las Vegas locals drinking and eating, but not really gambling. I found the food court next to the movie theatre and like all Station casinos, there's a Fatburger in there. They also had a Ben & Jerry's. I liked Red Rock already.

I found the poker room located just to the right of the sports book. It's over twenty tables and they have an electronic queue system like at the Borgata or MGM. Grubby was playing at the same NL table as Carla, who's a local radio DJ in Las Vegas for a rock station. I asked the floor person what games they spread.

"We have 2-4 Hold'em, 4-8 Hold'em with a 1/2 kill, 10-20 Hold'em, 10-20 Hold'em with a 1/2 kill. We have 1-2 NL and 5-10 NL. We also spread 4-8 Omaha Hi/Lo and 4-8 Omaha Hi," he answered.

"Put me down for 4-8 Omaha. Hi!" I said nearly ejaculating in my pants.

"It's a long list," he said.

"Keep me on it. And I'll sit 4-8 kill while I wait."

There was open seating and I got my chips. I was seated at the table right next to Grubby and Carla. I could lean back and turn around to talk to Grubby who had doubled up on his NL table. I noticed that the waitresses were not overly attractive. They looked like women who "were hot once" before squirting out their second or third kid.

I waited a hand and posted in the Big Blind. I found two Kings before I could size up my table. It was all locals with two guys younger than me in their 20s, three guys my age, and the rest of the guys were 50 and up. The kids were listening to iPods and wearing sunglasses. If I was online, I'd make a note that included words such as "douchebag", "tool", or "watches too much poker on TV."

Four players limped in and the button raised. I three-bet it with K-K and we had a six-way pot. All rags hit the 10 high flop and I bet out. Three guys folded and two called. The turn was a Queen and I bet out and got one caller. The river was a King. I had my set and one guy with A-J rivered a straight on me. When he reraised me, a sick feeling splashed around my stomach. That nimrod had A-J and I knew it. I lost about 1/3 my stack on the first hand I ever played at Red Rock.

I won most of it back when I scooped a huge pot during a kill pot which upped the stakes to 6-12. I had 10-8s and raised in late position. I turned the flush. I padded my bankroll playing 4-8 with a half kill at Mandalay Bay last summer. It's a juicy game that has a steady flow of people who have no idea what they are doing. Plus even experienced players don't understand a few strategy twists involving hands during a kill pot.

By the time my Omaha Hi game was called, nearly two hours elapsed and Grubby went home to sleep. I was only stuck $6 and sat down with $194 in chips. Very few casinos spread Omaha Hi, which is a game I prefer to Omaha Hi/Lo. It's more of an action game and goes quicker because the dealer doesn't have to take time to split or quarter the pots.

I heard rumors about the crazy Omaha Hi games at the Horseshoe. When Mike Matusow first started playing poker, he sat in the 4-8 Omaha Hi game at Sam's Town. Flipchip has been playing at Sam's Town for years and witnessed Matusow kill the Omaha Hi game on several instances.

I first played Omaha Hi before I ever played Omaha Hi/Lo or Pot Limit Omaha, so I felt comfortable playing the game. I've been playing a lot of PLO this year (especially PLO SNGs... don't ask why) and it's much easier getting people off of hands when you get to re-raise the pot. But in Omaha Hi, the pots get so big because people chase everything to the river. Sometimes they hit and the swings are immense. It's the perfect game for me. I crave the action.

I lost about 20 BB inside of thirty minutes. I won a hand with 3-3-8-8... double Snowman Tater Legs (SMTL). The flop was K-8-3. The turn was 3 and the river was an 8. Yeah, I had double quads with SMTL but only won a small pot. I was the youngest guy at my tale and no less than four of the guys were WWII vets. They all had blurry tattoos on the arms that must have looked cool 60 years ago. These days, it's a splotchy area of ink.

The table talk was non-existent until I got rivered by one guy who looked like Greg Norman who chased a 10 high spade flush to the river. I flopped a Broadway straight and turned a heart flush redraw and trips for a boat redraw just in case he hit his. The river was a spade and sure enough he scooped the pot. One of the vets began berating him as I ordered a hot chocolate. They serve it with whipped cream and cherries.

I started up a conversation with the guy to my left who looked like Captain Stubbing from the Love Boat. I'm usually friendly at the table and old guys normally like to talk, especially if they are lonely or have wives that drive them nuts. I particularly like talking to the guy on my left to seek out information and get a better indication of the his style of play. Is he going to let me steal his blinds? Will my raises get him to fold a marginal hand? Has he been drinking? Running bad? Getting lucky? You'll never find out unless you open your mouth.

Within a few minutes he offered me $100 to guess which one of his eyes was a glass eye. I figured I was getting set up so I counter offered $20. He thought about it for a few hands then agreed. Capt. Stubbing and I stood up as I tried to win $20 guessing which eye was fake. It was his left eye and that was my initial gut reaction. According to Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, he said that we usually make up our minds within the first few seconds and that we should go with that gut feeling since more often than not, it's usually the correct. I inspected his right eye then left once again.

"It's your left eye," as I pointed to the eye that looked fake.

"You sure?" he said offering me a chance to change my mind. Capt. Stubbing tried to mess with my head.

"I'm positive," I answered confidently.

"OK, let's go," as he walked to the bathroom.

When we got in, Capt. Stubbing washed his hands then nonchalantly pulled his right eye out of the socket. I dropped a $20 bill on the counter and walked out. I'm running so bad in prop bets that I can't even pick out a glass eye.

When I returned to the table I ended up losing most of my stack to another river suckout. The glass eye bet put me on tilt so I walked up and cashed out. I headed over to Fatburger for an iced tea and a hamburger. When I finished, I treated myself to a shake at Ben & Jerry's. When I was done I decided to go back to the poker room to find any free poker magazines. I noticed that they had open seating at 10-20. I considered playing the 10-20 with a half kill to 15-30, but the glass eye prop bet loss was still bothering me. I'm gonna be on tilt for that ass whipping through 2009.

I sat at 10-20 and did a hit and run session that got me unstuck for the day at Red Rock. I flopped a big hand with "The tourist" when I had my big blind raised by a forty-plus year old porn king from the Valley who continuously boasted that he was married to a 19-year old up and coming porn star. He looked like a shady used-car salesman, wore loafers without socks, and drenched himself in cheap cologne. A knock-off Rolex wrapped around his left wrist, something that I see street vendors sell in Chinatown back in New York City for $40. I can spot a fugazzi a mile way, just like my female friends can sniff out a fake Kate Spade handbag.

A baneful child pornographer like that has to take penis pills to keep up with a teenage porn star. Penis pills make you more aggressive in nature, so I assumed that I was ahead and quickly called his raise. I flopped two pair and we went back and forth all the way to the river. He missed his flush draw and made a crying call on the river just to see my cards.

"I got the tourist," I muttered as I flipped over A-7.

"What the fuck is that?" the child pornographer said.

"A-7 is the tourist hand. Only a tourist in Las Vegas would play it, especially to a raise."

"A-7? Shit, they'll play Ace-anything," he grumbled.

"And yes, I'm a tourist," I added which drew a huge chuckle from the cute female dealer.

When I got even, I cashed out and got lost on my way out of the casino. I left Red Rock with a positive feeling. I wished it was closer to where Grubby lived in Henderson, but Green Valley is less than 5 minutes from his apartment.

My friend Diane was in town for the Broadcaster's convention. We play at the Blue Parrot together in NYC and she was playing in the 11pm tournament at the Sahara. By the time I got there, it was past the first break. I sat down at a 4-8 table while she played. I flopped a nut flush with my first hand A-10s. An orbit later she sat down.

"Busted already?"

She shrugged her shoulders and bought chips. I went on a mini-rush and caught cards. I flopped three sets including a hefty pot with 5-5. I also chased a "bloody gutshot" to the river and hit it. No one suspected that I was playing 10-7o. In my defense, I raised with it only because I didn't like the old man sitting in the Big Blind. He made several racist comments during the few minutes I was sitting there. He was pissed when I made my hand. He actually had something decent and flopped top pair. He busted and left.

I played for a little while longer before I got tired. I had about 4 hours to go to my deadline and I had to go back to Grubby's to read the edits and notes on my WPT Championship piece. I got home and quickly looked everything over and wrote the second draft in less than an hour. I sent it in two hours before the deadline at 2,400 words or twice as much as was requested. I have a hard time censoring myself and I didn't know what to cut out. I'm the writer, not the editor. That's his job. My job was to tell the story of the WPT Championships. Too bad I can't tell a good of a story as I did on the Tao of Poker this past week.

As I went to bed, Grubby was getting up to go to work. I forgot to tell him about the guy with the glass eye to warn him not to fall for the same bet or if he did, to make sure he bet the guy $200 or $300 so I can get some of my money and dignity back.

Meeting guys like Capt. Glass Eye at a local's casino or busting racists at the Sahara is why I like playing live poker. You just don't get that enthralling interaction when you play at home against ADD-riddled 16 year old kids on the internet.

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