Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Act I: Cowboys, Brits, and Bloggers

By Pauly
Las Vegas

I've crisscrossed the globe this year and visited dozens of cities. Nothing on Earth quite compares to Las Vegas. If there are aliens spying on us, I'm sure they are monitoring our degenerate behavior in Las Vegas. And if/when Jesus Christ returns for Judgment Day, I'm sure he'll stop off in Sin City to roll the bones before Armageddon commences.

Las Vegas is the world's playground. And with the US dollar sinking to a record low, plane loads of foreign visitors are arriving in Sin City to get their yeah-yeahs out. It's where anyone can run rampant down the Strip jacked up on a fifth of booze and knock down a line of porn slappers as they tumble one by one like dominoes... and no one would blink an eye.

Las Vegas is the perfect place to unleashed repressed childhood memories. For those of us who had hard or humble beginnings, it's an opportunity to live the elegant and baller lifestyle. For those of us who grew up in strict households, it's a rare opportunity to unleash your inner wild child and drink bourbon for breakfast, cuss like a sailor, and shower strippers with $20 bills. And for those of us who all of a sudden woke up one day with a ton of responsibilities including a mortgage, a family, and a career... it was a rare opportunity to blow off some steam and rage solo.

Long after Jerry Garcia stopped dropping acid, he admitted in a Rolling Stone Interview, "I do mushrooms every once in a while to clean out the pipes."

I think that everyone needs to go to head to Las Vegas for one weekend every year to clean out the pipes. Open up. Let it rip. Just get weird, act silly, and enjoy life for what it is. And a lot of you do just that... you leave your normal lives at home, board a plane bound for Nevada, and embark on a bender of epic proportions.

As I mentioned to my brother, I have been to all seven of these gatherings. I dunno if that makes me incredibly cool or totally pathetic. Perhaps I'm somewhere in the middle. For almost a decade, Derek and I have made a trek out to Las Vegas in the first weekend in December to gamble on football. Once we caught the poker bug, we added poker to the mix.

Flashback to 2004... we befriended a few bloggers and invited them along for the ride. BG and Bobby Bracelet were the first to agree to tag along. What I thought would be a "brothers retreat to Las Vegas" ended up being the origins of the blogger gathering in Las Vegas. Once other bloggers and my friends in NYC found out, that small retreat of four swelled to over 30. The first ever Holiday Classic included a handful of locals (like Felicia & Glenn, Linda, the Prof and Flipchip), a few from LA, those crackers from G-Vegas, and my NYC crew. A few others made the trip like Maudie and Iggy, and including Grubby who quit his job and moved out to Las Vegas after the gathering.

Flashforward to 2007... I spent the better part of the year outside of the country on assignments because I was trying my hardest to avoid working in Las Vegas. But I was finally looking forward to the trip since I took the last two months of the year of to write. For the first time in a while, I was a tourist in Las Vegas looking to blow off a lot of steam from a pressure-cooked 2007. Lucky for me, lots of friends were along for the same exact ride. Hijinks ensue.

* * * * *

I flew out to Hollyweird for a few days last week before Change100 and I drove to Las Vegas on Wednesday. We loaded up the car and it wasn't much. Since we have both been traveling a lot, we're light packers. Change100 used to bring several bags to Vegas for a weekend jaunt. Those days are over. However, since she is a California pothead, she totally spaced on a few things. As we pulled out of the driveway and drove about ten feet up the palm tree lined street, she screamed, "Awww, shit!"

She forgot her cash, which is a necessity in Las Vegas. We drove back to the apartment.

Take 2. We gassed up the car a few blocks from the freeway entrance. That's when she realized that she forgot her coat. Sigh. We drove back and got the coat.

Take 3. We finally got out of town on the third try. It wasn't a smooth start to the trip, but things picked up for us. We avoided any LA traffic and made it to Las Vegas in less than four hours including one piss stop in Baker.

We checked into the Bellagio. Change100 had won the media tournament at the WPT Championships in April. Part of the first place prize package was a free room at the Bellagio and one free diner at any of their restaurants. The deluxe room was super swanky with marble floors and a bathroom bigger than most NYC studio apartments. That night, we ate at Craft Steak (in MGM), where we had a $600 credit. We went to work right away with an expensive bottle of wine and then dug into an $110 kobe steak.

We stopped for a drink at one of the bars at the MGM and I heard a lot of thick British accents. That's when I remembered the big fight (Mayweather vs. Hatton) that was scheduled for Saturday. Ricky Hatton was British and a slew of his countrymen made the journey to cheer him on. They arrived early and were getting their drinky drink on. That's when I mentioned to Change100 that things could get ugly later on in the trip. The Rodeo Finals were starting and thousands of cowboys and rodeo fans would flock to Las Vegas to soak up the events. Some of those fellas are the rough and tumble sort. Add a slew of soused Brits to the mix and a hundred shitfaced hammer wielding bloggers, and you had a potential melee on your hands.

I always thought that the December gatherings were a little more fun because of the cowboy element to the adventure. During the summer, the Strip swells with conventions, the WSOP, and people on vacation with a lot more kids running around. But in December, the city is not as crowded and the only big convention in town are the cowboys mingling about. They were easy to spot with their hats, boots, and their Wranglers jeans. And the Brits were easy to spot with the accents. So if you didn't have a cowboy hat on and didn't speak in a weird accent (aside from a few of you Canucks, Irish Jim, and Aussie Garth), chances are you were a blogger in town for the gathering.

On Wednesday night, we met up with Maudie, Gracie, and Sweet Sweet Pablo. By now, we're all veterans of these trips and know that you need a day or so to get acclimated to Vegas before the entire weekend kicks off. We had a drink at the Geisha Bar at the IP when we ran into Irish Jim. He seemed impressed that I remembered him from the last trip. But like I just wrote in the last paragraph, he was easy to spot since he wasn't a Brit, a cowboy, an Elvis impersonator, or a hooker.

* * * * *

We started Thursday morning with brunch at the Bellagio. I won my first prop bet when I ate broccoli. I almost puked on a small piece, but managed to keep it down. Everyone snapped photos and made fun of me, but I walked away a few bucks richer.

AlCantHang and Derek arrived at the same time and we partied at the Bellagio for a bit. I joked around that you didn't see too many cowboys at the Bellagio. That place was a little too pricey for those folks. I was fairly certain that any type of impending rumble between cowboys and hooligans would not be happening inside the Bellagio. We were safe... for the moment.

The gang checked out our room. Gracie and Maudie were infatuated with the big comfy bed. They would not get out of it.

"You know the rule, right?" Derek said. "If there are two girls in the same bed in this state, they have to kiss."

We met up with Otis and the G-Vegas crew at Caesar's Palace. We stopped for a drink there around 2pm. SoCo was $11.50 for a shot! I bought the first round and strongly suggested that we migrate to the cheaper Geisha Bar.

In the last couple of years, we started drinking on Thursday nights and stayed up until dawn. Since we started early this year, we tired out. Here's why... a random blogger strolls by the Geisha Bar with luggage. They drop off their stuff and start drinking. Either they buy me a drink or I'm buying them. OK, now repeat that process forty-five times.

By 6pm, AlCantHang had three leaning towers of empty shot glasses sitting in front of him at the Geisha Bar. Several of my friends arrived and I met a handful of newer bloggers. I had a long chat with Buddy Dank about Iowa and another chat with the Fat Guy about living in Texas. I was happy to see him for this trip. He went to the second gathering. We've been playing together online for three plus years and reading each other for even longer. He loves the fact that so many different people from all walks of live gather together. I also drank with GCox who introduced me to his lovely wife Mrs. Cox. She was a cool lady that held her own in the heat of battle.

Then a gentleman with a big white beard and a long white ponytail saddled up. It was the legendary Johnny Hughes. We must have talked for about 90 minutes straight which is nearly impossible at these trips. We had never met before, but we had been writing emails back and forth for the last few months. Johnny Hughes had been a contributor to Truckin' and sent me an advance copy of his novel Texas Poker Wisdom. He also dispatched tons of advice to me about life, gambling, and writing. He convinced me to curtail my daily painkiller intake and I've been clean since the trip to the ER in Sydney.

"You only need one drug, one girl, and one gambling vice," Johnny Hughes said. "Anything more than that and you're in trouble."

I dunno how many of you had the chance to chat with Johnny Hughes. Those of you did, got a special treat. Meeting him was one of the highlights of the trip. I didn't expect that we'd spend a lot more time together during the weekend.

I drank heavily through the afternoon before I wandered across the street to meet up with the Poker Prof and Flipchip for dinner at Trevi. It's got tasty Italian food for an affordable price. We talked about our epic year and had a similar conversation that I had with a few folks that had been to the first couple of ones. They said something to the effect that it's bigger and bigger every year. The Prof helped me set up the first private tournament at Sam's Town. We were excited that 30 people showed up. Now, it's not rare to see 100-150 people at these things.

After dinner, we returned to the Geisha Bar and AlCantHang had not left his seat. We drank more, met new bloggers, mingled among cowboys and Brits, listened to the dealertainers, and chatted with the hookers working the early evening shift. One coquette took a liking to Derek. I told him that I saw her the night before. You couldn't miss her since she had a tattoo of the sun surrounding her belly button. Derek knew she was a pro and she knew that he knew that she was a working girl.

"So do you want to be my first customer of the night?" she said. I'm sure she says that to all of the guys.

I played only one hand of Pai Gow on Thursday while I sat in an empty seat which was reserved for Bad Blood. I won the hand and cashed out up $9 for the day. Aside that and the eating prop bet, I was up for the day.

I wandered back to the bar where Iggy was pounding greyhounds in between a couple of cowboys and a group of drunken British boxing hooligans. Bad Iggy made an initial appearance at 12:24am according to my notes when he unleashed a waterfall of hilarious Lenny Bruce-esque social commentary. We needed to get Iggy sober before he ignited a brawl between the cowboys and Brits. Disaster averted.

* * * * *

I'm glad that I went to sleep on Thursday (well really on Friday morning) because I would not sleep until Sunday morning. On Friday, I played 1/2 NL at the IP with the Rooster, StB, Change100, Johnny Hughes, and VinNay. It was a fun table and I had a great time, especially because I walked away a winner. I pushed Johnny Hughes off a pot with A-K, even after I missed horribly. I got to sit next to him for several hours. Not only did I have position, he told me several colorful stories about gambling in Las Vegas in the 1960s.

The Rooster showed up with his luggage and went right to the poker room. I practically felted him when I flopped a set of 6s and sprung a trap. He's a cagey mofo and I managed to win our first battle.

The most profitable hand of the weekend was flopping a set of 4s on a board of 8-4-2 in a seven-way pot. VinNay fired out $60. One horrible player (a term I dubbed many years ago called the cowboyfish) moved all in for $71. I moved all in for another $100+. VinNay went into the tank and reluctantly called. He had 2-2 for bottom set. The cowboyfish held K-8. My set held up and I dragged a big pot.

A couple of hands later, I chopped a $1,000 pot with Q-8. On a board of 8-8-5, I flopped trips and got check-raised on the flop. I called and had a bad feeling that he might have me outkicked with A-8. The turn was a Queen and I was convinced that I had the best hand and hoped that he held A-8. He checked and I bet $100. He moved all in and I quickly called. I tabled the Q-8. So did he. Unreal. We both had the same hand and chopped the $1,000 pot. Oh well.

For dinner on Friday, I headed to a fantastic dinner at Nob Hill with Derek and Change100. The rest of the crew were some of my closest friends (many of which I met for the first time at the original gathering) including AlCantHang, Otis, Dr. Jeff, Marty, Iggy, Maudie, BG, and Bad Blood. I only ate at Nob Hill once before and that's right after Ryan cashed in the 2006 WSOP main event and treated a bunch of us to dinner. That meal with Ryan, Spaceman, April, Otis, Change100, and Wil Wheaton was one of my top 5 of all time. I couldn't wait to return.

The food was magnificent. The conversation was stellar. I mentioned my theory about life being either heaven, hell, or purgatory. Sometimes, I consider that our current life is not a life... rather we're experiencing an afterlife. We're either in heaven, hell, or purgatory depending on the circumstances or your point of view. At that precise moment, I was in heaven, because I always imagined heaven being a large table surrounded by a group of your closest friends and eating a fantastic meal.

At one point, Derek and Dr. Jeff were discussing how many vibrators he had to remove out of the rectums of his ER patients. Fun stuff.

We managed to bet on several things. Otis and I had one prop bet on the O/U on how many people in our party would order the signature item of Michael Mina's menu which was the lobster pot pie. The line was set at 4 and I took the over. I thought I was good because Change100 and Derek were going to order it. Then at the last second, Derek pulled out. The bet was on the line, but Iggy ordered the lobster at the last second to save my ass. I won the over. Ship it.

We also bet on whether or not the bill would be O/U $2400. I took the over against Marty and it was way under. I won a coinflip against Otis on the last digit of the bill. I had evens and he had odds. It was even and I finished the meal a few bucks richer on prop bets.

We headed to the MGM where it was flooded with Brits. In the past, we had taken over the bar in the sports book, but this time, we were outnumbered. I hung out with Kat a bit and she looked elegant. I scribbled down in my notes... "Kat is a sophisticated lady with her outfit." She still grabbed my ass though and I popped half-a-wood.

I drank heavily and hung out with Schecky and Jen Leo. I wandered out into the poker room and I bumped into a fan named Ben from Galveston, TX. He asked for a photograph and Karol took one for us. I thought someone paid him $20 to do it, but it turned out that he was a genuine fan.

I met a couple of other bloggers for the first time like Dave Yestbay, Schaubs, and RecessRampage. They played mix games at a table with LJ and Grubby. Except they didn't know it was Grubby. They just thought that he was one of my friends who I kept coming over to chat. As I walked away, Derek walked over and said, "What's up Grubby?"

I heard LJ shriek, "Ohhhhhhh! You're Grubby!"

My friend Dave was there too. We worked together for Poker News this summer covering the WSOP. I convinced him, Mean Gene, and California Jen to join us at the Excalibur for some drinking and Pai Gow. A group of us headed to the Castle and went right for the Sherwood Forest bar, the scene of the crime three years earlier.

ESPN had the rodeo on and we figured out a way to prop bet on the action. It was one of the events where the cowboys jump off a horse, rope a calf, tackle it to the ground, and tie up the legs. We'd set the O/U for nine seconds and bet that for a good hour.

We spotted Shane Nickerson playing Let It Ride with Texas April and Maigrey. I won a prop bet with Grubbette. She was convinced that Nickerson was in Toy Soldiers. I knew he wasn't and she had confused him with Wil Wheaton. She insisted on betting and I yelled over at Nickerson to settle the bet. He told Grubbette the bad news and she paid me.

A bunch of us played Pai Gow on two different tables. I had Change100, Dave, Mean Gene, and Grubbette at my table, while the G-Vegas crew, Grubby, and Maudie played next to us. Otis was betting heavily. He had gotten comped at the Castle for his excessive Pai Gow binges and he was pushing the action. At one point, he won a sick amount and jumped up while pounding on his chest.

"This is why I'm great at this game!" he screamed.

Me? Not so great. I was even for the session and bet all of my chips on the last hand. I lost $100 on a paltry pair of threes and J-7 for my second hand.

Before we left the Castle around 4:20am, I made plans with Bad Blood to visit a strip club before the blogger tournament on Saturday afternoon.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at www.taopoker.com. All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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