Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vegas Day 6 - Raging Bulls and Snake Eyes

Floating down the strip after my Spearmint Rhino adventures, I encounter a couple of drunken youths weaving in more-or-less the opposite direction.

Often this sort of interaction carries a slight edge, but Bill and Ted, as I immediately label them, aren't so much benign as benevolent, and wear grins as wide as mine.

One raises his hand in greeting. 'Hey man!', he yells, offering me a high-five.

'Dudes!', I reciprocate, with maybe a little more vigour than is polite. Alcohol and adrenalin, a potent combination.

Four hours later, I'm pretty sure they are in the midst of a long, deep sleep.

I, on the other hand, am staring vacantly at a hotel wall. Wondering what the hell to do with myself.

Three hours sleep. It just isn't right.

I drag myself downstairs to the Garden Cafe and feast on orange juice, Denver omelette, and a LOT of coffee.

The pool area is still in the shade. I don't feel like sleeping. There is only one option, and it lies just minutes away.

Around 11am, I take my seat in yet another $1/$2 NLH game in the MGM.

The place is rocking, as the Vikings and Bears battle out a high scoring game. Beer and cocktails flow freely.

Half my fellow players are more interested in the big screen action than the green felt action. Erupting mid-hand with yelps of anguish; cheers of joy; or declamations of officialdom.

One old boy spends most of the game with his head buried in some sort of football statistics book. I gaze around in amusement and allow a warm feeling of contentment to wash over me. What a place to come for a holiday!

Three hours later I cash out $100 down, after some of the most bizarre play I've seen on the trip. Highlights include:

- A huge, extremely quiet guy - who bears a startling resemblance to Evander Holyfield - gets into a big pot after his opponent flops two pair out-of-position and bets it hard.

Evander calls him down with the nut flush draw, and hits on the river. The other guy fires out a blocker. Evander by now is shaking visibly. His shovel-like hands fluttering like butterfly wings - barely able to grasp enough chips to call - yes, CALL - the river bet.

As the cards are tabled an inaudible but clearly detectable tremor goes around the table. Players shift in their seats, glances are exchanged.

Not a word is spoken, as the dealer pushes the chips to a still shaking Evander - who struggles manfully to stack them as the next hand progresses.

- A fat middle-aged guy under the gun makes it $10 to play. In mid-position I look down at pocket nines. What's he got behind? Only $40 more. No implied odds, I muse, and consider folding since surely someone who puts in $10 from $50 UTG must have a real hand?

Then I realise he is watching me intently, and looks like he feels a little sick. I don't play live often enough to have any real talent for making reads, but his play smells as bad as he looks. Unshaven, greasy hair. He may well be wearing last night's clothes.

I make it $50 to discourage anyone else from getting involved.

He shrugs, and throws in his last $40. At the MGM turning cards over when all-in is optional. Most players do it immediately. The others generally agree to do so. It's social, more exciting, just like they do on TV.

He holds his cards in his hand.

'I'm happy to turn them if you want to.', I tell him.

He stares straight ahead. Refuses to even acknowledge me. The dealer spreads a low flop. Inside my heart is pounding. I really want to beat this guy now. The king on the turn is a dagger to the heart. The river irrelevant.

He tosses a solitary K on the table. Throws the other card to the dealer.

'You must show both cards, sir.', chides the dealer, exposing an offsuit ten and pushing the pot his way. Good read. Bad result. Disappointing, but no disaster.

Before he can even stack the chips, he doubles through again with AQ v JT on an QJx flop, against someone who obviously doesn't believe him - and I can see why!

I'm pissed off now, tired, and eager for more sun on my last day, so it's back to the pool for a relaxing afternoon.

After which I return to my room to find a message from Speaker. I've to be at The Venetian at 7pm to register in advance for their 8pm tourney.

Which makes it a bad time for fatigue to finally catch up on me, as I doze off sprawled untidily across the bed.

I awake with a start and grab my watch. 6.45pm. Shit!

A quick shower, superfast change, and after much jinking and weaving through the rush-hour human traffic on The Strip, I arrive in time to join around eighty other players for what is effectively a $180 freezeout.

The Venetian cardroom is in keeping with the rest of the hotel. A thing of beauty.

Opulent, tastefully decorated, auto-shufflers at all tables, and patrolled by some super glamorous cocktail waitresses. All good!

Drawn in the one seat, I settle down and prepare to fold my way to the first break.

I'm harassed, tired, hungry, and seem to have acquired a tremor that would shame an eighty year old.

No fit state to get involved in any high jinks in the early stages of a relatively slow structure.

The guy in the two seat is a different story. Brawny, aggressive, and hyped up. Within two hands he is berating his hapless opponent with a stream of f-bombs after getting outdrawn on the turn.

With a pair of gold boxing gloves dangling from a heavy gold chain, and a New York accent straight out of the movie, I christen him Raging Bull.

Much as I'm unimpressed by his table antics, I do note he flashes top pair as he folds, and is duly rewarded when his victorious opponent unnecessarily shows a turned straight.

The deck co-operates with my initial strategy, and I'm within sight of the break with a diminished stack when I make a monumental error.

The table is a real limp-fest, including the guy directly to my right, who I have surmised through the table chat works for Full Tilt.

He's been in earnest conversation with a few other guys discussing anti-collusion strategies. All of which leads me to assume he has some clue about poker.

On my small blind, it's folded around to his button, and he limps again. I look down at A5s.

Normally I'd raise here, but I keep thinking, surely he must sometimes be trapping?

I complete, and we see a cheap flop.

A5x. Umm, check! Raging Bull bets. Full Tilt guy folds. I decide to get trappy and call.

Blank turn. Check-check. Damn!

River another Ace giving me a full house. I'm now praying Raging Bull has a big ace, or even a smaller full house.

If he does, I get paid. If he doesn't, how to get paid?

I decide to check and give him a chance to 'steal' it.

He checks behind. I'm gutted.

'Awww, you were supposed to bet!', I say pushing my cards forward, but crucially not turning them.

He shows King high, and the dealer sweeps my cards into the muck!!

wtf!? It all happens so fast I barely have time to open my mouth.

'Wait! No. Awww forget it.'

'You had me beat?', he asks. I nod.

'Oh. I thought you meant you should have bluffed cos I would have folded.'

The dealer thinks the same. Another accent/accentuation issue!

It's over so quickly, I'm pretty sure nobody to the right of the dealer even notices.

In retrospect I played the whole hand horribly anyway, and as I rationalise the hand over a coffee during the break, I realise I only lost a few chips, and I was never going to win many, so the net outcome is not totally disastrous.

There was no angle shooting, and it's something that happens to everyone eventually, so it could have been a whole lot worse.

'Antes kick in after the break.', observes Speaker, 'You've only one move now.'

Prescient words.

First hand after the break and I'm in early position and first in with KJo. With an M of under 5 there's only one move indeed. Everyone folds.

I lose my big blind to a raise, before a thing of great beauty occurs in my small blind.

Almost the whole table limps. I look down at A8o, and push. Everyone folds.

Unreal. We are in the home of live poker and nobody knows how to play with a running ante. The full house fiasco fades from memory.

'You don't play a hand for two hours, and now you're all-in twice in ten minutes!', exclaims Raging Bull.

'What did they feed you at the break?', asks an older guy.

'I'm a Celtic fan.', I shrug, gesturing at the growing pile of $25 chips. 'I like the colour.'

I now know what type my next hand needs to be. The dealer obliges within a few minutes with AKo.

I ship them in again. An amused murmur goes around the table. One guy thinks for a while - but not hard enough - and calls me with A3. He misses, and I'm back in the game.

By now Raging Bull and I are buddies. He tells me his gran was from Scotland. Her family name is Auld.

I butter him up with tales of Bertie Auld and the Lisbon Lions.

'A real legend. A true Hall of Fame guy.'

He seems delighted. It's all going well and I'm loving my table image, when to my great disappointment we break, and I'm moved to the right of an old guy who appears to be the chip daddy of the tournament.

First hand in, and my mood is restored when I'm dealt AKs, and manage to get it all-in pre-flop versus the chip daddy. Feeling like a real card rack, until he shows AA and sends me to the rail.

Well, at least I have a chance to grab some dinner now - sometime after 11pm.

I locate a deli-style cafe, and am surprised to see a young boy of around three or four sitting alone, perched on a stool turned to face out to the gaming floor.

He looks sad but not afraid or distressed.

The waitress tells me he's been dumped there unsupervised. She is disgusted, as am I.

Around ten minutes later a glamorous well dressed woman approaches. She gives him a cuddle and they walk off hand-in-hand.

I stare in bemusement. If you can afford to stay at The Venetian, and play at their tables, surely you can afford a childminder?

My mood is lightened as a rotund Uncle Buck type character stumbles into view.

Baggy shorts, socks, sandals, and a florid shirt. He appears to be as steady as the dollar, and entirely out of place amidst the elegance of The Venetian and its glamorous clientele.

I assume he is a survivor from the morning football extravaganza, and watch with amusement as he executes a perfect - but entirely unplanned - circuit around one of the thick columns that punctuate the aisles, and disappears from view, still vertical but almost on his knees.

Soon thereafter Speaker exits the tourney, and we head off some some -EV action.

Pai Gow and blackjack are doing a roaring trade along the central strip, but we find an affordable craps table for me to break my duck on. Another 'to do' ticked off.

The south end of the table comprises a bunch of younger American guys who are having a good time. The north end is a subdued mix of older couples.

We station ourselves to the south. Speaker is soon in the action. I tentatively follow with a few pass line bets.

As my grasp of the action grows, so does my enjoyment.

I'm a physical wreck as my body revolts against the Vegas regime. Rubber legs, churning stomach, quivering hands. To look at me, you'd probably never guess I was having a great time.

A woman from the north end catches my eye. Or rather, her chest catches my eye.

Late thirties/early forties, scraggy dirty blonde hair, in jeans and a white ribbed vest top. She's slim but nothing to write home about.

Except, that is, for a pair of the most outrageous false breasts ever to be displayed on the strip. They appear to be made of stone and superglued in position. Impervious to the lack of a supporting bra.

The pièce de résistance is the presence of nipples so prominent, they threaten to burst through the flimsy material at any second, with all the subtlety of an Alien escaping from stomach.

I can't help but notice. Speaker notices. The younger guys notice. A few points are hit. Tongues are loosened. We share our observations. It's her turn to shoot.

'Man we should have a bet on Snake Eyes', giggles one of our new friends to mild laughter.

Three throws later, she nails two ones. The south end of the table erupts in raucous acclaim, but not profit. Nobody bet it.

Still, I manage to stay in the black and cash out with a very small win from my first ever craps session. Great fun and something I definitely plan to do again.

Speaker and I say our farewells, and I set off on a familiar path. Soon to be interrupted by a familiar conversation.

'Hey sweetie...', in stereo, again. My fourth and fifth hookers of the week.

Within 200 yards, a cab driver adds to the mix. Yelling from his stationary vehicle, 'Hey buddy. I can take you to a strip club where there's no entrance fee.'

Not tempted!

Soon I'm in bed, with two alarms set. Please don't let this be the night I oversleep.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vegas Day 5 - Hard Rock and Hot Bodies

After the epic endeavours of Friday night, I awoke on Saturday feeling queasy, shivery, and drained.

Five hours sleep just wasn't enough, so I ticked off another of my 'to do' list by hitting The Tropicana pool.

Seeking out a quiet corner of the pool complex, I stretched out on a lounger. The sun was strong, the air was hot, and I hoped to get some additional sleep. It wasn't to be.

Instead I spent the time profitably - catching up on phone calls to loved ones and friends - and less profitably - brushing up on some poker literature.

My fellow pool dwellers were feasting on beer and cocktails. I stuck to fruit juice and water. A long night lay ahead of me.

The not so faint scent of stale alcohol sweat alerted me it was time to go.

I returned to my room, giving a wide berth to fellow residents - and my prayers were answered when I found myself in an empty elevator.

The shower was calling, and I was soon thoroughly scrubbed and ready to get going.

The plan was to meet up at The Hard Rock Hotel. I was ahead of schedule.

Cheap blackjack at The Tropicana it was then. I joined an almost empty table, and as the evening progressed all the seats were filled.

The table was dull. One guy was teaching his wife to play, and would slam the table in disgust when the dealer outdrew them. Dude, it's $5 a pop I thought. Take a chill pill.

I lost interest rapidly, and dropped a few dollars. Fortunately for me, things were soon to get a whole lot better.

The bellman looked like he'd be more at home pumping iron on a California beachfront. Blonde, tanned, buff. A ladies man I guessed.

Chatting on his mobile as I approached, he looked up disinterestedly.

'Cab for The Hard Rock please'.

His expression changed. Vacant eyes now gleamed. A broad smile sprang across his face.

'Break some hearts, sir!', he grinned, pocketing my tip as he held the cab door open.

Within minutes I knew exactly where he was coming from.

An MTV fantasy land lay before me. Italian supercars by the kerb, gorgeous girls in abundance, rock memorabilia on all sides.

An immaculate, beautifully lit venue, and a clientele that just oozed money and testosterone.

All contributed to a uniquely charged atmosphere - more club than casino - and an assault on the senses that stripped any semblance of fatigue from my body.

We dined at the Pink Taco. Mexican food - tasty without being over spiced - washed down with mammoth margaritas, served up rapidly and at surprisingly reasonable cost.

A good foundation for the night ahead. A quick detour to the MGM Grand for more blackjack, and we were soon on our way to 'The Rhino'...

At which point I'll draw a discreet veil over proceedings. There are other corners of the net where this tale will no doubt be relayed with infinitely more depth and passion than I can muster, by persons more closely involved than I.

Yet I can't resist two recollections:

The first girl to proposition me was on a loser from the moment she opened her mouth. I'm a big fan of early Steve Martin, and it was The Man With Two Brains all over again. 'Hi, my name's Fran.'

Breasts like enormous, swollen, silicone melons. The voice was the clincher. Screeching, grating. I'm sure dogs in the neighbouring block were looking around in confusion.

She gripped my arm like a drowning swimmer grasping at a piece of driftwood. Thrusting her surgical charms against me like the proverbial weapons of mass distraction, as she gave me the hard sell.

My ears urged me to escape. I made my excuses for the third time, and finally her perseverance waned.

My second observation is this.

When the deliverer of the lapdance is clearly enjoying it as much as the recipient.

When all activity has ceased at the next three tables.

When upwards of a dozen people - guests and employees - are gazing in open mouthed wonder at the unfolding scene.

You KNOW this is the best lapdance ever. And it wasn't even mine!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vegas Day 4 - Cocktail Doll, Claudio, and Red Headed Sluts

I awake on Friday with a head to match the weather. Dull and cloudy.

Four hours sleep last night. Maybe I should cut back on the Vodka and Red Bull?

Another trip to the Studio Cafe - why break a winning streak? - and my legs don't look quite so bad in the mirrored walls. The Vegas sun is working on me - though not always in a good way.

It's my last day at the MGM, and I had planned some time by the pool. Instead, I check out early using the room TV, and make the short trip across the walkway to drop my case at The Tropicana. I'll check in later in the day.

My next destination, a meeting with Cocktail Doll.

I find her easily enough, and intercept her as she serves a tray of drinks to more midday slot addicts.

'Excuse me, miss?'

'I'll be with you in ONE minute, sir.'

The voice is calm but commanding, and tales from her Daily Rounds spring instantly to life. I grin broadly, and take a seat at a machine.

Introductions are made, ice broken, and we chat animatedly for ten or fifteen minutes. I become conscious of time passing, and worry about causing hassles with her management.

She's as lovely as she looks, and I'm pretty sure I maintain eye contact for at least 50% of our time together. The NYNY outfits are a miracle of modern engineering.

Another waitress, Susan, approaches. Dollie introduces us and we chat briefly.

Susan departs, but not before giving Dollie some grief about having to cover her station.

After she's gone, I apologise to Dollie for intruding on her work time.

'Oh that's fine, don't worry about it. She's my best buddy. We were bra shopping at Victoria's Secret together yesterday!'

There's a dull thudding sensation in the side of my head, a rushing sound like waves crashing on a rocky coast. My blood pressure spikes somewhere in the 'imminent stroke' range.

That isn't the sort of thing you should tell a married man whose been away from his wife for four days.

Dollie hopes to get away early, but her boss isn't co-operating. We go our separate ways.

The atmosphere on The Strip has changed noticeably since Thursday.

More groups of young kids, more beers in hand, my first sightings of luminous yard-long margaritas.

It's buzzing, hordes of bodies slow the sidewalk pace to a crawl. The sun burns off the last of the morning clouds. The weekend starts here.

By late afternoon I'm checked in at The Tropicana, having negotiated a mercifully short queue of scarily young people.

The Island Tower room seems well worth an extra $10 per night. Bright, spacious, with a view across the pool area to The Strip ranging from NYNY and MGM Grand via Excalibur to Luxor.

Sure the fittings aren't as fancy as the MGM Grand, but it's clean and airy.

My only quibbles. A shower head located at midget height, and I'm not too sure what to make of the bamboo framed mirror located above the double bed.

I manage a quick nap. Shower, and shave. Poker's number one metrosexual blogger is in town, so I feel I should make an effort.

Miraculously, our meeting plans go perfectly, and after a more leisurely than expected snack at Ballys, we hit the town.

First lesson of the trip. America makes beers other than Budweiser and Miller.

Speaker introduces me to a fine brew that's more Czech Republic than California. By close of play, I'm too drunk to remember the name.

We look for a cheap blackjack table with spare seats. There are none. I can see Speaker is champing at the bit.

Pai Gow? His eyes illuminate. I get a quick rundown of the rules as we search for, and find, a table.

Two things ease my nerves as I spread out $100 on the felt. One, it's very like poker in hand rankings. Two, I'm assured it's OK to ask the dealer.

I get dealt my first hand. Speaker is at the other end of the table, and I find myself looking imploringly to the dealer for assistance, as I struggle to order the cards.

It seems I've got a 9-high and an 8-high hand. That can't be right? Oh, it can.

My first ever hand. The worst possible hand. A sign? I hope not!

My second hand looks way better. Two pair and an Ace-high second hand. Best check with the dealer to make sure I'm reading this right.

She tells me to split the two pair, and gives me a brief explanation why.

As she spreads her cards, she gives me an anguished glance, and I nod knowingly as we push.

'He wanted to keep the two pair', she tells the table, 'and he'd have won if he hadn't taken my advice to split.'

The rest of the table are a friendly bunch, and they sympathise, whilst assuring me the advice was sound. No problem. Here comes the cocktail waitress...

Some time, and a few dollars, later. Paris poker room. $1/2 NLH, but a $300 max buy-in. A VERY drunk table, with plenty chips in play, and wild action. Situation green.

A very drunk ex-soldier is three to my right. He seems to have a deadline to be somewhere else.

The less rowdy, but equally drunk, guy opposite me is due at the airport in a few hours. He appears to be operating on an elastic schedule.

'I need to go in 30 minutes so I can pack, check out, and get a cab to McCarran'.

30 minutes pass.

'I need to go in 30 minutes so I can throw my stuff in a case and get a cab to McCarran.'

Time moves on.

'Awww fuckit, I'll just get a cab from here and stop off at the hotel to grab my stuff.'

A faintly familiar face joins the table. My drink befuddled mind struggles to firm up my initial impression. Eventually it sinks in.

I mouth to Speaker 'Claudio Ranieri'. Speaker nods in agreement.

The more I look, the clearer it becomes. Twin-like looks, close in age, similar mannerisms. Though I doubt the little Italian football manager plays an OESD as aggressively as this guy.

We enlighten him as to his doppelganger. He seems amused.

'Actually you remind me of someone too.'

'Yeah?', I feel a punchline coming.

'Dennis Quaid'. He seems sincere.

'Hah!', I splutter, 'Don't know about that, but if you can sort me out with Meg Ryan...Umm wasn't he an alcoholic, or something?'

Another guy to my right joins in the fun.

'Never mind Meg Ryan. What have you done with Katie Holmes?'

For about 5 seconds, I am truly perplexed. I may be doing my goldfish impression. Finally the wheels turn.

'Huh!? You saying I look like Tom Cruise? Get real. I'm about a foot taller than him.'

He grins delightedly. 'Good answer'

Now I know these guys are truly drunk.

For a few months I've been bothered by a skin infection on my right cheek. It's been bubbling under the surface and flaring up in the form of a nasty shaving rash.

The Vegas sun seems to have driven it to the surface, and my cheek and jaw are glowing like a burns victim. The only Tom Cruise character I'm ever likely to resemble is the guy in Vanilla Sky.

The young guy to my right is, it's fair to say, a little on the well rounded side. He's also one of the quieter guys at the table. Not rude. Probably just not as gassed as the rest of us.

One of his pals wanders over and starts teasing him about something. I hear the word 'bracelet' mentioned.

The guy on the other side quizzes him a little. He tells us he won a $2k WSOP NLH event, and produces said bracelet from his pocket. It all seems very genuine.

'How come you are playing in this game after winning a bracelet event?', asks the other guy.

'I usually play at The Bellagio, but can't be bothered walking across there tonight.'

Seems fair to me.

He tells me his name. I look him up when I get home, and The Hendon Mob has a picture.

It seems Speaker and I did play cash poker with a bracelet winner.

Ben Ponzio took down $600k for that win, but unfortunately I couldn't get any of the chips off him on that Friday night.

Ex-soldier is buying drinks. I know I've had way too much, and decline his offer. Several others are not so wise.

'Bring us your best shots', is the extent of his order.

The waitress obliges with tumblers of sticky red fluid. The drinkers guzzle them down appreciatively, and speculate about the contents.

Cranberry juice and Jägermeister are swiftly identified as key components.

'What's that called?', I ask her.

'Red Headed Slut', she tells me. Ping! A light goes on in the deeper recesses of my head.

'Bring me one of those too! I wanna go home and be able to tell the wife I had a Red Headed Slut in Vegas, without getting slapped.'

She laughs. It proves to be an expensive drink.

Ex-soldier moves all-in UTG for his last $50 in a $3 pot. I make it $150 with AK.

His KJ doesn't improve and it's time to hit the road. The table breaks, leaving me with a small profit and great memories.

Things get blurry. There's a roulette wheel. I'm losing slowly.

A bunch of young English guys join the table. They talk like Arthur Daley's grandchildren, but there's an air of The Football Factory about them too. I don't engage them too deeply in conversation.

They haven't a clue how to bet. The dealer assists them. They correct their errors. The wheel spins. They try to bet again. 'NO more bets!'

They bet again. Wrongly. The dealer assists them, and so it goes on....

Speaker is drinking Blue Moon. A beer with an orange in it. I'm not tempted, but I have lost some more. I try to double through, and lose.

The English boys depart. The Odd Couple arrive. She, young, stunning Scandinavian looking blonde. He, middle aged, Mediterranean looking, and decidedly unstunning.

Speaker heads for his room. I decide to finish my drink, and do.

Blondie asks in an indeterminate accent if Speaker's seat is free now.

Ah, I think. That explains it. Another hooker.

She settles down beside me, and begins to play. Confused am I, but my drink is finished and it's past 6a.m. Time to go.

Hmmm. Under $100 left from $300 invested. Not good. But if I double through twice...

I shove it all on red, and win. The dealer looks to me expectantly.

'Let it ride'

We spin again. The ball clatters, bounces, and lands deliciously, definitively, in red.

Then agonisingly clambers up the wall of the slot, and with seemingly it's last Newton of energy, plops tauntingly into the black neighbour.

'Oh man!' I sigh. Illustrating my despondency with a Swiper the Fox-esque finger click.

Which sends a fully loaded glass of beer sprawling across the felt.

Huh! Where did that come from? The orange amidst the foaming beer tells a story.

Seems Blondie did some reorganising when she claimed her new seat.

Instantaneously the barman springs into action with two great handfuls of paper towels, produced from nowhere it seems.

Within seconds a cocktail waitress is reaching past me with two hand towels.

In 30 seconds the table is clear. I apologise profusely. No offence is taken. It's easy to forgive the guy who just donked off $300 at your table, I guess.

The shock gives me a push in the general direction of sobriety. As dawn breaks over Vegas, I find myself setting a brisk pace down the sidewalk.

Behind me I hear the tell tale clack-clack-clack of stiletto heels following an equally high tempo. Any quicker, and I'd be looking for a cantering horse.

I know what's coming next. Me, if she has her way. The clacking grows closer. Sure enough...

'Hey cutie, you lookin' for company tonight?'

I glance around, without letting the pace drop.

She has the legs of Naomi Campbell, and the body of Venus Williams. I pray she doesn't take rejection badly.

Holding my left hand prominently, I sweeten the pill.

'You're very pretty, but I've already got company.'

Unexpectedly, she smiles, and cantering becomes a trot.

'OK honey, but if you change your mind...'

So ends another Vegas night.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Vegas Day 3 - Carousels, Copperfield, and Crazy Mechanics

After two days on the go, I was looking forward to a long, deep, and drunken sleep.

Instead, I find myself back in the Studio Cafe at 8.30am wolfing down a 'Country Skillet'. Basically scrambled eggs swirled in with various other breakfast goodies, and served atop a mound of hash browns.

Back home it could have passed for a two course lunch. In Vegas it's an average way to start the day.

Made all the stranger by the sight of recently awoken tourists perched in mesmerised silence before a multitude of slot machines - mashing the buttons with one hand, whilst swigging fresh beers with the other.

The over sized breakfast is a calculated risk, as my destination on a beautiful clear, still morning is The Stratosphere. More specifically, the three theme rides perched roughly 900 feet above the Nevada landscape.

Still on my $9 24-hour monorail pass, I'm on a smooth ride back to the north of The Strip. At 10am the attractions are just opening and the queue almost non-existent.

Within minutes I'm whizzing to the top in a super fast lift. Ears popping as the guide delivers her monologue to our pressure dulled ears.

The short journey time is no preparation for the stunning view which awaits us at the top. Looking southwards, the Las Vegas Hilton, Treasure Island, even The Wynn, appear to have all the stature of a Travelodge.

I pause for a few moments to admire the view, before taking on the three rides:

Big Shot: First up is Big Shot. I know what this ride does, but don't know how it will feel.

Now I have the answer. Exhilarated. Firing straight up into the sky with the force of an ejector seat, it feels like we will surely soar beyond the top of the structure and float off into the desert. I consciously avoid looking at the city, and focus on the distant mountains, framed by a flawless blue backdrop.

Beautiful and inspiring.

X-Scream: I'm the first rider of the day, the operator tells me.

'Does that mean it hasn't been tested then?', I ask.

'Bwaaahhhaaa', he laughs heartily, walking away, my question unanswered.

By comparison to Big Shot, X-Scream seems just a little dull. If being hung over a 900 foot drop can be described as dull. It just feels more stolid, reserved. A very well mannered theme ride.

Insanity: Now this is a thrill and a half!! Dangling from the side of The Stratosphere in a carousel that spins and tilts to leave the riders facing an uninterrupted view directly downwards, whilst a pumping rock track blasts out across the observation desk.

'If we go, at least we'll go in style', I shout to the young English guy strapped in beside me.

He looks at me doubtfully. Smiles grimly. Later I chat to his parents.

'You looked like you were having fun.'

'I was!!'

A real buzz. Great excitement, and like X-Scream, the riders are all visible to watchers on the observation desk. Not a time to let the poker face waver!

Fortunately the country skillet remains in my stomach, and I am soon on my way down The Strip for a bit more shopping, and a lazy afternoon.

For some early evening entertainment, I've decided to take in a classic Vegas style show. David Copperfield.

Again, the joys of Vegas. Amble through the hotel, check what's on, pick up a ticket, and be seated an hour later watching a world famous entertainer in action.

For me the entertainment starts before the show even begins. I find myself at a four seat table, inhabited by a woman who is seventy if she's a day, and her two sons, who both seem little older than me.

They are Canadian, friendly as could be, chatty, and sort of amazed to meet someone in Vegas on his own. They're regulars - always mother and sons together - and like to play the slots.

In all their visits they've never before seen a show, and are looking forward to the performance with great anticipation.

I like them a lot, for their polite manner and warm attitude; but their ignorance of the rest of the world is mind blowing. At one point we discuss our respective homelands, and the chattier brother asks me...

'We have polar bears in Manitoba. Have you heard of polar bears?'

'Ummm, I've seen them on the TV.'

'Oh wow. That's great!'

They ignore all the warnings about turning off cell phones or refraining from use of photographic equipment. Whipping out their mobile phones every time Copperfield passes by during his many audience excursions.

At one point chatty brother takes a head shot from around five feet, as the magician passes along the aisle below our table. Copperfield gives him a steely glare, but can't make the phone disappear.

I like the Canadians even more now. Strike one for the gormless tourists. Though I do worry about being huckled out by some hulking security at an opportune moment.

As a natural cynic, I'm not there to worship the legend of David Copperfield.

The arena is relatively small - probably not a bad seat in the house - and I want to figure out his illusions.

I fail. I'm blown away.

He may be 100% cheddar, smarmy - when he picks out the girls from the audience to assist on stage his quality control is high, and he always makes sure he gets a kiss - but as a magician/illusionist, he is bloody good!

The final act of the show entails making around a dozen members of the audience disappear. The method of choosing them simply can't be rigged. They have to be for real.

When the lights go up, they're seated around five yards behind me, and I haven't seen a thing. The only clue is one of his black clad assistants still crouching in the aisle between the disappeared and me.

He gets a sincere and rousing round of applause. I join in with gusto.

After that fun start to the evening its back to the $1/2 tables for more entertainment.

The waiting list grows huge and as one of the first ten names on the list I soon find myself starting a new table, which turns out to be as enjoyable as the previous show.

The real characters are to my left. Not ideal, but at least I don't miss any chat.

Directly next to me is Crazy Mechanic - sleeveless t-shirt, multiple tattoos, backwards baseball cap, a little tuft of beard beneath his bottom lip, and tons of attitude. A real redneck.

He reminds me of the dumb soldier brother in Mars Attacks, but it later transpires he is a mechanic for a motorcycle team. Somewhat incongruously, he is drinking gin and tonic.

I start off disliking him. In a few hours we'll be bumping fists, and mock thieving chips from each other.

To his left is Young Pro - intense, eyes sheathed by a pair of huge gold shades, complaining about having dropped a wad at the Bellagio, and being forced to drop down to the smaller games. He loosens up later.

Next is Married Couple - thirtyish I'd guess. She a classy blonde in a slinky dress, who reminds me of a younger Carol Smillie. He - goatee beard, quiet, well mannered, but not afraid of making a move at a pot.

There's no slowplaying here, so much so that it takes a while for some people to catch on they are together. By the end of the evening Carol is wearing Young Pro's shades, and goatee is reminiscing about how they met at a card game.

The other side of the table is less interesting. Generally filled with middle aged males, with some of the seats being replaced on a regular basis.

I start quite slowly, picking up a few pots and gradually building up my chips as the vodka/Red Bulls work their magic.

Crazy Mechanic is right into the thick of the action. Raising, reraising, and showing a lot of bluffs.

A guy in late position makes it $7 to play into one limper. He is doing this a lot, and enjoying that Crazy Mechanic always complains. The standard raise in the MGM seems to be $10 to $15 dependent on number of limpers.

I look down at QQ and call hoping for Crazy Mechanic to make a play. He folds. Bollocks!

Three to a low flop and I decide to take the lead. Limp/caller folds. $7 Guy smooth calls. I bet big on the turn. He smooth calls.

Now I really don't like this. On the river, the board is ten high and I'm struggling to put him on a hand. I'm hoping for AK or JJ, but he doesn't yet look to have considered folding, though he is hardly exuding strength either.

Still, I reason, I've played this like I flopped a set. He can't put me on queens.

I bet the river unsure whether it's for value, or a blocker. He smooth calls. With Aces. Whoops.

Bang goes a whole chunk of chips. In retrospect, I misplayed that horribly out-of-position. Reraise pre-flop, fold to the re-reraise, and I save a good percentage of my stack.

I top up, and continue. The cocktail waitress is having a good night, the table is friendly, Crazy Mechanic continues to play super-LAG. The atmosphere is great, I'm having a brilliant time, and along comes a real humdinger of a hand.

With three limpers to me in mid-position, I look down at AdQd, and make it $15 to play. Crazy Mechanic and Young Pro both call, one of the limpers calls, and the nice middle aged guy directly to my right announces all-in for around $150 in total!

Shit, that wasn't supposed to happen. I go into the tank. First I try to rationalise the hand. What hand could limp behind two others, then reraise all-in, and why play that way?

The second answer is easier than the first. Crazy Mechanic. It's obvious the guy was aiming to trap him, and now it's me whose fallen into the pit.

What hand could he have? I just can't see him playing AK this way. Nor Aces. Too risky.

It could be a medium pair, but he strikes me as the sort that would try to flop a set with them.

I narrow it down to a probable KK or QQ, and a possible JJ. Anything lesser being unlikely.

Then I count the pot. It's over $200 and it's about $135 to call. I know I'm behind, I know I don't really have odds to call. The whole table is watching me intently. They can see I am agonising.

I turn to the raiser and gesture to Crazy Mechanic:

'You were expecting him to raise. I know you've got me, but hey, it's Vegas. Let's gamble. I call.'

He immediately tables Kings. No flourish. Just a matter of fact motion. I nod and show my hand.

The table leans forward as the dealer peels off a flop - and spreads THREE diamonds on the board. I flopped the nuts.

'Whoa!' yell ten voices in unison. Some more excited than others. The turn pairs the board.

'You're not dead yet.' I tell him.

He looks at me dubiously.

The river is a blank, and I scoop a monster pot. As I toss a red chip to the dealer, I turn to the nice guy.

'That was a terrible call. I feel quite embarrassed.' I grimace.

'I'd have called too.' he tells me, and we shake hands.

An Asian guy fills the seat between Young Pro and Carol Smillie. He's what we call in Glasgow a nippy sweetie. Sour faced, all attitude, and no charm. He makes it clear he's killing time while waiting for a seat in a bigger game.

Within a few hands, Crazy Mechanic calls him out. They exchange words, there's a bit of financial dick swinging, and suddenly it's all sweetness and light again. Crazy Mechanic bumps fists with him, and it's smiles all round.

Finally we run out of replacements for the right hand side of the table, after Carol recovers from a $300 deficit and cleans out another player by flopping a set vs a straight, and hitting the full house.

The table breaks. We've been there the whole time. I started out thinking Crazy Mechanic was a redneck idiot, by the end of the night we're all best buddies. Even nippy sweetie Asian guy.

Young Pro reclaims his shades from Carol, and we go our separate ways.

I count my chips. I'm $13 down for the night, including drinks and tips. It doesn't matter.

Munching on a greatly delayed 'dinner' of hot dog and Sprite, I reflect on a fantastic night. If this is what Vegas it all about, I'm all about Vegas.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vegas Day 2 - Acclimatisation

If there's one activity I can claim to be an expert on, it's sleeping.

Every workday is an effort for me. On weekends I can sleep for 12 hours, and still want an afternoon nap. When flying I've been known to fall asleep before the plane is in the sky, and not awake until the thump of rubber on tarmac as we arrive at our destination.

Thus I was stunned to find myself staring at a clock which told me the time was 7.45am. My sleep had lasted for less than five hours, after over a day of constant activity. I'd not been so surprised since Maurice Johnston signed for Rangers.

I lingered in the room for an hour. Convinced I'd nod off again at any second. It didn't happen.

Surveying my accommodation, I had mixed views on the MGM Grand West Wing concept.

On the plus side, the rooms are luxuriously fitted out. Nice bed linen, BOSE radio/CD, leather seat, big TV with DVD, and a second TV embedded in the bathroom mirror.

All very swish, and ultra modern. It just reeks of an expensive finish.

On the negative side, the rooms are tiny. There's no separate bathroom. Instead a partition and transition from carpet to tiles marks out the bathroom section, where a very powerful shower, and a toilet, are encapsulated in two frosted glass walk-in cubicles.

Throw in a view of an opposing wall from the window, and I was somewhat ambivalent about the concept.

The corridors are depressing. Dark carpet, dark walls, and a low ceiling gave it the air of an open prison. Compensating for this was the short distance from room to designer bar, with the poker room just a few paces beyond.

By 9.30am I was perched at the bar in the Studio Cafe, awaiting commencement of my first proper breakfast of the trip. I'd ordered coffee and water to get me going.

The waitress placed a large glass of a reddish liquid in front of me.

'Errr, what's this?'

'Your cranberry juice.'

Second accent issue of the trip.

Communication difficulties resolved, I tucked into an enormous Grand Breakfast. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, and more. I'm a big fan of US breakfasts!

The guy next to me at the bar engaged me in conversation. He resembled a more animated version of Mr Miyagi, and told me he was an ex-paratrooper.

Together with his wife, they'd retired to Vegas and although they owned an apartment, they spent most of their time residing in hotels using the comps they built up through gaming activities.

'You gotta be careful.' he told me, 'The only game you can beat is poker.'

I nodded sagely.

Returning to my room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length hallway mirrors. I paused and stared for a second.

Many people wish for film star looks. Right now, I resembled Casper the Ghost.

I needed some sun and had some shopping to do, as I was planning to exploit the weak dollar to get a new digital camera.

An oversight on my part had also found me in Vegas minus a watch. Not a good idea. A new timepiece was also on the agenda.

I navigated The Strip from the shops at Planet Hollywood, where I found a decent watch, to The Forum at Caesars Palace where my new camera was purchased.

The scale of Vegas really is astounding. On my previous visit, K and I had made a big effort to get round all the major landmarks, from Mandalay Bay to The Stratosphere, and on to Fremont Street.

Yet as I wandered around The Forum shops - which are ornate, luxurious, and vast - I had no recollection of being there before. Had we missed them, had they changed beyond recognition, or had I simply forgotten? I had no clue.

As I meandered around town, I couldn't help noticing the preoccupation Vegas has with some rather unlikely UK artists.

Spice Girls in The Bellagio was strange but at least proportionate; Human League blasting out onto The Strip from an unidentifiable venue was unexpected; but the icing on the cake was Rick Astley in the MGM. Downright weird.

Entering the MGM to a rather more contemporary soundtrack, I experienced one of those bizarre moments only Vegas can provide.

Dancing on the Centrifuge bar to Christina Aguilera were three bartenders. Edging through the watching tourists was a wedding party - complete with bride in white.

As I stepped aside, a lion roared to my right. Not a taped roar. A real, full blooded roar from one of the two lions being fed in the perspex cage, as another crowd of tourists snapped merrily away.

Dancing bartenders, brides, and lions. I grinned broadly and paused for a moment to absorb the scene.

After dropping off my purchases in my room, I made my first use of the relatively new Las Vegas Monorail.

I've seen some derogatory comments about this system, but to me it was a fantastic resource. A $9 ticket gets unlimited travel for 24 hours, and the trip from MGM to Sahara took only 15 minutes. It seemed extremely well utilised whenever I was on board.

The purpose of my visit to The Sahara was to sample their two theme rides. The Speed rollercoaster, and Cyber Speedway Nascar simulator.

I wasn't too concerned about my hearty breakfast, since I'd done a fair bit of walking since then.

A group of middle aged English guys queued ahead of me, as we awaited the arrival of the Speed carriage.

I settled down in the carriage behind them, eagerly anticipating the ride commencement.

'Fucking hell', I exclaimed, as the carriage suddenly shot forward like a bullet from a gun.

My cheeks felt like they were pinned back to my ears as we hurtled through a succession of twists and into a loop. Pausing momentarily before reversing the original route back to the start.

I staggered off the ride elated but more than a little queasy. The English guys in front all had similar expressions. We were giggling like kids.

In the past I've been on bigger, higher, twistier rides, but I've never experienced one where I still felt like I was waiting for my stomach to catch up with the rest of my body an hour after the ride finished.

Which made it a supremely bad idea to go straight onto the Nascar ride, but it didn't stop me.

In comparison to Speed, Nascar was a bit of a letdown. No one else was driving, and me against the circuit was a bit dull - even if I did manage to spin off once. At least I 'won' a t-shirt.

The plan was to continue onwards to The Stratosphere, but the desert winds were gusting and I could see the rides weren't running, which came as a great relief to the empty space where my stomach used to reside.

Instead I went back to my room for a quick snooze, before hitting up the MGM Poker Room again.

When I got there the place was rocking and I was soon seated at one of many $1/2 NLH tables.

The table was fun, friendly, and wild. I post to play and look down at AKs. So pretty! Making it $10 to play, I'm instantly repopped by an older guy to my left.

Aaargh. 1st hand, no reads, I take a flop, miss completely, and check fold. He tells me he had AA. Maybe he did. Most of his future play does point in that direction.

I then get QQ. Raise up a multitude of callers, c-bet an A9x high flop, and when the board pairs 9s on the turn, the only flop check-caller leads into me, which makes it an easy fold.

Still, it's all good fun. An English dealer joins the table. Pretty soon she is chiding two Hispanic guys who are talking Spanish during a hand.

They've been warned a few times before by other dealers and take it all in good spirits, claiming they've never played before. I don't believe that, but I do believe they aren't taking the game seriously.

The dealer and I are having a good chat about UK matters, and one of the Hispanic guys butts in with the 'English only' warning to us. We all have a good laugh about the accent issues.

One of the Hispanic guys is playing pretty wild. He's in the habit of min re-raising anyone who raises pre-flop. It's working too. People keep calling the reraise then folding on the flop. I resolve not to give him the opportunity to bet me off a flop.

I find AK again and raise. As expected he doubles the bet. I push for roughly $150 in total. He gives me a slightly surprised look, shrugs nonchalantly, and calls.

For a second I'm having one of those 'shit I just ran into a real hand' moments, until he tables AJo. Happy days, as my hand holds up and I'm ahead for the evening.

The table is mostly tourists, but there are obviously a couple of faces more familiar to the dealers. One of whom is a young, pretty brunette girl who gets into a hand with a table newbie sat immediately to my left.

The Newbie is the one bad egg at the table. Terrible player, and whiny with it.

There's some light action on the flop; he gives a free card on the turn; and eventually calls after heavy river action, only to discover his flopped two pair has gone down to the girl's rivered set of Jacks.

He slams the table in disgust, and turns to me.

'Why do I always lose like that!? I've lost so much today, and always on the river.'

I nod sympathetically, whilst thinking if you knew how to bet, she'd never have got there. For the rest of his time at the table, I studiously ignore him.

Cashing out ahead, I make my way to the Crazy Horse Paris burlesque show. The joy of being in Vegas is being able to make last minute decisions on the most outlandish range of entertainment options!

I was glad not to be seated at a table with any particularly lovey-dovey couples. Could have got a bit embarrassing!

The show itself was fun without being wild. The girls are amazing - I doubt there's a finer collection of (naturally) perky boobs and bums in Vegas - and it's all very stylishly lit and tastefully choreographed, but it's hardly raunchy.

'More flirty than dirty', was how I described it to K later.

I presume the MGM management have certain ideas about the image of their establishment that necessitates keeping the sexy stuff at a rather anodyne level.

It didn't help that the crowd was somewhat unresponsive. Mostly sitting back and exuding a 'here we are now, entertain us' vibe. The grand finale was a real showstopper, but it got little more than polite applause.

After the show I headed back to Centrifuge for a few drinks. The waiting lists in the poker room were huge, and I figured I'd be ready for bed before a seat was available.

First full day in Vegas complete. Sun, cheap gadgets, thrill rides, booze, poker, and naked girls. Not a bad way to start the holiday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vegas Day 1 - Direct Flights, Delays, and Donkeys

I'm a fan of flying and travel. So much so, that when it comes to planning a trip, the fun starts with finding the right flights and hotels.

For trips to the USA from Glasgow, the preferred option has to be Continental, since they go directly to Newark, thus bypassing the hassle of an additional stop over in London, Amsterdam, or Iceland, and the annoyance in many cases of flying in the wrong direction for 90 minutes, only to then retrace the same route, and find myself flying over Scotland again on the westbound leg.

The problem with this, is that lots of other people hold the same view, which means the flights are generally popular i.e. more expensive. Thus I was delighted to eventually grab a deal that was comparable with the two-stoppers offered by American Airlines, Northwest, etc. £403 (~$810) return from Glasgow to Las Vegas. I was ahead before I even began.

This planning saw me and K at Glasgow Airport last Tuesday morning around 7am. In good time for the 9am departure. We passed some time with a coffee, before saying our fond farewells. Much as I was looking forward to the trip, and a week away from work, I wasn't looking forward to a week without my family.

The flight to Newark was ready to leave in good time, which left only a short period for some people watching on the international pier.

It's late in the season for holidays to the Mediterranean sun, but even so, two flights to Palma were due for departure, and there were more than a few pints of lager being sunk at 8am.

I settled down to fill in my immigration and customs forms, only to hit the first snag of the trip. The instructions were to complete in pen. I had only a pencil.

No problem. There's a WH Smith 20 yards away. Which doesn't sell pens. ffs.

Around now, I noticed a minor panic occurring within earshot. An extended family unit was in disarray. The plane at gate 33 had gone; they'd missed their flight.

Except they hadn't, as the group were too drunk/stupid to realise the departure of the second Palma flight was from gate 31. In direct line of sight, but at the furthest point in the pier.

Eventually it sunk in, and as the 'last call' tannoy messages grew sterner, they sped off down the corridor. All, save for a grotesquely fat woman, who waddled past at a glacial pace. Wheezing like an asthmatic seal. Her stubby arms pumping frantically as she tried to work up a pace.

I feared for the health of whoever was wedged beside her sweaty carcass on that three hour flight.

Soon enough my flight was called, and I soon found myself on a packed 757 winging across the Atlantic.

Time considerations meant I'd eaten little, so was looking forward to the airline 'breakfast'. This transpired to be the classic 'beef or chicken' option.

Roast beef and mashed potatoes isn't my ideal breakfast, but it was tasty enough, and certainly filled the gap.

My travel companions were a middle aged Scots couple, headed to their annual 28 days in Tampa. Not a bad life! The guy worked in the military sector, which made for an interesting chat, and they had a pen to loan me, so all was good.

It got better at Newark, as I sailed through Immigration and Customs in around fifteen minutes. Well short of the two hours I'd been briefed to expect on a couple of online forums.

After re-checking my case for the flight to Las Vegas I headed for the security checks, which took only another 15 minutes.

No great hardship, though the TSA staff at Newark are probably the second most sullen people in the airport. The checks had an air of chaos, with some agents waving people forward, others gesturing to the back. Some shouting, others apparently oblivious to the travellers around them.

My swift journey through the various checks was in one way a bad-beat, since I'd planned in sufficient time to ensure I made my connection, and now found myself in the departure area, an hour before an EARLIER flight was due to depart.

I decided to chance my arm with customer services. Approaching the desk I explained my desire to switch to the earlier flight. The lady behind the computer eyed me with a vacant, uncomprehending gaze.

My first accent issue. I explained again. Slowly. Precisely. With much reinforcement through hand gestures.

She tapped at her keyboard for a few seconds. An aura of pure disinterest emanating from her very soul. 'Eeeees full.'

The conversation was over. I thanked her for her 'assistance' and headed to the Garden State diner for a distinctly average tasting, but gargantuan in scale, pastrami and corned beef melt.

A big lunch was to prove a fortuitous choice, as the day progressed.

Newark is a slightly strange airport. Bright and airy, lots of space, a good range of eating options, and comfortable seats at the gates. Yet lacking in options to amuse anyone caught there for a lengthy period of time.

As I wandered around, I was surprised to see the queue at one of the ladies restrooms stretch onto the concourse, despite the airport appearing to be less than packed. The queue seemed more commensurate with a club at 3am than a modern hub airport.

Arriving at the departure gate, my heart sank as a two hour delay was flagged up for my flight. It sank further as the delay grew to three hours, and the bad news spread across a range of flights. Bad weather to the west was shutting out a number of destinations, including Vegas.

My people watching urges were sated by the arrival of a group of three media/PR types who were in loud despair at the hole blown in their schedule by the weather.

They were making great play of their missing some important meeting, and their voices seemed to be on a bizarre volume control setting, which peaked ostentatiously at each mention of their itinerary, or cutting edge MO.

'We'll call you when we get there and CHECK IN AT THE BELLAGIO'

'Yeah after we shoot the video AT THE VENETIAN, I'll head back to my room and POST IT ON YOU TUBE'

PR1 was a camp guy with confused fashion sense - suit by Wall Street, shirt by Saturday Night Fever.

PR2 was a foxy brunette in perilous heels and pencil skirt, who took the sexy executive vibe to it's logical conclusion with a pair of designer glasses, after firing up her MacBook.

PR3 was another girl, though more chunky than foxy. This hadn't deterred her from an outfit that was greatly more revealing than PR2, and about 100 times less sexy.

100 became 1000 when she sat down directly opposite me, and performed the first of many 'movie star' leg crosses - her skirt riding up to reveal not a Sharon Stone approach to underwear (thankfully!), but a post-pregnancy Katie Holmes style bodyshaping garment.

It was a car crash flash. I couldn't help but look, as her retreating skirt revealed what appeared to be a pair of exploding sausages beneath. Eventually, I had to move, and went off to acquire a banana and raspberry smoothie. This wasn't to be the last thought of Katie on this trip.

Finally we were boarded and ready to go. Except we weren't. The pilot explained that all the 'western gates' were closed due to weather, so he was planning to take a 'north gate' up around Detroit to skirt the troublesome front. This would add an hour to the flight time, but at least we'd get away.

As we neared the end of the taxiway, alarms bells went off in my head. We exited from the queue of departing aircraft, crossing the runway to park alone on the opposite taxiway. The pilot returned to the intercom. The north gates had just shut down, so we'd be turning off the engines and awaiting the passing of the bad weather.

For roughly an hour we had a planespotters dream view of a succession of 747, 777, A340, etc. taking off to head eastwards across the Atlantic. The plane shook with each surging roar of jet engines.

I nodded off. The sole comfort of the flight being the low occupancy rate meant I had three seats to myself.

My thoughts darkened as I recalled Ms 'Eees Full' from earlier. Had the earlier flight really been full? Could I be in Vegas by now?

Later these suspicions were allayed as I overheard another passenger complaining on her cellphone about going through the same conversation as I - though probably without the hand gestures.

I managed to sleep for a good part of the flight, and my spirits soared as the plane descended and the bright lights of The Strip hove into view.

Awaiting disembarkation, I chatted to the travellers behind me, a couple of off-duty cabin crew who were in town for some partying.

The girl was in town for one night only, so the delay had put a real dent in her evening. The guy was a Vegas local, back for ten days, but even so he was ready to hit the town straight away.

He told me he loved Glasgow as a stopover, and his favourite bar was The Polo Lounge, which made me smile as it reinforces just about every stereotype you'd care to apply to male cabin crew.

They were chatty and friendly, like most of the Continental cabin crew, and we all agreed the Vegas skyline had remarkable restorative powers after a bad flight.

The MGM Grand check-in at McCarran was closed due to the late hour, so I grabbed my case and headed for the cab rank.

Soon I was being regaled by a wiry Latino cab driver - who told me he was a boxer - with tales of his half-Scottish girlfriend.

I smiled indulgently, assuming I was getting some tourist patter, though my scepticism faded as he waxed lyrical on the merits of her pale skin, freckles, and reddish hair. This guy needn't box, he's a world class bullshitter, I thought, as his phone rang.

'Hey baby, I got a Scottish guy in my cab. I'm taking him to the MGM.', he yelled into the phone, as he activated the loud speaker.

'Omigod! I'm half-Scottish!', yelled an American female voice.

Only in Vegas!

I got a great deal at the MGM Grand via Fatwallet. $225 for three nights, inclusive of some drinks and entertainment credits.

The check in queue was mercifully short, and I was soon allocated a 'West Wing' room on the 5th floor.

I trekked to the room, dragging my case behind me, and slid the plastic key into the slot. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened.

From inside the room I detected the sound of a TV, and a female voice, unaware of my presence and in conversation with another occupant.

I contemplated my options. Knock the door, explain my predicament, and get them to call reception and sort it out, or traipse back to reception myself and find out what the hell was happening.

With visions of being shot on my first night, or busted on an attempted rape charge, I took the second option. This never happens to James Bond, I thought, as I descended in the lift.

'Oh, you went to the 5th floor.', deadpanned a different receptionist.

'Well it says five on the card?'

'She meant to write a three' tutted the receptionist, as she corrected the original numeral.

Seems I wasn't the only one having a bad day.

Finally at around midnight, after being on-the-go for over 26 hours, I entered my room in Vegas. I was tired, hungry, and sweaty.

There was only one thing to do. I showered, changed, collected my players card from the desk in the casino, and headed for the poker room to break myself in gently.

'Have you got any small limit games going?'

'We have a 3/6 table with a seat open.'

'Perfect', I smiled.

An hour later I was slightly regretting my decision. The table was dull, with a definite lack of social chat, and I'd had no cards at all to play.

My only consolation, most of the players were rubbish. It was a total loose-passive limpathon.

Finally, I looked down at AQo. Two players limped, I raised, and the only two players I'd labelled as half-decent both cold called with position on me. My heart sank and I immediately discounted trying to win this pot with aggression if I missed the flop - which was AQ3 rainbow.

So, not a miss. Of course I bet when checked to, both to my left called, but the pattern took an unexpected twist when I got check-raised by a dull guy in the BB who'd been haemorrhaging chips since I sat down, and communicating only with a friend who was railing him.

Three betting was automatic, which drove everyone else out of the pot, and he check-called me down, and mucked on the river, leaving me to rake a healthy pot.

Soon after, the last of his chips were gone, and he departed in silence.

By about 3am little else of interest had happened, and I was finally succumbing to fatigue. Forgetting when my blinds were due, losing track of the action, and taking an age to read the board.

Calling it quits I liberated a rack from a short-stack and cashed in about $60 to the good. A pleasant way to end a very long day.

Navigating my way through the corridor between poker room and hotel room, I chanced upon a couple of young black girls loitering outside the West Wing bar.

'Hey cutie!', they called in unison.

'Sorry girls.', I motioned apologetically. Rapidly deducing their company would cost a lot more than $60, as I detoured around them and headed for the solitude of my room, and what was sure to be a long, deep sleep.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Did Survive

Made it back with a thankfully flawless return trip.

Bankroll slightly depleted.
Liver somewhat distended.
Sleep pattern greatly distorted.

Back to work in sixteen hours. Full report to follow, including...

Journey from hell.
Donkey calls win monster pots.
Staring into the abyss at 10am.
Drunken poker with a bracelet winner.
Have you heard of polar bears?
What I did with Katie Holmes.
Only in Vegas.
Best lapdance. Ever.
Spillage with Swiper the Fox.
Who thinks I'm a cutie.
Vegas on three hours sleep and one meal a day.

Monday, October 08, 2007


As a pasty faced Scotsman, who can barely recall what warm sun feels like on his back, I have to say that this...

gives me almost as much pleasure as this...

Eleven hours to take off.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Vegas Resolutions

The last Div trip to Vegas was a relatively cultured affair.

Sightseeing, Grand Canyon, shows. We did fit in some gambling and drinking, but hardly on an epic scale.

This time, it's gonna be different...

Not that I'm planning to spend the entire time in a drunken stupor. I do have some resolutions to try to give a little order to the time.

Dos -

Play lots of poker. Not just No-Limit Hold Em. Try to fit in at least one or two other live variants for the first time.

Rollercoasters/theme rides. Last time I made it to NYNY. This time I'm aiming to catch up on the ones I missed. Especially the ones at the top of The Stratosphere. Adrenaline junkie am I.

Get out-and-about. I fancy a visit to The Gambler's Book Shop.

Learn to play craps. Speaker has promised to teach me. This may impact negatively on Don't no. 1.

Eat reasonably well. Man cannot live on JD and coke alone.

Chill. I'm there to have fun. If some loon cracks my Aces with 83 sooted, I'll smile, reload, have another drink, and tip the waitress a little extra for karma.

Don't -

Go busto! Obviously.

Spend every minute at the poker table.

Come home with a 'poker player tan'. I've booked two hotels with decent pools for a reason.

Miss any flights. Fly 5500 miles on Monday/Tuesday. Back at work on Wednesday. Any delays will be a recipe for disaster.

Get drunk and wake up married to Britney.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

That's Why They're Champions

I've got a lot of time for people who conduct themselves with dignity, and display some self respect in their actions.

So, hats off to Adriano Galliani, Carlo Ancelotti, Clarence Seedorf, and AC Milan in general - with the obvious exception of diddy Dida - for their reaction to last night's fiasco at the Celtic game.

It's not as if the three points are insignificant to them. With Shakhtar Donetsk winning again, the group is wide open.

I'm sure Milan will expect to qualify, but it's not guaranteed yet. For Milan to be so forceful about their lack of desire for a replay or points deduction for Celtic shows a degree of class that many in football wouldn't even aspire to.

That's the joy of being in the Champions League and competing with the true giants of the game. It takes more than great players to make a club great.

As for the arsehole who tangled with Dida, the papers are reporting that he has handed himself in to the police. Possibly the wisest thing he's done in a long time since he will probably be safer in a cell, than on the streets at present.

I'd love to know what the police and stewarding bill was for last night, and whether Celtic will be getting a discount.

What a farce that someone can meander across the pitch, get involved with the opposition keeper, then melt into the crowd without a single uniform laying a finger on him.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Only Two...

...and she already drives better than Britney.

September Summary

Had a bit of an 'oh shit!' moment this afternoon, when I actually realised it was October.

This should be a good thing, since it means only eight days til Vegas, but alas was also a bad thing, since it meant I was due to write up the monthly summary post.

The final number wasn't quite as bad as I had imagined. I'm down around $800 for the month at the tables. When the rakeback arrives I'd guess the nett loss will be under $700.

Hardly ideal, and it really puts a poor slant on the already lagging annual figure, but better to be a little ahead over all, than a lot down.

Trying to remain positive since I'm well aware there are worse fates in life than a few bad beats at the table.