Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vegas Poker Scene--November 2017 Ante Up Column

Here's my newest column for Ante Up.   However, even at this late date, over half-way thru the month, the individual columns for the November of Ante-Up have not been posted on the Ante-Up website.  Just between you and me, it's kind of annoying and is pissing me off a bit.  But I want to share the content with you, so what I am doing is re-printing the original column as I submitted it to my editor at the beginning of October.  I put a lot of effort into that column, as I do all of them, and I want you all to get a chance to read it if you are so inclined.

Thus, if you read the actual magazine, the text may differ somewhat from what you see below.  Usually my editor does what an editor is paid to do and edits my column, so this is not a 100% replica of my column as it appears now in your local poker room.

You can find a PDF of the entire issue at this link here (scroll down to where it says "latest issue.") If you want, you can read it there and see how much has been changed. I don't have time for that. My column is on page 14.  Enjoy!


MGM is making a big push to bring back limit and spread limit games to its room.  They've introduced many promos specific to their $2-$4, $3-$6 and $4-$8 limit games as well as their $2-$6 spread limit game. All these games have a $40 minimum buy-in. These promos include:

$60 for $40: The first 20 players that buy into a limit game for $40 or more between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and play at least two hours receive $20.

Free $50: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, all players that log a minimum of six hours of limit poker receive $50.  Players may qualify up to two times a day.

Aces Cracked:  Lose with red Aces between Noon and 2 p.m. and receive $500.  Lose with black Aces between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. and receive $500.

Paid Parking: Play 6 hours of limit poker in a calendar day and receive $12 towards parking.

Kings of the Hill:  Hit quads in order (from Aces to Kings) and receive progressive jackpot that starts at $200.  Each week $2,600 is added to the prize pool, spread out over the quads that have not been hit yet.  This promo runs daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. 

Cash Back: The top 10 players with the most hours in limit games during the month receive cash back, first place is $1K, minimum prize is $200.

Players receive $2 per hour in comps while playing limit or spread limit.

Additionally, all limit games are eligible for the room's other promotions.

ARIA: The $240 No Limit Hold'em tournaments the room offers at 11 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays now feature the "Big Blind Ante" format that the room first introduced in its high roller events. The big blind posts a single ante for the entire table, allowing the dealer to get out more hands each level.

Paul Campbell, Aria's tournament manager, said this about the innovative format: "Based on positive feedback from our players in the High Roller events using a Big Blind Ante format, we have been using a similar format in the weekend $240's. It leads to a higher percentage of hands dealt, which is a better product and value for the players.  The response has been overwhelmingly favorable to the point where players are requesting it implemented in all ARIA poker tournaments.  Once more poker players experience the benefits of this structure, we believe there will be a push to make this (or something similar) industry standard.”

The purple jacket for winning Aria's Poker Masters series in September went to Germany's Steffen Sontheimer, who won two of the five events outright and final tabled in two others.  He won the final $100K event and took home $2,733,000 for his effort.  New York's Bryn Kenney finished second in the series and earned $1,085,000 while Germany's Fedor Holz claimed $1,054,000 for his third place finish.

SOUTH POINT: The room is adding progressive guarantees to its tournaments.  The 10 a.m. $75 tournament features a $900 guarantee.  For each day the guarantee is met, the guarantee increases by $50.  If the guarantee is not met, the next day the guarantee reverts to $900.  The 6 p.m. $75 also features a $900 guarantee progressing under the same rules.

The $100 6 p.m. Wednesday night tourney starts with a $3K guarantee that increases $100 each time the guarantee is met, and resets to $3K after it misses.  The $100 6 p.m. Sunday night tournament starts out with a $5K guarantee and increases $100 each time it hits.

STRATOSPHERE:  The football promo is for three games on Sunday, plus Monday and Thursday night games.  The high hand each quarter wins $50.

ORLEANS: For Sunday, Monday and Thursday night football games, as well as the Sunday morning game, seat drawings are held after every score. Field goals are worth $50, touchdowns by the offense are worth $100 and touchdowns by the defense or special teams are $150.  Safeties are also worth $150.  The table of the drawing winner also gets a $50 splash pot. For the Monday and Thursday night games, drawings are held every 15 minutes for two hours before and two hours after the game to select a random table for a $25 splash pot.

MIRAGE: Random seat drawings are held four times per game during Monday, Thursday, Sunday night football games and Sunday morning and afternoon games. The first drawing is $50, 2nd is $75, 3rd is $125 and 4th is $150. The player to the left and to the right to the winner also receives a cash prize.

BELLAGIO:  The Five Diamond World Poker Classic takes place November 24 - December 10,  The $11,400 main event, which has six playing days, starts December 5.  There are four $25K high roller throughout the series. An $1,100 Seniors tournament runs November 27.  A $1,100 tag team event will be held November 28. 

PLANET HOLLYWOOD: The WSOP circuit comes through Planet Hollywood November 9  - November 20. The $1,675 main event begins November 16 and has a $1M guarantee.  A $2,200 high roller runs November 19.

VENETIAN:  December Extravaganza will be held December 4 – 11.  A $3,500 NLH event with a $500K guarantee begins December 8.

New Years Extravaganza runs December 21 – January 7. The biggest event is a $400 Monster Stack tournament with a $250K guarantee.  The first of its three starting flights is on December 27.  The starting stack is 30K and the levels start at 30-minutes and then go to 40-minutes on day 2.

The main event for DSE 3.5 completed in September with Melvin Wiener of Los Angeles taking home $52K for first.  Karel Kratochvil from the Czech Republic earned $32K for second and Oluwashola Akindele from Las Vegas received $23K for third.  The event had 188 players and a prize pool of $200K with the Venetian adding $16,700 to meet the guarantee.

SANTA FE STATION:  A new weekly $50 Omaha 8 tourney runs Thursdays at 10 a.m.  Players start with 6K in chips and there is a single $20 rebuy for 4K chips. The levels are 20-minutes.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Queens of Ventura

My most recent session at Player's Casino in Ventura was short and successful.  Timing is everything in life and in poker and my timing was excellent on this day.

I arrived before 1PM and had to wait for a seat in the 2/3 game to open up.  Just as my name reached  #1 on the waiting list, they called a new game.  My preferred seat was already taken so I had to settle for seat 7 from where it's a little hard for me to see everything, but it worked out just fine.  I bought in for $300 as usual.

I didn't recognize anyone at the table except for Pete Peters. Well, it wasn't really him, just someone who looked (to me, anyway) a lot like him—or actually an older version of PPP, hair a little grayer.  He looked enough like him that I surreptitiously took a pic of him and sent it to PPP for confirmation.  But he failed to see the resemblance.  I could post the pic here but I don't want to get in trouble. Besides, the dude was showing zero cleavage so why would I post a pic like that?

Anyway, even though I couldn't recall seeing any of the other players before, it was obvious from the fact that a lot of them knew each other and the dealers knew their names that there were a lot of regulars at the table.  I've been playing in this room fairly regularly for a few years now, and it always surprises me that there are so many regs I've never seen before—it is, after all, a small room.  But these new-to-me regs keep coming out of the woodwork.

The first twenty-minutes or so of the game I played exactly zero hands and was the very definition of "card-dead."  Finally I got Ace-Queen off in the hijack seat.  It folded to me so I made it $12 and was called by the button and one of the blinds.  The flop was low and I tried a c-bet of $20.  But the button called.  There were two more blanks (the river put a pair of 4's out there) and I checked and he checked behind.  He showed Ace-King to out-kick me.

A good while later I had pocket Aces.  There were a number of limps so I made it $20 and got one taker.  The flop was King-high and I bet $30 and didn't get a call.

The seat on my immediate right opened up and we could hear them calling "Alan" to the 2/3 game.  Of course, Alan wasn't the name them called, they called him by his real name, presumably.  But I need a name for him and I'm using "Alan" because, among other reasons, I've never use Alan as a pseudonym before, which is surprising since it is such a common name.  Anyway, one or two of the players in the game reacted to the likelihood of Alan joining our table. I don't remember the exact words but it was something like, "This game is about to change," and it was clear they meant it was going to get wilder.  I should point out that Alan's real name is not a particularly common name so it was easy for the players to assume the Alan that was coming to the table was very likely to be the Alan that was going to make the game a little crazy.  So I was glad that Alan would be sitting on my immediate right and not my left.

Alan said hello to the players who recognized his name and did indeed immediately change the entire dynamic of the table.  He proceeded to play extremely aggressively, shove quite a bit, raise and three-bet big—and bleed chips.  He was stuck like $500-$600 before you knew it.   This didn't affect me too much because I was still card-dead and folding one garbage hand after another.  Before Alan showed up, I was able to play a few speculative hands and was down about $80, I guess.  But I never got anything close to playable once Alan sat down and made it expensive to see a flop.

I guess I should mention that sometime after this big hand I'm about to get to, Alan won a few pots, built up his stack and commented that once he was back to even he was going to play "normal"—or at least differently than he was playing.  In other words, he was playing crazy in order to become unstuck.  Gee, do we know anyone else who plays like that?

Anyway, finally, under-the-gun, I got a hand to play.  It was pocket Queens.  Only my second pocket pair of the day.  I opened to $15.  I had played so few hands I was half-expecting everyone (even Alan) to fold.  But the guy on my immediate left called, and then two more players called before it even got to Alan.  Yikes!  Then Alan announced "raise" and made it $60.

What to do?  If it was just heads up vs Alan, I would have had no problem getting it all in preflop with my Queens.  I was most likely ahead of him.  But the three players who called my $15?  That was scary.  I mean, they had all witnessed Alan's play and it was certainly possible—even probable?—that one of them was sitting on a really big hand and just waiting for Alan to raise so they could shove.  I figured that with three callers to my $15, there was a decent chance my Queens weren't the best hand.

I called and wondered if anyone was going to re-raise.  But no one did.  But everyone who called the $15 called the $60 except one guy who could only go all-in for $49.  So we were looking at a huge pot preflop.

The flop was low, 10-high, two clubs.  I did have the Queen of clubs, for what that was worth.  Alan checked, somewhat surprisingly so.  I checked too because I assumed it was likely that flop hit someone (a set, or two pair, or a club draw).  But no one bet.  The turn was a third club and I thought surely someone had two clubs in their hand.  But Alan checked, as did I—as did everyone (except for the guy who was all-in, he didn't have to check).  The river was another blank, and not a club. Not sure how happy I'd be with a Queen-high flush anyway. 

This time Alan did not check.  He bet $70.  That was certainly an odd bet. Very small for the size of the pot. Based on how he had played until this hand, I had to assume my Queens were beating him—or he would have bet more.  And sooner.  Unless the river card (a Jack, I think) was the one he was waiting for.  But then he would have bet more. 

But I was thinking about the players behind me and it seemed very possible that one of them had caught something good by now.  After all, they all had hands that were worth $60 preflop, right?

So I just called and waited to see what happened.  One by one, they folded—except for the guy who was all-in, of course.  Alan and I had showed for the side pot. He had pocket 9's...unimproved pocket 9's.  My unimproved Queens were better.  And the all-in guy just mucked without showing.

Wow.  It was like a $420 pot.  Won with pocket Queens—unimproved.  I'm not sure I liked the way I played it, but with so many players in, I dunno what  else I should have done.  Do you?

Alan congratulated me on the hand.  He wasn't upset, at least he wasn't upset with me.  He said "nice hand," "good hand," to me a few times, and at least once or twice it didn't even sound sarcastic.  He did wonder aloud if maybe he should have bet bigger—or shoved (he had me covered at this point)—or just saved his money and checked.  He even asked me if I would have called a shoved.  I just laughed and said, "I don't know."

I counted my chips and had in excess of $550.  Then I resumed my card-deadedness.  Meanwhile, the dynamic of the table changed again.  To some degree, Alan had been making good on his promise to play "normal."  But I should point out that his definition of normal is not what you or I would consider normal.  But then the player two to his right won some chips from him, and Alan took it personally.  The player who won those chips was, according to Alan, a doctor.  At least he was referring to him as a doctor, I can't actually say for a fact that he was doctor.  I never saw him take a stethoscope to anyone.  But Alan began playing back against the Doc and the Doc returned the favor.  Almost anytime Doc entered a pot, Alan would raise.  Doc might raise back but if not, would always call.  For awhile the action was so crazy I wondered if I should just sit back, watch the carnage and wait for Aces.

But I didn't really have to worry because I never got another decent starting hand. Not even close.  After a few orbits, I was the big blind with 9-6 offsuit.  Doc folded so Alan just completed from the small blind.  I checked behind.  I think it was 4 or 5 of us seeing the flop, which came Queen-8-7, two spades.  It checked around.  The river was the 5 of clubs, giving me the nut straight.  I led out for $10, got a call, then a lady who had just come to that table made it $20.  That got a call and Alan folded.  I actually recognized this woman as someone I'd played with there before, but couldn't really remember anything about how she played.  I made it $65, the person who called my $10 folded, she called, the other player folded.

The river was the Ace of spades, which I didn't much like.  Now there were three spades on the board.  I played it safe and checked, and she checked behind.  She had Jack-9 (the Jack was a spade).  Well, I didn't like the Ace of spades but it was a helluva lot better than a 10!

This Many Chips

When I finished stacking I was now sitting behind about $635.  And so after a few more orbits, again totally card-dead, I racked up and called it a day.  The guy on my left said something about just playing that one hand.  Guess he forgot about my straight.  Alan said, "Good hand with the Queens, well played."  I just said, "Yeah, the ladies were good to me today.  Usually they aren't—either in poker or in life."

But what was really good was being in the right place at the right time when a maniac came to the table.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Last Binion's Tournament (Part 3)

This is the third of three parts.  Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.  And again, we pick up right where we left off.

Level 14 (1K/3K/6K) $239K.  And then....I went card dead, at least for the early part of the (40-minute) level.  That last level had obviously been a good one for me and now the poker gods were balancing things out.  I got almost nothing to play.  When I tried to make a move, either Mike (short stacked but still tough) or especially Cliff would make my life hell.  One of them would always call me—unless they three-bet me.  Usually it was Cliff.  I swear, there was a long stretch where he called every single time I made a raise. If I checked the flop, he bet.  If I checked the turn, he bet.  If I bet, he'd call or raise.  And I had too many chips to just shove with—I had to play poker!  At one point, I shouted across the table, after Cliff called me again, "You know, you're allowed to fold if I bet."  He was a really tough player.

But I did finally get pocket Aces in my small blind.  There was a raise or maybe just a limp and I added $18K to my small blind.  Of course Cliff called.  There was a Jack-high flop and I put out a pot-sized pot.  Cliff folded. 

Later I got Aces again.  I opened to $15K and Mike called.  The flop was Ace-Queen-x, two diamonds.  I bet $25K and he folded.

I opened to $15K with Ace-9 of spades. Cliff called.  I totally whiffed.  I checked, he bet $25K and I had to fold.  Typical hand against Cliff.  If I had c-bet he would have called and I'd have lost more chips.

After one limp, I made it $18K from the small blind with pocket 10's and didn't get a call. 

Last hand of the level I had Queen-Jack off in early position and opened to $15K and took it. 

Level 15 (1K/4K/8K) $280K.  We were now playing 60-minute levels. 

I opened to $20K with Ace-Jack of diamonds and Mike called.  I totally whiffed the flop and tried a $30K c-bet.  But Mike shoved and I had to fold.  He showed pocket 8's (and also an open-ender, as it happened).

Now, I didn't keep good track of the bust outs.  When we first made the final table, no one busted for a long time.  Whenever ever anyone was all-in at risk, they survived.  But eventually, a couple of players busted out and we were down to eight, and remember they were paying seven. We played a few orbits with eight and then Mike popped up with, "Should we consider paying the bubble?  I mean, we've all played so long, I'd hate to think one of us would leave with nothing." And he admitted it was somewhat self-serving since he was one of the shorter stacks—after being one of the chip leaders for so long.

Mike suggested that everyone chip in $25 so that the bubble would get $200.  Someone objected saying that the bubble would be paying himself $25. So what?  That's kind of always the way it was with these bubble deals.  He'd end up with $175—at least he'd have his buy-in back.  But then, to my surprise, Cliff spoke up and said, "Look at the top payouts. How about we take $100 each from first and second place?"  Considering that Cliff was definitely back to being the chip leader at this point, it was surprising and generous of him.

Well, here's the thing.  At this point, I was pretty sure I had the second biggest stack.  I could have objected. But there's no way I would have. I've been saying on this blog for years that the pay scales for these tournaments are out of whack, that they're way too top heavy.  I'd be a total hypocrite if I objected to taking a couple of hundred bucks off the top two spots for the bubble.  I guess if I wanted to say I just didn't want to pay the bubble I could object on those grounds.  But I always agree to pay the bubble (usually because I'm a strong candidate for being the bubble) and again, I'd be a hypocrite if I objected.  Actually, I was totally fine with it.  I think it was the right thing to do.  We all agreed and they adjusted the payouts and we were all in the money.  I was assured of a $25 profit, but I was surely in position to do a helluva lot better than that.

I raised with Ace-Queen after one limp and took the pot.  I opened to $20K with Ace-4 and took it. 

And we lost a couple of players and were down to the final six.  I was assured of at least $555.

There were several limpers and I looked down at Ace-King.  Cliff had already folded so I decided to just shove.  Mike said, "What the hell....I had fun and I'm going to get some money," and called with his short stack and flipped over A-4.  There were two Aces on the board but no 4 and Mike was gone. 

At this point I was not really keeping up with my notes. One of the remaining short stacks busted to the next shortest stack.  Cliff eliminated the next short stack, a nice guy who had commented to me during one of the breaks (in the Men's Room, of all places) that he admired my game.  So in a way, I was sorry to see him go—but not that much.  Now we were three and if we played it out I was assured of at least $1,445.

(Speaking of the Men's Room, I noticed the sign below at the urinals.  There is a much bigger sign with the same message at the front of Binion's, but I'd never seen the smaller, bathroom version of the sign before. The one outside does not have the silhouette of the cowgirl with the arrows pointing out where the poker and liquor are supposed to be.  In other words, this version is raunchier than the one out on Fremont Street.)

This is definitely the part of the tournament where I'm used to someone suggesting a deal. By this point, Cliff was the overwhelming chip leader, I was in second and the Swede was in third. For awhile, the Swede had worked his stack up to almost the same as mine (and I had worked my stack down to his level too).  But he lost some chips to Cliff and now I had at least twice the Swede's chips but I'd guess Cliff had almost three times my stack. In other words, I had a better chance to bust out third than I did to overtake Cliff.  But no one said anything about a deal and we played on.

So the Swede raised and I shoved over him with Ace-Jack of diamonds.  He called and showed pocket 4's.  There were two diamonds on the flop, and the a third diamond on the river to give me the nut flush and sent the Swede back to Stockholm.

Now I was assured of at least a $2K pay day.  We started to play heads up, played a few hands.  I looked over to Cliff's stack.  He had more than twice as many chips as I did.  And I had played enough against him this day to be convinced he was a better player than I was.  Of that I had no doubt.  Furthermore, I have very little experience playing heads up.  I think there have been two live tournaments when I got down to playing heads up.  I did win one (against a really inexperienced player) and we finally agreed to split in the other case as neither one of us had any idea how to play heads up.  Both of those were years ago.  I had to assume (rightly or wrongly), that Cliff had more experience heads up.  In other words, I really didn't like my chances of overtaking Cliff and winning this thing.

Plus, I am just used to getting to the final few players and making a deal, that's always been my experience in any tournament of this many (or more) players that played so long and where I lasted this long.  I actually expected a deal to be proposed when we got down to three.  But it wasn't and now Cliff wasn't apparently going to suggest anything.

It was around 10:30pm (we had started at 1pm).  Not really that late, and I wasn't tired, but still, we had played a lot of poker for the day.  And I didn't really see how I was gonna come from behind and win it except with some kind of fluky cooler hand or a major suckout.  So, after a few heads up hands where we basically just passed the blinds back and forth, I spoke up.  I didn't even consider the possibility of suggesting an even split, he had way too much of an advantage to accept that. What I was used to was the chip-chop.  So after a hand, I said, "You willing to make a deal?"  He asked what I had in mind.  "How about a chip-chop?"

And he surprised me by saying, "I dunno.  What is that?"

Wow.  He didn't know what a chip-chop was?  How could that be?  He was obviously an experienced tournament player.  Anyway, I explained to him what it was—that we'd combine the first and second place money and distribute based on the percentage of the chips we each had.

I'm not sure he actually fully understood, but he said, "As long as I get the bigger payout, I'm fine with it."  I assured him he'd get the most money.  So we called the TD over and told him what we were talking about and then he did a count of chips.  I didn't make a note of the stacks, but basically Cliff had 70% or so of the chips.  And then he did the calculation and it came out that Cliff would get $3,105 (down from something like $3,600, the original 1st place prize) and I'd get $2,535, (up from a bit more than $2K, the original 2nd place prize).  That was certainly ok by me and Cliff was happy with that too.  We shook hands and the deal was done.  I had just agreed to my biggest tournament payout of my "career."  This surpassed my previous high, which was also from the Binion's tournament.  So you can see why I was so bummed that they discontinued this tournament.

While we were waiting for the paperwork to be completed and our payouts to be delivered, I was thinking about Cliff's reaction to my suggestion of a chip-chop, and then his response that he was fine with it as long as he got more money than me.  I realized I very likely could have made a better deal.  I guess I should have suggested we split it and that he get a few hundred more.  Maybe I should have said, "Well let's split it, and how much more than I get would you be happy with?"  I think if I knew he wasn't familiar with a chip-chop, I could have gotten a few hundred more.  It sounded like he was going to be satisfied with anything as long as it more than I got.  So he would have been happy with $5 more than me?  I'm sure that wouldn't cut it.  But as I said, I might have gotten a bit more.

But I didn't mind.  I considered that Cliff had outplayed and deserved every penny he got.  Plus he was a heck of a nice guy, I didn't begrudge him the money. And I had gotten around $500 more than second place money at a time when I was at a huge chip disadvantage.  It was a good deal for me.

When they gave us the money, Cliff surprised me by saying, "What do we tip, $200 each?"  Wow, I thought that was a bit too much—at least for me.  I said something to that effect, "I think that may be high."  He said, "What about $100 each?"  I said ok.  What I wanted to say was that he should tip more than me, he got more money, but I didn't want to say that in front of the guy who would be collecting our tip and also didn't want to piss of Cliff (if that would bother him, I have no idea).  Anyway, they paid me off with some purple $500 chips, which I rarely get my hands on.  I had to hustle over to the main Binion's cashier so I could get cash for it.  Then I got the hell out of downtown. I couldn't wait to get back to my room so I could roll around naked in the money. 

Really turned out to be a great decision to skip the Venetian two-day for this.  But as I said at the outset, a real bummer to know this tournament no longer exists and I don't even have a chance to have another score like this at Binion's.