Vegas Trip #2, Part Two – The Poker

(We played A LOT of poker in Vegas, so this next post is going to be very long. If you’ve found my past blogs about poker boring, you might want to skip this particular blog. But as far as I’m concerned, the poker was the most exciting part ;).

When we were planning our trip to Vegas we discussed playing in a tournament and then maybe playing some poker at one of the casinos. I don’t think that either of us expected that for two of the nights we were there, we’d spend more time at the poker tables then actually sleeping. But it happened.

Our first tournament was our first morning in Vegas – having konked out at 10pm the night before (1am TO time) we were up before 7 and out of our room by 7:20. Walking down the strip that early in the morning put Vegas into a different perspective for me – the joggers, the elderly, the workmen fixing the street tiles and washing down the sidewalks made the city suddenly seemed fresher and cleaner somehow. Because we were in a bit of a hurry I didn’t slow down to takeany photos, promising instead to get up early another morning and get out with my camera (little did I know that the next time I’d be awake to see the sunrise over the strip I’d be going to bed.)

We got to the Aladdin just before 8, registered for the tournament and then grabbed some breakfast, returning to the poker room for 10am. Tay took his seat, I took mine and short of a break halfway through, I didn’t see Tay until he sat down at my table due to the condensing of some tables. Unfortunately he didn’t get to sit with our table for too long, another player whom I’d been slowly chippingaway at (with much satisfaction, he was a dealer at the Aladdin and was ‘proud’ of his poker skills but certainly not humble) ended up taking Tay out. Bad timing for Tay – he had made it to the third (?) table that day and was very close to sitting at the second table when he was forced to get up. I hung on and played as well as I could, not talking much which led some of the players to comment on how my silence was both worrisome and intimidating. I chatted occasionally with the dealer on my right and the player on my left and bet big on big hands, which kept me in the game until the final table.

The way the poker tournies work at the Aladdin is that there’s anywhere from 50-100 players, buying in at $40 each. 10 players sit at each table, meaning there could be anywhere from 5 to 10 live tables. As people get eliminated and the numbers at each table get smaller, they take these smaller tables and spread them amongst the other tables that only have a spot or two free, which is how Tay ended up sitting at my table.

The final table is 10 players and the top 9 players get paid, and the prize pool depends on the number of players. So obviously the more people playing the more money you can make, but at the same time, the more people the harder it is to get a seat at the final table.

But I made it to the final table and although I told myself to be patient, the adrenaline got to me and after I saw the 10th player get up, I threw caution to the wind because I knew by then I would be getting some money. I went all in on big pot, hoping to double/triple up with an A-10 in my hand (definitely a playable hand) but luck wasn’t with me and I got outdrawn (I believe the dealer that took Tay out had pocket 8s and got a third one on the flop.) I got up from the table amidst the congratulations from the other players, collected my $78 in winnings and headed back out into the Vegas sun (after making a quick detour into Victoria Secret). I was pleased with my performance in the tournament for three reasons – 1) I had sat at the final table, 2) I had came out ahead and 3) I was the only girl to sit at the final table and therefore was the last female to be eliminated.

Considering that we had both done fairly well in the tournament, we talked ourselves into playing the following morning and registered later that night, returning Wednesday morning to sit at the tables again. As I went to find my spot, I caught the eye of the dealer that I had been chatting with the day before and he declared to his colleagues to watch out for me – and if they saw me coming to get out of the way, because I would tear them apart. I laughed at his flattery and sat down at my table and began to play but despite my Supergirl t-shirt and the attention it was getting me, I ended up going out just before the break, only barely finishing in the top half. But I had gotten the chance to know some more of the dealers and by the end of my short session they had taken to calling me ‘Canada’ so I felt pretty good even though I hadn’t neccessarily done very well (and I was again the last female eliminated). Tay finished shortly after me and we left, feeling a little disappointed but we got over it pretty quickly because we had plans to check out the dolphin habitat at the Mirage, and then checking into the Wynn shortly after. (I’ll describe the touristy-dining stuff in my next blog).

Once at the Wynn, we ended up having dinner at the cafe by the pool – I was fighting my cold through dinner and thinking that I would retire to our room for an early night, leaving Tay to do some gambling. But when we walked back through the Wynn and passed by their poker room, I hesitated…and that’s all it took. I told Tay that I just wanted to buy in for $100 in chips and that was that – so he got us our chips and we sat down at our table where the blinds were $1-$2. Not everyone understands blinds, but suffice it to say that a $1-$2 table is a good table to start at, considering that there was $80-$160 tables going on elsewhere in the room. So we sit down and I opt to sit out until the big blind comes around to me. When that happens, you’re forced to pay the $2 before you even get your cards. So I paid up, got the cards and looked at a 2-4. Not a good hand to start with, but I had already bought in and when the other players at the table just called, I checked it to see the flop. The flop came up 2-4-?. Not sure what the third card was but it didn’t much matter as I had flopped two pair. I bet modestly into the pot and was called. The turn came up and it was a 4 – giving me a full house, one of the best hands you can get in a game of poker. I can’t remember how I bet out, might have been just enough not to scare off the other players and then when the last card came off, I bet big (might have been all in) and was called. I remember when I was betting how badly my legs were shaking and how hard I had to control my hands from shaking and giving away what I had in my hand. I turned up my house and took all the chips – in only one hand I had gone from $100 in chips to $335. One of the players complimented me on my hand and then, almost a little bewildered, asked me if that had been my first hand. I acknowledged that it had been, and began stacking my chips. We continued playing, and I kept an eye on my chips, telling myself that I wouldn’t let myself drop below a $100, therefore leaving with what I had come with – but soon after I got sucked into a hand where I held two hearts (A-10 I think) and when two hearts showed up on the table and it cost me very little to play, I held on and hoped for the 5th heart I needed to make my flush. The last card that came was my heart and I had the best flush possible with my A high card so I bet into it (2 fisting it like I had seen the pros on TV do it, throwing $100 into the pot).

Betting went around the table until it got to an elderly man sitting to my right and he went all in. I peeked at my cards again, studied the table, looked at my opponent and thought about it. He had been very conservative in the hand and even though there were a pair of Qs on the table, I assumed he had also made the flush. Off to my right I heard a player whispering with his girlfriend, predicting that I had the Ace high flush and was mostly unbeatable. By that time it was only $45 more to me to call and so I did, thinking only that I was about to win this hand and my $300 was going to double into $600. I called and looked at the old guy, prompting him to flip over his hand.

When he did, I understood a little too clearly that I had been slowplayed.

He’d been sitting on a pair of Qs the whole time, and with the Qs already on the table, it meant he had a 4 of a kind.

A four of a kind is better than a full house. There’s only two hands that will beat 4 of a kind – a royal flush and a straight flush will do it, but I almost consider those hands to be poker legends because in the number of hands that I have seen (both live and on TV), I have NEVER seen either. But then again, I had never seen a 4 of a kind either yet one was right there, staring right up at me.

Almost speechless, I managed to say that I never saw that coming and flipped up my flush and all around me I could feel the shock of the other players. It was a bad beat, one that I never quite recovered from and when I finally went all in (and was busted) I got up and staggered away from the table, feeling slightly shell shocked and only a little out of my league. By that time Tay had already gotten up from the table having been beat (ironically) by another four of a kind (3s instead of Qs) and to occupy himself while I finished he was at another table playing. I told him that I was calling it a night and as I rode up all 57 floors I found myself replaying the hand in my head, analyzing my opponent’s strategy, figuring out how exactly he played it, and where I went wrong. With the lights off, I undressed and walked around the room in my underwear, with the Vegas lights lighting up the sky below me and I remember thinking about how surreal the whole thing was – not just the poker, but the room that we were in on the 57th floor and the view that was at my feet. And I remember thinking how badly the whole thing seemed like a dream to me because honestly, it felt way too good to be true.

Finally, I thought I was calmed down enough to try and sleep – Tay showed up then and we discussed how his games had gone and then we both went to sleep, except that I couldn’t. There was too much in me, too much awe and excitement and every time I rolled over I couldn’t help but open my eyes and see the lights below. Or when I closed my eyes, I would think about those 4 Qs and I would agitate myself into awakeness all over again. Around 4am I felt Tay moving around next to me, and after a few minutes of his movements I figured he was awake and asked if he was. He answered that he was, sounding more awake than I expected and I asked him if he wanted to go back downstairs. By then I was swinging my legs out of the bed and reaching for a pair of jeans and he very quickly followed suit. Originally I had just wanted to wander the casino and see who would be up at 4am but when we went by the poker room to see if we could see anyone playing, we decided that we would play again. So we bought more chips and sat back down and played some more. Luck was with neither of us, and the lack of sleep was catching up with me -Frustrated, I went all in with a pair of Qs only to have the guy call me with pocket 6s and then get a 6 on the turn, therefore busting me. I got up from the table and found Tay and we headed back upstairs – when we opened the door to our room we were shocked to see that the sun was rising and it was 6am. We crawled into bed with a groan and slept until just after 8 when we got back up and decided we’d check out and head back down to the Aladdin for the morning tournament (we had learned our lesson at the Wynn). We knew that at the Aladdin we’d do better because of the type of players that the morning tournaments drew and we also were becoming familiar with the dealers and some of the players. So we quickly through our stuff in our suitcase and checked out, making it to the Aladdin with just enough time to register and then grab some breakfast (chocolate chip cookies and strawberry smoothies at the Tollhouse cookie shop).

So we sat down to play (again) and I chatted (again) with the dealers and a couple of players I recognized. I told them about the bad beat at the Wynn and asked the dealer how often he’d seen a 4 of a kind in his experience as a dealer (very rarely was his response). I shook my head and, firmly deciding to put it behind me, I checked my cards and began playing (again).

The tournament on Thursday morning had just over 100 people playing in it and, having learned my lesson the night before, I played tight and hard, only playing the cards I liked and betting agressively when this was the case. Before I knew it, we were down to two tables and then Tay was getting up (taking 18th? 16th? place) and then, before I knew it, I was again sitting at the final table. There was one other girl, sitting to the left of me, and because there had originally been over 100 entrants, the payouts were higher. I was shortstacked and didn’t even have enough to pay the blind and I forced myself to play disciplined – meaning that unless I had a very good hand, I wouldn’t play until the big blind made it’s way to me. And when it did, I agreed with Tay and played it blind, just shoving my meager chips into the pot and not looking at my hand. And playing in this manner, I kept winning my forced hands and as I clung to my position, constantly looking over my shoulder at Tay and he kept encouraging me, and then, before I knew it the players around me were being forced up from the table until there was just me and three other players.

And then, looking down at a decent hand, I took a chance and played a hand that wasn’t the big blind and when I lost the hand I didn’t care because over a 100 people had played and I was FOURTH and the whole time I was fighting to stay at the final table, there were players standing around the table and they were talking about ME and all I kept hearing was how good I had played and how I was a solid player and how I was playing the game exactly the way I needed to play it. And in my fourth place position I stood up and the three remaining players stood to shake my hand and then the dealer shook my hand and that in itself had an impression on me because in all the hours I had been sitting in the tournaments, I had never seen a dealer shake a players hand when they got up from the table. So I turned to Tay and breathed a sigh of relief – checked in with the tournament director and collected my $279 in winnings and we left the casino.

Later, when I would ask Tay what his favorite part of the Vegas trip was so far, he would tell me that up until then, it was watching me play at that final table.

We ended up playing one other tournment (the lunchtime tournament at the Aladdin) which was a bit different than the other ones (a higher buy-in and they allowed rebuy-ins – which meant that for a certain amount of time into the tournament if you went all in and lost all your chips you could pay the entry free again, get the same amount of chips and be resat at the table. I didn’t like this type of tournament as much because it meant that it was harder to eliminate players – in one instance, a player ended up going all in against me, I won the hand and he left the table only to return 10 minutes later with a new set of chips. Tay ended up buying back in, but only because he had sat down at my table and went all in with his shorter stack – I was the big blind and looking at a pair of 10s so I had no choice, I had to call him. I had commented as Tay came our way that I didn’t want him playing at our table and when the other players asked why, I revealed that he was husband. The table loved this of course, and when Tay went all in, I pleaded with him not to make me do what I was about to do. Tay shrugged and I called him and won the hand and he commented as he stood up that if he had to lose all his chips, it was best that he lost them to me. A couple of minutes later Tay was at my side and I glanced up at him – he wanted some money to buy back in and I teased him about it as I reached for my purse. I told the players at the table that he’d better not make it back to our table and they laughed – that’s one thing that I really liked about the people at these tournaments – for the most part, they were friendly and laid back and didn’t seem to take the game too seriously so as a result, there was a lot of chitchat and laughter at the tables.I ended up making it to the 2nd final table but was shortstacked and was blinded out – Tay was having better luck then me and was hanging on – once I got up from the table I kept a close eye on the other table and would give him reports – letting him know how many players were left, and how shortstacked the short stack was. I urged him to be patient and just play decent hands, but he already knew that and then when he was in 11th he looked down at a pair of Js and had no choice, he went all in, only to be beaten. Disappointed he got up from the table – because it was a much larger buy-in for this particular tournament, placing in the money would have meant he would have won a substantial amount – 1st place was close to $3,000. But luck wasn’t with us, and we left the Aladdin, feeling a little dejected and thinking that our poker spree had come to an end.

And it probably would’ve been it for us, but later that night, after a somewhat depressing last day (more on that later), we happened to pass the poker room at MGM just after midnight and we stopped to watch the one of the tables play. And as we watched them, Tay turned to me and asked me what I thought – because from what he could tell, we could run this table. So we sat down to play at seperate $1-$2 tables and, after get tangled into a nasty first hand, I was done to less than $20 (started with a hundred) and feeling slightly jaded. But then my luck started to change and I started to figure out how the other players were playing and I started winning. I kept an eye on Tay who was across the room, and we kept making hand gestures to let each other know how we were doing and soon enough I was up over $100 and I was feeling quite tired (it was after 3 by then and we had to leave for the airport around 8) so I looked at Tay and pointed to the door. We each played a couple of more hands and then we got up to leave – I had $145 in chips so was up $45 and Tay had close to $300 so he was up $200. We were feeling pretty elated by then and as we walked along the fairly quiet strip we talked about our games, stopping to pick up Subway to eat while we packed (we had had dinner at 5pm and were starved). And as we passed by the Aladdin we joked about going in to see what was happening but even we knew that we were done and so we continued on to the hotel, quickly peeking in on the poker room at the Bellagio to see if we could see anyone worth seeing. And then, after stopping for a few minutes to watch a new poker table game (with a blackjack type setup, you play against the dealer) we headed up to our room to pack and grab a couple of hours sleep. And that’s how, for a second night, we ended up spending more time playing poker than sleeping (3 hours vs. 2.5 hours).

And that’s the poker.

(I warned that it would be long..!)

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