This is July 26. An early flight from Copenhagen airport. I had some leftover Danish cash, I spent it on breakfast and the rest of it on the combined muscle relaxant, tranquilizer and fluid replacement known as Gammel Dansk bitter and Carlsberg beer.
The trans-Atlantic flight was uneventful. Movies and recorded TV shows interrupted by food and snacks.
Arrive at Atlanta and stand in line a lot. Immigration, baggage claim and reloading, security. I see a vending machine for iPods, I might get one of those on my return trip. I ride in the driverless subway train for quite a while to get to the right concourse.
The flight to Las Vegas showed better what Economy/Coach is about. I've ridden on old buses with better comfort, but who cares? I'm going to Vegas!
Finally arrive after getting a small freebie. I ordered a beer on the plane and they're supposed to cost $5 but the flight attendant forgot to get my money.
It's what I heard it would be like. Get off the plane, go through the corridor and the first thing you see is a cluster of slot machines. Then you get to the facilities they have at all airports. I get my checked-in baggage, eyes still wide open and mouth agape. Only a few steps to the doors and the taxi line and *FLOMP*. The heat strikes me like a wall. Like standing in front of an open oven, or a hair dryer. I get assigned a cab and the driver says "Sit up front, it's cooler."
We drive to my hotel, the Gold Coast. I check in, unpack some stuff, freshen up, and go on a reconnaissance mission just to get a feel for the place.
I'm happy to report that I won some money gambling the very first time I gambled in Las Vegas. It was on a slot machine. A Kenny Rogers-themed slot machine. A penny (1 cent) Kenny Rogers-themed slot machine... But a win nonetheless. I then lost the winnings on an Elvis Presley-themed one.
At breakfast (the Deuces Wild menu; two sausages, two pieces of bacon, two eggs and two flapjacks) I run into two other Swedes at a nearby table. One of them says that they have a morning poker tournament here, so I decide to enter it.
A bit of a weird structure. Fixed Limit the first hour, then No Limit. I finished 11th of 60+ participants.
I head over to Rio to get my player registration sorted out, and to get in touch with Pokerblue, the site where I won my Main Event seat. Papers retrieved, I head to the room of the representative. After passing through the poker exhibition and loading up on free stuff.
On my way there, I pass by an Italian restaurant which also has tables along a wall of the corridor, taverna style.
At one of those tables sits... Joe Hachem, talking to someone. I wave and smile at him. He smiles and waves back. You and me, Joe.
I get told that all the Pokerblue-qualified players will meet in a Rio suite later this afternoon, so I head back to my room to freshen up and rest.
The suite is nice. Floor-to-ceiling windows with a full view of all of central Las Vegas. I feel somewhat left out at the get-together, because I won my seat so early. Later they had it like so that a tournament winner got on Team Pokerblue, where all the players in the team will share winnings. I got asked to consider joining, but opted not to. Either I win, and then I want all of it myself, or I don't win and maybe only get a small sum or nothing at all. Either way, there would have been a lot of hassle over taxes. And either way, I'll have played in the WSOP ME. But right now at least I get free food and drinks.
I take the free shuttle bus to the Orleans, thinking about playing in a tournament there. However, this day the noon tournament was Omaha Holdem, so I play 1/2 NL cash game instead. I got out exactly break-even (after tipping) but still benefited. I've never played poker at a real casino with a professional dealer before (well, once, but only for a short while at a Swedish casino), just online and homegames. I learnt how to act and how to "communicate" with the dealer.
I head home and then head over to Rio to check out the Main Event now started. Wow. The room is huge. But not much room for spectators, and it's full (and will continue to be for these the first four Day 1). I find the table I'll be playing at tomorrow and get my bearings.
At the exhibition I get more free stuff. Some have it set up like so that you have to sign up on a list with name and/or addresses to get stuff. I didn't want to do that yesterday since I didn't want to get spammed later. But, doh! It's not like they check ID. Say hello to Bob Smith from Topeka, Kansas.
Dinner is a Texas T-Bone Steak Special. I usually clean the plate but this was too much for me. Had to leave about a kiddy portion.
SaturdayThe big day. Today at noon my long wait will reach fruition.
I hang the Do Not Disturb sign and get ready.
I get to the room with plenty of time to spare, but they don't let people in until half an hour before the start. I'm the first one at my table, getting my gear in order. Each player gets a practical seat cushion (sponsored by PartyPoker) with a pocket.
I knew beforehand, and verify with a floor manager its appropriateness, that you couldn't have .com poker advertising on your clothing or apparel. .net is allowed however. I had crossed out .com on my T-shirt.
People fill up rapidly and we start, after commemorating the 30th anniversary of Doyle Brunson's first Main Event win.
And now: How not to do when playing early in the World Series of Poker Main Event, with a stack of 10000 and blinds at 25/50.
The very first hand is dealt. I'm in seat 5 and fold some trash hand. Seat 7 raises, nothing wrong with that. But he raises to 2000. Seat 8 reraises to 4000. Of course everyone folds all around back to seat 7.
Seat 7 ponders. Seat 7 goes all in!
Seat 8 ponders. Seat 8 calls!
There's only two hands possible for that kind of play, and even then it's not proper play at the very first hand in a tournament.
Yes, seat 7 has KK and seat 8 has AA. No help from the board and some guy has played only one hand and it will be mentioned in some asides or footnotes in WSOP reporting. The only hands that would call a 40 times Big Blind bet at this stage is KK or AA and the only that would raise is AA. We (the table) didn't even have time to get a camera crew over to witness this.
How do I fare? My stack is between 9000 and 14000 most of the time. I'm not the kind of guy with photographic memory recalling every hand I played. But two stand out:
- A short-stacked guy before me goes all in preflop with about 4000. I have AA and call (or raise to get those behind me out, I don't remember. Standard play.). He has QQ and catches another Q on the flop. I'm then down to 9500. Had I won it I would have had a niiice(r) stack and one player would've been eliminated. Only 8700+ more to go. But that's poker.
- A tricky hand, probably what cripples me. One of those "almost any card will help" that don't go all the way. Open-ended straight draw, a face pair, and a flush draw. But there was heavy betting from my opponent and at the end I hadn't hit the good stuff and he outkickered my pair.
Phil Hellmuth was knocked out at around five o'clock. At ten to ten Doyle Brunson was knocked out. I read later that Ron Jeremy (at a table across the aisle from me) was only knocked out before me. But just before ten our table is broken up and I get assigned a new table across the room. I don't even need a rack to move my chips, I can carry them in my hand IN FULL VIEW AND PLAIN SIGHT! (Don't make that mistake, a Swedish player put his chips in his pocket when switching tables and they were thus eliminated).
I can only survive about two more orbits of antes and blinds. I have K5 in an unraised Big Blind and there's a 5 on the flop. Any hit must be played and I go all in with my pittance of a stack. Two or three callers but lots of play on turn and river and they had hit much better hands.
I'm out after about ten hours. If I read the wall screens right, there were more than 2200 players starting this day and now there's over 1400 still left.
And that's it.
But I'm not bitter. Really. I can forever say "I've played in the WSOP, have you?" and I have a week in Vegas already paid for (site gave me travel money that about covers both flight and hotel).
Early poker at the Gold Coast. KK and Ace High flushes give me mo' money. I head over to the central Strip and play at Ballys. Lose some of my winnings from Gold Coast and head over to Flamingo. There's a long wait list for cash games there, so I take a daily tournament instead. $60 buy-in with 40 players. Only 1000 in starting chips with blinds 25/50. Two are out early, in the very first hands, then it's my turn at 37th. I did have the best hand when all in, but he outdrew me with bad starting hand.
Back at the Gold Coast, I sit quiet at the 1/2 NL cash game. Why? Because there are four other Swedes at my end of the table and they're very inebriated, loose and chatty, talking among themselves. Maybe I can get an advantage if I'm in a hand with them. But after a while that gets old and tedious (and I never get an advantage) so when I scoop in a large-ish pot I say "Tack, det var en fin pott och en fin hand." which is Swedish for "Thank you, it was a nice pot and a nice hand.".
One of them still doesn't get that I'm Swedish as well until a while later.
I learnt a new concept, which I hadn't experienced before. The "live straddle". Look it up. It's fun.
Play at the Flamingo again, cash game this time. I buy a really vulgar novelty tie with cards, fake gems and the text "Texas Holdem" on it. And a CSI Las Vegas cap.
Then I head over to Caesars Palace. Now, that is a nice poker room. Huge hall with maybe 30-40 tables. And an almost as large room just for tournaments. I lose my whole buyin in a bad-ish beat. I have 44 in an unraised Small Blind and call. Big Blind checks. I flop a set of fours and bet out, get called by BB, similar on turn and river and it doesn't look dangerous. However, there was one hole card combination that could beat me, and he had it. A5 for a wheel (Ace-to-Five straight). I didn't think of that the Big Blind was unraised before the flop, so he played that for free.
I look at, just look at Bellagio and The Venetian. Lu-xu-ry.
Back to Gold Coast and cash game. I'm exactly break-even at the poker table when the night is over, but have gotten "free" drinks and lots of entertainment. Nice people at the table. Big tattooed colored guy with gold front teeth. A big friendly Texan with a mustache. The two Swedes from Thursday. A Canadian whom I've been in contact with since he was a spectator at the final table where I won my WSOP seat. He also won a WSOP seat a few weeks before me. And he's also knocked out of the Main Event on the first day.
After that, I and one of the Swedes head to a Pai Gow table for slow play and as many drinks as possible. It's very hard to lose at Pai Gow, and the game is slow (if the table is full) so you can get in many drink orders.
I check out the Rio and WSOP again. I buy a bagful of WSOP merchandise; card guard, T-shirt, cap, pins, fridge magnets, small LCD games with Holdem. For me, and as gifts to poker players back home.
Ooh yeah, I hit a High Hand Jackpot at the 1/2 NL at Gold Coast. Four Kings! On the flop! But... It had hit recently and been reset to its starting value, so I just get $50. Boo hoo. But! I'm on a plus otherwise as well.
Back to Rio to look at WSOP again, in the evening. First I look at Show in the Sky and get some beads thrown at me.
Mark, the guy from Saturday who knocked out a guy in the very first hand with AA vs KK is still in. Playing Day 1A and he's at about 80000 at the dinner break. Go him.
More walking, and I head over to Palms. Ehm, a sort of embarrassing mistake. The NL was very full and long waiting list, but there were many openings at the Fixed Limit tables. My standard so far had been to buy in for $200 at a 1/2 NL table. Now I buy in for $300 at a 2/4 FL, three racks of ones. Then when I sit down I see just a few recreational players with only one rack, or less. But the two girlfriends sitting next to each other and chatting had nice racks. Eh, eh? Double entendre, do you see it? I don't play for long, just run them over with aggressive NL-style play and leave up $50.
Back to GC for some Pai Gow and drinks. I swear, it must have been Walter Matthau's younger brother or a relative sitting two chairs to my right. Looked like him, sounded like him, acted like him. He had a thin mustache though.
Ooh, very stuck at the poker table later. Flop a set, turn a boat, get riverred by a bigger boat. Get Aces cracked by J9. Just a day at the office, m'dear.
I love the atmosphere at the poker tables though. All I thought it would be. But off the table? I'm already sick and tired of hearing all the fragments of conversation in the corridors at Rio and outside of poker rooms. One half of cellphone conversations and frustrated storytellers. You know, "So I had kingqueen and he flat calls with pocket eights. Checkraise a flop of rag rag Jack and he catches a runner runner". Yada yada.
WednesdayNot much gambling today. I go to Fashion Show Mall for shopping. I wish I had found a credit card (AmEx Gold or Platinum maybe?) and picture ID looking like me and a note attached "Have Fun!".
Dressed neatly I go to Palms in the evening to lounge around. Yuck. I lose at Fixed Limit. Against old ladies! They hit their Aces.
There's a boutique there that just sells Breitling watches. A small place with a few display cases. I see noone and just look in shortly. Then a woman steps out "Can I help you, Sir?" "Uhm, no, just browsing." "Bright and shiny, eh?" "Yes, very bling-blingy." No price tags, of course. Say it loud and say it proud: "If you have to ask what it costs you can't afford it".
ThursdayHas it been a week already? But there's so much to do!
I play the Gold Coast morning tournament again. Exactly the same result, 11th of about 60 players.
After that, I was going to lie by the pool for a while. What are the odds? After lying there for half an hour it starts to rain. In Las Vegas in August. Just my luck, when I voluntarily will be outside in the heat. Back to my room and it goes over and dries up in just about a quarter of an hour.
In the evening, it's time for a bowling tournament, Swedes only, at the Gold Coast bowling center (just seventy lanes there...). I'm absolutely definitively the worst roller among us. I haven't bowled in a year or more. When I finally gets the right wrist twitch in, it's over.
I get an email (WSOP) update from Pokerblue and I'm not mentioned, just the ones in the Team. Hello? You put up $10000 from me and that's it? Well, I'm dropping them later, and will aim for WSOP 2007 or some other major tournament at another site that takes care of "their" players better. We're even now.
FridayI play at The Venetian. Now, that's a classy joint. I'm getting stuck. Preflop raises or calling raises preflop, without hitting, too often. But it was fun nonetheless. It seems like that at any table I've played at there has been one or more players who've been (note the tense) playing in the WSOP, or a WSOP dealer off the clock.
"Hey, I got the rock to straddle", was the comment from a guy in a Seattle Mariners cap when I make a live straddle. Huh, I'm a rock. All in all, I think it's nice with the praise and encouragement I've gotten during this week. "Good call", "Nice hand, sir", "Nice bet", "Well played". It carries more weight than NH, WP, GL, TY in a chat window online. And nearly everybody is polite in Vegas. Players, dealers, brushes and other "support staff". The only rude person I've met was a drunk Swede (sorry) the other day. Spilled on the table, swearing, insulting, bullying, getting warned by several dealers and finally a Security guy. Massive overbets that he sadly won or scared people off with. And then he donks away more than $500 in ten-fifteen minutes. Everybody at the table was salivating, waiting for that AA, KK or flopping a straight or better.
I proceed north, so far I've only seen the central Strip and around my home quarters. Now it's time for the north parts. That was more run down and B-list. Circus Circus, Riviera, nearly nameless hole-in-the-walls. I buy some sunglasses for 99 cents each. And a bumper sticker "I experienced Las Vegas. One dollar at a time.". It will go nicely on a souvenir plaque I'm going to make. I've saved a $1 chip from every place I've played at and I'm going to mount them together with other memorabilia.
I go up in Stratosphere Tower. I had bought a ticket for the X Scream ride, but when I get a closer look of it in action (it propels you head-first over the edge of the tower) I change my mind and change to the meeker Big Shot with just catapults you to 1081 feet. After the ride I lunch at the Starbucks up there.
The Deuce gets me to Mirage just in time to see the volcanic eruption. Didn't want to wait for pirates at Treasure Island.
Home and freshen up, then more spectating at WSOP. I run in to Tammy, the marketing manager at Pokerblue. Nice gal. Go 'Bama! Pokerblue still has four players in the tournament, five came in the money.
The stuff around tournament could be done better. Spectators aren't let in freely, only a few at a time. But there have been thousands playing and then there's the hangarounds. I think many are interested in how it's going, but outside of the Amazon Room there's no way of knowing what happens inside. If only they had had a few big screens or something, with Players Left and some quick stats.
It almost feels like Harrah's just want these pesky poker players to finish up and leave so they can start setting up for the South Dakota Plumbers' Convention. Unless they can squeeze more dollars out of the WSOP franchise.
SaturdayLast day in Vegas! Hepl! Hepl!
It's time to cover the last part, the southern parts. I'm skipping Downtown entirely, from what I've heard it's the worst part of the touristy Vegas.
I play some at the small and empty poker room at Tropicana, just enough to sneak away a souvenir chip and get lunch money.
And then... Hooters! Nice view... Another souvenir chip, then I lose my small buyin when I with AJ hit an A on the flop. I was going after a drunk maniac who was donking away his huge stack, not the strong silent type who happened to have hit a set of Deuces. Argh! Well, the waitress (Michelle) called me Sweetie, instead of the usual Honey.
Luxor. You need a room key to ride up in the elevators, but I sneak in with a group and get a good view and photos of the inside. When I pass by their poker room, at that very moment someone has hit a Royal Flush. The pot is his of course, and a $1000 bonus (I think).
On my way back home I finally find him, been looking all week. Elvis! In a white jumpsuit.
My last Texas T-Bone Steak Special at the Monterey Room at Gold Coast. And, get this. There's a beer included. The waiter asked for ID! I'm 35... I told him I was very flattered.
I get my baggage in order and double check the packing. Everything done? Ready for takeoff? Now I'll just play, my flight leaves in the morning Sunday.
It goes unexpectedly well. After midnight I'm a little more than doubled up and I comment to my neighbor (who knows I'm leaving) that now it's really just time to play until time to leave. That was my plan, bust the remaining cash, get "rich" or get too tired to play. Going to bed would be risky, what if I oversleep?
During the evening and night (I play until about 5.30 AM) I experience all the phases of a poker room. From crowded to lively to a lull. Dealer shift changes, player rotation. Twice a High Hand Jackpot hits. Once a Royal in diamonds, for more than $3000 and at my table (against me) a quad Tens for $800. Of course everybody start chasing jackpot hands.
For the first time in a while I'm successful with AK. Except once, and it was a good laydown. I have AK. The flop is AJ9, I bet heavy. Turn is another 9, I bet my two pair appropriately. An Englishman goes all in. It looks dangerous and I fold. Discretely I later comment that I folded AK, and it's revealed that he discretely showed a neighbor his JJ. We get to know this and he's impressed and later at a break he once more lauds me, shakes my hand and says "Not many players would lay down Ace King like that." My comment: "Well, I've learnt the hard way not to get greedy with AK."
So I've been up more than 24 hours straight when my plane leaves at 9 AM.
Strange thing at the security check. Boarding Card Guy at desk at the lane I took points out "You've got four S-es on you boarding card, you should go to Lane 19". I start looking around for Lane 19 but obviously not quick enough. "DO! YOU! SPEAK! ENGLISH?". Why, yes, but this is my first time in the U.S. and first time going out from McCarran, I don't know all the details whereas he works there every day. I go there and it's nothing much, they just check my carry-on, no rubber glove and lubricant. The SSSS on the boarding card stands for Secondary Security Screening Something, I think. Maybe I got it automatically since I changed seats.
A little bit of moisture in my eyes (chucks, I must have gotten some desert grit in them or something) when we take off and I in a window seat on the left side of the plane get a perfect view of all of Las Vegas as the plane gets to an eastern heading over the south parts of Vegas. I don't wanna leave!
At Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson I don't find any of the iPod vending machines I saw on my way in. Maybe just as well, because later I find other brands and models that look better, and cheaper. For example the Creative Zen Vision:M.
The Atlantic crossing is a mishmash of movies, slumbering and eating.
Back where I started nine days ago, at my sister's. I stay there for two days and then go home. One of the days, we were at the zoo with my niece. Nice and all, but they've got lions at MGM Grand...
Still jet lagged, it show when I get home. I start unpacking, then just a short nap on the TV couch browsing through channels. I wake up and continue clicking. "Oh, CNN, I've got that at home too. Well, my bags are nearly packed but I've got cash left, I can still go down to the oval tables and play some more. Oh. Fuck. I'm home."
This was my budget version of a Vegas trip. I'm not the type to schmooze around Las Vegas in a limo betting thousands of dollars. I take a taxi or bus and gamble in the hundreds.
I never played without a drink or beverage in front of me. Alcohol, water or coffee or Red Bull. I always tipped.
If you are a serious poker player you simply have to make a pilgrimage to Las Vegas.
I heartily recommend the Venetian and Caesars Palace poker rooms. Flamingo, Ballys and Gold Coast are also OK. You can do without the rest, unless you happen to pass by or stay at that hotel.
C-notes ($100) in one pocket and singles ($1) in another pocket. 100s for gambling and 1s for tipping. Don't mix them up. You can't gamble much for a dollar (but you can get a lot of play out of a penny slot) and $100 is overtipping.
I didn't experience any "Sin City" stuff. The closest of that was the guys handing out stripper cards. You know, the color printed cards with a semi-nude and a phone number and a price. Yeah, right, the $199 Special is just stripping.
Just a little mild flirtation or ogling.
Check out what you can get "for free", register for comps, I didn't think of that until it was too late. But/And I played at lots of places, not just one place where I might've earned a free meal or something with accumulated time. At least I could've gotten something at Gold Coast, because the brush started recognizing me after a while. I didn't even have to speak, just walk up to the desk and look and he goes "Hey Martin. Two hundred?". I'm a regular :-).
So. I'm definitely going back, one way or the other. I'll look for tournaments where the prize is a Vegas live tournament, or other major tournament.European Poker Tour for example, and then my goal would be to win money that I can use to go to Vegas for.