Friday, August 21, 2009

Vegas: December '07

Ah, the stars had aligned again. Contrary to her statement that she really wasn’t all that interested in going to Vegas again, my mother had come to her senses, and we were headed west to America’s playground.

Now, in an effort to reconcile flight times, the right amount of time to stay, cross-referenced against hotel availability, squared and divided by price, we broke what has grown to be a de facto rule. See, figuring out the length of a stay is a delicate art. A ballet of factors, if you will. It all seems to come down to you’re desire to gamble, your ability to gamble, and your budget. High desire, high ability, high budget, stay a month if you want. Low desire, low ability, low budget, you probably picked the wrong vacation destination. In planning last trips, we’ve found that the trip runs best with three full days of activity; fly in early on a Monday, have the rest of the day, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and come home Thursday. Works like a charm. But if some is good, more is better, not to mention flights and cost, so we ended up flying out Sunday afternoon, and not coming home until Thursday afternoon. Hmm…a previously untested addition of time at the front and back ends of the trip. We’d have to see how this played out.

If you’re considering a Vegas trip, and you’re not that concerned with the pool scene, consider December. Everything is decked out in Christmas garb, the tourist count is pretty low, you can find cheap gambling through the week, the travel and lodging is dirt-cheap as well, and you probably won’t need a reservation anywhere in town. But make no mistake about it, in spite of being in the middle of the desert, it’s not warm. In fact, there were days it was outright chilly. And being right of the cusp of heavy sweatshirt versus jacket can be a little frustrating. However, if that’s the biggest problem, bring it on.

The trip almost ended before it began as Cincinnati and Dayton experienced their worst snowfalls of the season two days before we left. But would 18 inches of snow slow us down? Hell no! Well, hopefully no. Conditions were good enough to allow us safe passage to the neon-lit strip.

The captain’s announcement that we were on final approach to Las Vegas was totally drowned out by the familiar tones of Elvis in my own head. A little less conversation, a little more action please. It just crept up in there all by itself. Always a fortuitous omen. We touched down around 5 or so, and for the first time, we were arriving with the sun setting and nearly out of sight, not that it really mattered. The vibe only got stronger as we looked out across the strip from the windows of the monorail taking us from the gate to the terminal. It was bound to be a good trip. On to baggage claim, taxis, and New York, New York!

We were in, settled, and unwound from a day of being on a plane, and realized “Hey, it’s like, 10 back home…and we’re all starving.” So we ambled across the overpass above the strip connecting New York, New York with the MGM grand, and found our way to Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill in the MGM.

Every single time I have been in the MGM Grand, I’ve been impressed. This place has been there for decades, in the same spot, defying the passing of time and new construction on the Las Vegas strip. Bellagio, Venitan, Palazzo, Wynn, and Encore are all brand new and impressive, but the MGM still hangs tough. Huge casino? Check. Killer pool? Check. Beautiful blend of old Vegas glitz with new Vegas luxuries? Check. Fine dining? How about world-class? Didn’t I mention Wolfgang Puck? And by the way, putting “Bar and Grill” after a name like “Wolfgang Puck” seems to sound a lot like “Secret Decoder Ring” and “Tiffany’s”. But the food was fantastic and nicely affordable, so clearly he knows what he’s doing.

Back across the street we went to “hoist a mug of ale” or whatever, in the most Irish pub I’ve ever seen, Nine Fine Irishmen. Now, Irish food- it sucks. Traditional Irish beer- it sucks. Irish music- kinda sucks. So why would we ever go there? Because Pat is so Irish that if you cut him, he bleeds pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Yeah, he’s magically delicious. But I’ve now been in the city for several hours and haven’t even paused at a table yet. It was time to do work.

Maybe the tables were all more expensive then we were willing to play. Or maybe they were all working on continuous shuffle machines. Or maybe both. Or maybe neither? For whatever reason, the gambling vibe just didn’t feel good in New York, New York, so we went across the street to Excalibur. Yeah, it’s gaudy, but there were plenty of spots open at $5 tables that were still being dealt from a shoe. So we sat down and met my favorite gambler ever; the guy who thinks he’s a pro.

If you’ve never played cards with this guy, take heart. He exists in all walks of life. He’s the guy that, whatever you do, whatever you know, it’s just wrong because it’s not what he’d have done. Now, apply this to a situation that’s supposed to be fun with some cards, chips, and free drinks, and you have him in a casino. This guy can be spotted quickly, and corrective action taken.

1. He’s sitting at a $5 table with every denomination of chips except $5, and he’s betting $25-50 a hand trying to look like a baller. Or he just keeps the other denominations out for show while he bets the 5’s.
2. He’s wearing dark sunglasses like he’s playing poker…or the Unabomber…or the Unabomber playing poker.
3. He snorts with contempt when you do something that he wouldn’t do.
3b. He tells you clearly why you shouldn’t have done what you did.
4. He is actually a 60+ year-old she. Crotchety old ladies are almost reason enough to find another table…no kidding.

Retaliatory options:
Sit down at the table, keeping your head down, and playing solid basic strategy conceding to the fact that they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing. Not appealing.
Just don’t sit down. However, this only works if you spot them before you take your seat. I will sooner empty my wallet on the table in a losing effort then be run-off by this person. Hmm...a sound rationale, when there's nothing else open, you're stuck.
Assuming you have already sat down, play two or three hands like a knucklehead. Now, I don’t mean hit when the dealer’s showing bust. But don’t play according to Hoyle. Double down on a soft 18, or just one time, split 10’s. If it doesn’t work, play dumb. If it does work, cheer, rant, rave, high-five anyone in reach, maybe do the moonwalk, whatever. They’ll leave…guaranteed.

I don’t have a problem, generally, with new players at a table. In fact, I’ll take a novice doing their best against “That Guy”. Everyone who’s played was a new player at one point. And the fact of the matter is, if you’re sitting at a $5 table, you have to expect a more novice-level of play. If that’s a problem for you and your $15-25 a hand bet, go to a more expensive table so I don’t have to take grief from my friends for splitting 2’s against a dealer’s 6 in an effort to get you to leave.

The guy we sat down with was quickly labeled, “That Guy”. Pat, being the jovial guy he is, strolled up to the table and says “Hi there. Mind if we join you?” The guy just grunted and shrugged, the universal sign of “Do I have a choice?” With a silent glance of understanding, we were about to take this dude down. Three blackjacks a piece in, followed him busting three times, prompting his choice statement “well, I guess the cards are just running different now huh? I seemed to be winning a lot a few minutes ago.” And he left. It was a moral and financial victory for the night.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your description of Pat was hilarious. I was laughing out loud. Mom.

8:01 PM  

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