Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Guide to Vegas and the WSOP

OK, here's the thing I promised:


The Rio is about a mile off the Strip. I walked the route a few times, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s hot as fire in the daytime and dark and scary at night. The cheapest way is by city bus, which was the method I mostly used last year. A 30-day pass is about $30 and single rides are $1.50 or $2. The bus drops you off right in front of the casino. Taxis are, of course, most expensive and were about $10-$12 from Downtown. Strip rates depend how close you are to the Rio. The taxis will drop you off near the back, which is a much closer walk to the WSOP area.
If you enter the Rio from the front you walk straight back through a long corridor to the back of the building. It’s a solid quarter mile walk.


It’s a sight to behold if you’ve never been. The tournament room is huge, but what do you expect from a facility that must hold 200 tables? You may notice the dark area in the back with the “stars” in black background. That’s the ESPN filming area. The cash games in 2005 were played front right in the room, while satellites were in the front left. On many days, all the tables will be used for only the main tournament of the day until tables can be broken down in the afternoon. The nightly second chance tournament is played in the back left of the room. Walk into the room on any given day and there are many different games going on at once.


The main tournament registration area is outside before you reach the room. You’ll also find tournament schedules and structures piled on tables out there. Sign up for cash games at the desk near the cash game area. They use the computer system where you can see how far down the list you are. Lots of hold’em games and limits, a few Omaha games and not much stud.
For satellites, unless there is a big crowd, you can just sit around and wait for one to end and then walk up and grab a seat for the next one. When it is busy, a line forms behind a podium in the area. There are lots of $125 satellites for 2 $500 buy-in chips and $50 satellites in which two players receive $225 vouchers for the nightly second chance tournament.


There is one, and sometimes two, bracelet events each day. All of the $1,500 NLHE tournaments will have monster fields near 2,000 people, while the bigger buy in NLHE are somewhat smaller. Limit hold’em and Omaha and stud events have more modest fields of 500 or less. Triple-draw lowball is a pro only field, and let’s not even talk about the $50,000 HORSE tournament.

There will be a daily $540 second chance tournament at 5 p.m. and another one for $225 at 11 p.m.

Super satellites, with a $230 buy in plus rebuys, take place daily at 3 p.m. for a seat in the main event. A nightly mega satellite for $1,060 is held at 7 p.m. Leading up to the ME on July 26 and July 27, there will be two supers and two megas each day. The first main event seat you win you must play, but if you win a second seat you get $10,000 in lammers that you can use to buy into other tournaments or sell. If you need to sell lammers, stand near the registration area and offer them up. You should be able to get face value so don’t take anything less.


Find the Full Tilt Poker hospitality suite and register there. In 2005, they gave out caps, T-shirts, posters and mouse pads, as well as free drinks – both alcoholic and non. There are plenty of poker magazines floating around. Not much else will be free until the WSOP exhibition show starts around the time of the main event, and that show has all the freebies you can stand – caps, visors, shirts, spinners, magazines, autographs from pros, etc. Bluff Magazine had an interesting promotion where they would take your picture and put you on a 5 x 7 photo that looked like the cover of their magazine, proclaiming you the winner of the WSOP. Not sure if they will bring that back in 2006.


There will be a snack bar set up outside the tournament area offering overpriced sandwiches and pizza. Drinks can be found there or in the gift shop next to it. All of the restaurants in the Rio are also overpriced. Even when you buy into a tournament and get a coupon it only pays for half of the $27 buffet. Fact is, when you’re at the WSOP you’re going to pay to eat. Not sure about food in the near vicinity other than a Mexican restaurant at the Palms that has decent prices and good food.


There was a serious bathroom shortage in 2005 as there was only one men’s bathroom near the tournament area. Avoid this line by walking 100 yards back toward the casino to a second bathroom. I believe the Rio is planning to set up some portable toilets somewhere near the tournament area if you’re not too discriminating.

There can also be some really long lines for tournament registration if you wait around until close to the time of the event. If you have the money already, pre-register online. If you have to sign up on site, do it when the lines are short, like really early in the morning or in the afternoon.


Better than ever with the opening of posh new rooms at Caesars Palace and The Venetian. Best rooms in town include those two, Wynn, Bellagio and Mirage. MGM has a pretty nice room but not a wide selection of games. Higher limits can be found at the rest. Some friends of mine watched a $400-$800 razz game at Caesars over Memorial Day weekend that included Shawn Sheikhan and Eskimo Clark.

There are more tournaments than I can possibly list. Pick up an issue of Card Player for a comprehensive listing of the plethora of daily offerings. The biggest daily tournaments are at the Bellagio, Wynn and Mirage, with buy ins from $300 to $1,000 on many days. I like playing the $100 tournaments down at Binion’s and the Plaza (especially since I won one at Binion’s last summer for $3,300 and change).

As for other major tournaments, the Bellagio will hold the Bellagio Cup tournament again this summer from July 24-Aug. 10. All events are NLHE with $1,000 buy-ins running twice a day until Aug. 7, when the $10K main event begins.

The Orleans will host the Orleans Open from July 1-16. This event will feature a variety of poker disciplines with buy-ins starting at $300.

Last year, the Palms held a summer tournament and the Plaza had the Ultimate Poker Challenge, but I don’t believe either one is having those events this year to coincide with the WSOP.

Clonie Gowen in Maxim

From Card Player: The July Maxim features Clonie Gowen on the cover and in a bikini in a WSOP preview. Here's what she had to say:

"I've been asked to do this sort of thing before," says Gowan, "but the last offer was from Playboy. And though my sister and mother were all for it, I reviewed the terms and thought it best I keep my clothes on," Gowen said. "Maxim had someone for everything. There was a hair stylist, make-up artist, wardrobe technician, dozens of assistants, and when my nerves started to get the best of me, they had a bartender on staff pouring me a cocktail."

Another Brokeback spoof

You've probably seen the Back to the Future "trailer" that implies Brokeback Mountain style that Doc and Marty are gay. I came across this other one today that gives the same treatment to Forrest Gump. Check it out at this link:


Monday, June 26, 2006

WSOP time...come on down

Yesterday I watched a world cup match between Portugal and the Netherlands, then I walked over to my neighbor’s house to watch his paint dry.

But back in the real world, I’m starting to get more than a little excited about Vegas. The World Series of Poker is starting as we speak. I’ve decided against driving cross country and booked my flight for July 6. The blogger get together is that weekend. I play the $1,500 on July 18 and the next week some friends are flying into town and we’re driving to L.A. for a week and hopefully a spot on The Price is Right. (More on that in a minute.)

When I return it will be time to gear up for the main event. I haven’t received confirmation of my registration so I don’t yet know which day I will play. I asked for day two since I figured more weekend warriors will be in the field in an effort to cut taking many vacation days.

For now, I look at it as a lottery ticket, albeit a $10,000 one. Playing poker may not be quite so simple as pulling six ping pong balls out of a hopper, but to make it through a two-week field of 8,000 or so takes a lot of luck, skill often be damned. I have no unrealistic expectations of how I will fare. I would be plenty happy to make the dough and to make it any deeper would be a dream. All I can do is give it my best. It was always my goal to play the main event in 2006 so any success is icing on the cake, though a nice win would be a great financial help. I tell friends that $150,000 dropped in my lap post taxes would be all I need…pay my house off, send my parents back to Italy and buy me a new car.

To explain that second part – my dad was drafted back in the Vietnam days of the mid 1960s and was training at Fort Benning, Ga., when a particularly harsh drill instructor marched his boys a bit too hard and my dad was among the casualties with a broken foot. It was quite to his benefit as instead of preparing for a trip to the hells in southeast Asia, he was instead sent to a NATO base in Naples, Italy. He lived there for two years in an apartment and my mother lived with him for a year. I can only imagine being newly married and in love in a place like that. They’ve never been back, and I’ve secretly wanted to win enough money playing poker to send them there. So far, I haven’t come close. Did I really win $9,500 last August? It seems like a dream it was so long ago.

Anyway, back to the L.A. trip. Five summers ago, my friends Brian, his wife Heather and Mahn booked our first trip to Las Vegas and we planned to drive to L.A. for a day to try to get on TPIR. It’s been Brian’s favorite game show since he was a kid and it was always his dream to become a contestant. But back in the stone age of 2001, TPIR didn’t offer the e-ticketing it does today so we had to write for our tickets. Forty-five days after writing and the day of the flight having arrived, we still had not received our tickets so the side trip was scrapped.

The tickets came in the mail the next day.

This time was can print our tickets so that won’t be an issue. I’m hoping to audition for Jeopardy! while we’re out there as well and take the daunting quiz they give you.
My former boss sent me this interesting NYTimes article about potential TPIR contestants you might enjoy: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/13/arts/television/13pric.html?ex=1151208000&en=ea1fffc626b5c89b&ei=5070

I always thought an interesting follow up book if I ever get this first one published would be to write about TV game show contestants and their efforts for big money, big prizes...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A man looks back at 30

I haven't been posting much lately, reverting back to my default lazy self. I've spent the past few days up in Cullman, that little burg in north Alabama that I can always go back to...and am expected to go back to.

I turned 30 today, not quite middle aged, not quite young anymore, sort of in the Twilight Zone of ages. At the very least, it will be much harder to pick up college aged girls. Without lying.

I'm typing at my parents' computer with its glacial internet and strange noise emitting monitor, as my dad flips on the news and hollers at my brother to come and eat. I decided to get a metal detector for my birthday, for something different to do while getting away from poker and as an impoteus to exercise more.

The odd thing about the past few months, pokerwise, is that I have struggled mightily and I continue to struggle, yet as the sunshine peeked through the clouds for brief hours, I managed to win two WSOP seats valued at $11,500. That's certainly exciting, but the euphoria ends pretty quick when you continue to lose at the cash gaems. Eleven thousand in cash would sure come in handy right now, yet I don't want to go selling all of my action lest I luck up, as the clouds disappear completely for a week, and I go very deep into the main event.

I've even dipped a bit into my reserves, pulling a grand out of my Ameritrade account to tide over my checking account for now. It's not dire by any means, but I like to keep my reserves as my reserves. Then again, what's the purpose for reserves if you don't use those reserves? But after you use your reserves then you have no more reserves. Ah, the trouble with finances.

Saturday, I ride with the family down to Orlando. My mother works at ALFA and her office often wins trips each summer to various vacation points in the Southeast. This year it's Mickey land.

I'll part with this comment from my friend Brian as he wished me happy b'day today, "Thirty years old and ain't got no damn job." I cannot deny.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ode to the WSOP

No matter how much poker has grown or will grow, no matter how saturated the television market becomes with poker programming, the World Series of Poker will continue to be the sun around which the poker universe revolves.

The WSOP, after all, is where the explosion began, from the first freezeout tournament to the colorful characeters like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Puggy Pearson that captured the attention of the early poker fans. As history has given way to the present, the uniqueness and quaintness of those early years has metamorphised into this huge event where thousands come to try their skill and their luck. The tournament has moved from Binion's to the Rio, soon to move to Caesar's Palace. Hell, the Horseshoe isn't even the Horseshoe anymore.

Even though the tournament has tossed aside its past and is virtually unrecognizable from what was first deemed the World Series of Poker, it continues to be the one central thing that aspiring poker players dare to reach. Winning the WSOP is climbing the Mt. Everest of poker tournaments, now more so than ever. Win it and you're called the world champion, World Poker Tour be damned.

When I started this run last June and jetsetted off to Vegas, I didn't try that hard to win my way into the main event. For one thing, it's no easy task and my poor start to the trip led me to more conservative use of my bankroll. For another, all good stories deserve a good ending. Hickory High wins the Indiana state basketball championship, Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star, Cinderella finds her prince (or rather he finds her). Winning an WSOP entry and faring well in 2005 would have been rather anticlimatic, don't you think?

Wouldn't the storybook ending be me winning the damn thing this year, as the sun sets on my one-year professional poker tour?

At least I'll get the chance to find out. I won my entry on Sunday.

It was a mere 36-player field on Poker Share, it of the fantastic overlays (which ended Sunday unfortunately), and there were two $13,000 packages up for grabs, as well as $5,000 cash for third. We made a final table deal in which three $10,000 entries would be distributed (and no cash) while fourth would get $1,000.

It was a rather comfortable tournament for me as I don't EVER remember being all in. I built my stack steadily at first and then won a key race with QQ vs. AK. I also got lucky by drawing out on a guy I was trying to bluff and then played smart, aggressive poker when the contenders began to drop from the final table. When we were four handed, I was practically tied for third in chips; by the time I called the all in that ended the tournament, I had 50K and fourth was 15K.

So now I have my lottery ticket, one that could be worth up to $10 million. Win or lose, I can't wait to savor playing on poker's biggest stage.