Friday, November 30, 2018

The Vegas tax

One of my biggest gripes in life is being ripped off – either being over charged or being charged for shoddy service really gets me going. But I understand how business works and differences between urban and rural economies mean that cities generally have higher prices because land is scarce which forces up rents which force up wages which leads to higher prices etc etc.

But it seems everything on the strip in Vegas is designed to suck every single dollar out of every single pocket that walks by. When I travel I try to do so pretty light – I very rarely check a bag even when flying transatlantic a couple of times a month. This has its advantages such as rarely having to queue for check in if I can get a mobile boarding card on my phone, not having to worry about bags going missing, not having to wait on arrival for a bag and also being able to take tighter connections without fear of my bag not making it. But it also has its disadvantages in that I’m limited on space and I also can’t take liquids over a certain volume through security so I need to buy certain items like shower gel, sun cream and deodorant as I travel. This is fine if I’m going straight from the UK to 1 place but I often travel London – New York – LA – Vegas – LA – London or more on 1 particular trip so I can’t just get what I need in London as that would only last until my next flight. If I’m in a city for more than a couple of days I’ll try to use hotels that well stock their bathrooms and buy anything else but I try to keep my wastage to a minimum. But Vegas is different – hotels are pretty stingy in stocking their bathrooms and I’m generally there for around a week so I need some supplies. As I usually stay at the MGM Signature I can pick up what I need at the Walgreens underneath Planet Hollywood but I’m still amazed at the prices - $10 for shower gel, $8 for deodorant and around $20 for sun cream are 100% mark ups compared to anywhere else (caveat that I presume locals don’t shop there and that normal stores nowhere near the strip are far better priced but it’s not really worth me spending $20 on a cab to head to a store).

The drinks prices – again I understand the mark up (I’ve lived in and around London for the best part of 20 years and the prices in the tourist areas are exorbitant but anywhere in London is far more expensive than the rest of the country) but the gouging just winds me up. It’s not that it’s $12 for a bottle of beer – It’s $12.32 (or other weird pennies) for something that even in NY would cost just $6. But $12.32 means $14 really – the change is pointless so that’s left on the side plus $1 tip as it just looks mean to only leave the coins.

Cover charges – I was in Vegas for Superbowl weekend a few years ago and I’d played poker at Planet Hollywood on the day of the game. After the tournament ended I headed over to Yolo’s to get something to eat and to catch some of the game. They were charging a $125 per person minimum cover. I eat there pretty regularly and my average check is about $40 for a couple of beers and a main dish. They were empty except for maybe 15 people for most of the game but still enforcing the cover charge – I sat there for the whole game drinking beer and eating constantly and still only just hit the minimum charge.

Guarantees in poker tournaments – quite a lot of rooms offer guaranteed prize pools which I like as it means it’s worth playing a tournament even when turning up and realising there are only 7 entries and the prize pool would usually be small. But I’ve been to numerous strip casinos that cancel their guaranteed pools when they fear they won’t get enough entrants but they’ll magically reappear their “guaranteed” event the next day when they get 30 entries. Either offer a guarantee or don’t – I don’t care either way but cancelling it just because you won’t meet it really winds me up. Offering a guarantee is a risk on the casino’s part– just the same that it’s a risk offering any other gambling game but like all forms of gambling it’s weighted in the casino’s favour. Over a long enough period of time the casino will always win – just because you don’t hit a guaranteed prize pool on 1 particular day does not mean you should withdraw it. (I realise this is not every casino does this btw)

Which brings me to my last point – the airport, which a large percentage of visitors will use. If you haven’t been ripped off by one of the unscrupulous cab drivers to or from the airport you’re doing well. Anywhere else around the world I’d usually head to the lounge but AA don’t have one at LAS because they had to agree not to in order to get more take off and landing slots. Why didn’t the airport want AA to have a lounge? So travellers can spend any money they might have left at the slots in the airport (I’m aware there’s an Amex Centurion lounge but that’s not a frequent flyer lounge). 

My only pleasant surprise was finding out that you can get on the plane without having a Vegas heavy hold you upside down by your ankles and shake you to ensure you’re not trying to leave town with any money left in your pockets.

Other people will gripe about resort fees, paid parking, increasing cash game rakes and buffet prices and these are all just as relevant. They are all just further examples of where Vegas is going too far – I really get the short term economics but by increasing prices you inevitably decrease demand – the golden goose will only lay so many eggs but won’t lay forever.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

I only need to win one hand

"I'm having the best time – I'm winning most of the hands" the crasian (he's not Chinese, maybe Thai or Vietnamese but by definition he's a crasian) next to me said. He was right – he was winning the most hands but he certainly wasn't winning 2 things: the most money or any friends.

Rewind 24 hours or so and I'm sat next to this same guy but not for long. For 2 reasons – he's on my left and raising stupid amounts every hand, the second being his very dubious personal hygiene. His hair is greasy and he smells like he's been up for 3 days solid. There's no way a healthy person should smell so bad but having been sat down for 5 minutes he makes it worse by walking over to the rail, smoking half a cigarette then blowing smoke over the whole table as he sits down (he continues to do this every 10 minutes or so throughout my session). Bizarrely I take an immediate dislike to this guy. So I request a seat change and move to the other end of the table – the rest of the session is pretty unremarkable apart from our crasian's play which is pretty insane and he manages to lose 3 or 4 buy ins over the space of an hour.

So now it's the next night and our crasian has again taken the seat to my left – he looks like he might have actually taken a shower but he's wearing the same clothes so still smells pretty bad. Unfortunately there are no free seats so I'm stuck with this loon on my left. After an hour or so I decide to give it one more round then leave as the smell is putting me off my beer – I told you it was bad!! Crasian is playing his usual game and I've folded most of the time when he turns to me and tells me he's having the best time because he's winning most of the hands, he then follows up with "Why do you play if you fold all the time?" to which I don't respond. He doesn't look like he remembers me from the previous night – might be due to a complete lack of awareness or maybe his eyesight is damaged from the bad aroma that seems to follow him around all the time. I mean to leave but I'm dealt cards whilst in the BB so end up playing – I probably can't stomach another full round so I decide to play till my button then leave (I'd normally leave UTG but got distracted before I could tell the dealer that I was leaving).

Crasian makes his standard raise to $12 whilst UTG and there are 4 or 5 callers before I look down at J-6 off. Normally I'm folding like a cheap suit there but I'm last to act and there's already over $60 in the pot and I'm getting a decent price to see the flop so I call. Flop comes J-6-6. I check and crasian bets $25 or so. It folds round to me and I call. Turn is a blank and I again check call $50. River is another J which is actually a bad card – if crasian has a J then we're chopping and if he has a 6 he's possibly not calling a bet. There's no bigger house on the board as the turn is a 2 or 3. I decide that he's likely to bet if I check and he does. He bets $75 and I shove (I started the hand with about $350 and crasian had about the same). He now thinks about it – this probably means he doesn't have a J and I'm beginning to regret such a large raise. This is the 1st time in 2 days I've seen him actually think about a hand but he announces call and I show. He turns a 6 over then mucks and tells me I got lucky – err ok. As I'm scooping I turn to him and said "In answer to your previous question – I only need to win one hand". 

Now I'm hoping he leaves but after a 30 second cigarette and again remembering to blow smoke over the table he's back and rebuys. But as I said the smell was putting me off my beer so I decided to stick to my plan and leave with a tidy profit.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Of course poker is a sport

There’s a lot of debate over whether poker can truly be classified as a sport – I know my drinking arm gets a decent workout over a long session and some people’s mouths must ache after whining for hours on end. The same question has been asked over bridge and chess. The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that bridge can be classified as a sport which has tax implications in the UK – VAT (effectively our version of sales tax) isn’t charged on certain sporting events and also the UK’s central sporting body currently gives no funding to non sports.

So I’m attempting to settle the argument once and for all, utilising my analytical skills (and the power of Google on a rainy Sunday morning) I’m going to show the numbers. 

For the purposes of this I’m going to exclude all North American sports – most of the world tends to compete internationally before calling themselves world champions, I’m also going to exclude single sport events such as the rugby, cricket & football world cups. So there’s only set of numbers that I really need to look at – the Olympics. Now there’s no arguments that the Olympics are the pinnacle of most sportsmen’s (or sportswomen’s) careers but are all the events technically sports? 

That sounds like a stupid question but hear me out – there are plenty of events in the Olympics where you can excel without technically being called an athlete but does that mean the event should be precluded from being called a sport? Not at all. Have a look at some of the Olympic events if you don’t believe me – shooting, archery, sailing & dressage (essentially horse dancing) could generally be done by anyone with the right equipment with no real degree of physical fitness required on the participant’s behalf (OK being 400lbs should probably preclude you from riding a horse but you get the drift). 

So I’ve broken Olympic events down into 2 categories – sedentary and active. Any sedentary event involves the participant partaking of his or her event whilst being sat down or being stood still for the majority of the event. Quite easy you think but for the purposes of my analysis sedentary events include rowing & cycling which are technically active events but the participant is sitting down. I’ve then used the gold medal tables from the last 2 (2012 & 2016) Olympics analysing the 5 countries (USA, China, UK, Russia & Germany) who won the most gold medals and the results are surprising. 

The USA, China & Russia are remarkably alike in that they gain nearly all of their gold medals in what I’ve classified as active events such as swimming, athletics & gymnastics (the only time this figure dips below 90% is USA’s number in 2012 and that’s only to 89%) whilst the UK & Germany are the complete opposite in that the majority of golds are achieved in sedentary events as shown in the tables below:

The numbers are the % of gold medals won by that country in the 2 sets of events

Americans, Chinese and Russians excel at athletic events where physical attributes are the defining factor between success and failure whilst the British and Germans are quite comfortable achieving success whilst sitting down.

So back to the original question of whether poker can be called a sport. I’ve already made the argument that athletic ability should not preclude an event being called a sport and the ECJ has ruled that another card game can be classified as a sport. So of course poker is a sport – but only if you’re British, or perhaps German.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Freudian Slip

A version of this was originally published as my guest post on

Most of my interactions at the poker table are pretty banal. But occasionally I get a decent story about something interesting or amusing said at the table and as long as I’ve not overdone it on the beers I get to write something up. It’s mostly other players who give me something to write about though - until now. It involves a dealer saying something to another player which goes straight into the top 3 funniest things ever said by anyone, ever. 

This particular evening I had the best seat in the house. I’m sat in seat 4 at a fairly decent game and doing relatively well – I’m probably up around $200 from my initial $300 buy in over a couple of hours. The waitress service is also pretty good tonight and I’m getting through my fair share of beers. But neither of these are the reasons that I’m in the best seat in the house. That reason is the lady in seat 1 – she’s running well and she’s a very competent player. She’s maybe early 30s and has a very good figure. She’s also not overly chatty and doesn’t seem to be with anyone else at this table. I really don’t like it when there’s a couple of friends chatting through the table – if you want to chat with your friend then sit next to each other and not in seats 2 & 7 which means you have to talk through the entire table. But anyway – I digress.

Did I mention this lady has enormous boobs and a very low cut, tight, top on? Well I have now. And every time this lady leans over to the betting line to place chips her top rides a tiny bit lower on those aforementioned enormous boobs. So I’ve had some beers, I’m winning some chips and I’ve got a pretty lady with enormous boobs to look at which is making for a very enjoyable evening. The dealer can see me admiring the lady and is taking the opportunity to check her out as he spins his head to keep up with the action. We’ve exchanged knowing glances with each other that acknowledge that we’ve both clocked each other checking the lady out.  

So it’s a major disappointment when this lady announces that she’s leaving the table after the next hand (she’ll be UTG) and she starts to rack her chips up as the cards are dealt. I get another decent sight as she leans towards the betting line to make a raise (I think to $8 but I’m not sure), it folds round to me and I fold, guy on my left in the 5 seat 3 bets to $25 and the button announces all in for around $80. Now the action is back on our top heavy lovely. She asks the guy to my left how much he has - $180 or so after his raise. She announces all in and the guy to my left snap calls. Button shows KK and says he thinks he must be behind, lady shows AA and the 5 seat doesn’t show.

Flop is something like Q high. 5 seat announces nice hand and mucks without showing (he later says he had KK which I’ve got no reason to doubt). The dealer pushes the pot to the lady and asks if she’s still leaving. She says she is and the dealer asks “Are you going to need a bigger rack” immediately correcting himself by saying “are you going to need another rack?” Too late though as I’ve already laughed beer out of my nose. The lady either doesn’t notice his faux pas or just ignores it and replies that she does. She racks up without further comment and leaves.

As soon as she’s out of earshot I burst out laughing and the dealer does the same – I tell him that’s it a shame that she left as she was much easier on the eye than the rest of the middle aged men at the table. He laughs and says he doesn’t know what I saw in her and that he’d barely noticed her.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

Promoting your own home game

I’d been in LA for a week so scheduled a trip over to Vegas for the weekend – having taken an early morning flight on the Friday it was too early to check into the hotel so went off to play some poker and partake of a couple of beers.

It was a completely meh session with no real poker action to report but there was something very odd about 1 of the players at the table. I got the impression that about half the table were regs but they barely said two words to each other so not sure if they knew each other or not. The other half were tourists, One player would not shut up though – for about an hour he kept talking – he wasn’t talking to anyone directly but was constantly promoting his own home game, telling anyone within earshot that there was no rake but to tip the dealer in lieu, where it was, what limits they played, how many players they had there last night etc. Bear in mind it’s barely noon so I have no idea if it operated all day long but I really couldn’t have cared less as there was no way in the world I’m heading off to some random guy’s ranch. One of his points was that they provide food and drinks but I’m pretty sure that casinos in Vegas have free drinks covered – I might have mentioned in an earlier post how I love free drinks!

I did find it odd that the dealer didn’t tell a supervisor though – he was being far from subtle about it and surely it’s not in the casino’s interests to have someone sat at a table looking to poach their customers.

So – has anyone ever encountered something like this before and if so has anyone actually ventured out to one of these mass organised home games? Or are they still there hog tied and squealing like a piggy while Maynard and Zed have their fun?

Friday, November 2, 2018

I am a complete idiot and should never be allowed at a poker table ever again (part 1)

In this session I’d been playing for an hour or so with nothing of any interest to report - just treading water really.

I look down at KK UTG+1 and raise to $8 and get 3 callers (all MP to C/Obefore the button raises to $35This guy had been playing position very strongly all night so I’m not overly concerned about his raise here. I figure the MP callers are folding to the button’s 3 bet anyway so I might as well 4 bet to see what the button does and I make it $100. Button has me covered and 5 bet shoves. Is this position or does he really have AA? I really don’t believe him and I call for around $300. Neither of us show and the flop is something like J-5-4 rainbow. The turn is a 9 and he immediately turns his hand over showing J-9 leaving me sickened. River is a 4

I muck my hand in disgust, rebuy and get back to my beer. The player next to me (who I’d been chatting to for a bit) asks if I had AK. I tell him KK and I couldn’t believe how the button bet with a lousy J-9. He then says I won (or would have if I hadn’t mucked) – I’d been so infuriated with seeing him hit 2 pair on the turn that I’d completely failed to notice that the board had paired. Why did I not just flip my hand over like I usually do? It really bugged me how stupid that was but at least I could drown my sorrows once the waitress came round again

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done at a poker table?