Call to the Bullpen, Apr 2 to Apr 4

Reports & Blogs by biffo99 about Golden Nugget Las Vegas Posted

Poker tournaments at Planet Hollywood and then Binions. 1-2 No Limit Cash game at Golden Nugget, Luxor. Lost 80, lost 80, won 170, won 85 respectively to land up a respectable 95. See below for 1 bad beat, 1 drunken tangent, 1 tournament suggestion, a little dark side of the NBA and 3 strategy tips. And a bunch of fictitious lookalike characters along the way too.

This trip was with my long lost 28-year-old nephew who we’ll call Smilin’ Sam. We see each other every 5 or 10 years, so who knew he was a poker player? He plays on-line, and somehow his poker playing style has evolved to be similar to mine. Poor kid. But the one thing he has going for him is that he is constantly smiling at the table. No one knows how to read that. Smilin’ Sam ends up driving the bus for a while at a couple of tournaments which was kind of fun.

First stop was a tournament Thursday night at Planet Hollywood. The room is backed up to the Pleasure Pit. Ever hear of the Pleasure Pit? So I’m facing this video screen that has like a continuous loop video set going on with the greatest jiggling and twerking songs of all time. In my 40+ bracket here, I’m not clubbing often so I’m doing a highway hypnosis towards the screen – can’t stand looking at it, but can’t look away either (“she’s doing what? Is that what I think it is?” and so on go my thoughts). Advantage: young guys who see this every day. Dealers are competent. But the atmosphere on Planet Hollywood? Not a fan.

Next day, downtown, we sign up for the Binion’s 2:00 afternoon tournament. Guaranteed $1,000 pool even if there’s less than 12 players or whatever. We look around and there’s about 8 of us to start the tournament. Hey Smilin’ Sam, we’re getting some value here: 8 of us at $80 each for $640 with a prize of $1,000. Let’s sign up quick – player advantage!

Then a funny thing happens and I swear I’ve seen it here before. So Walter White ( is at the Binion’s desk and he gets on the phone. The call goes out to Bennie’s Bullpen and guys starts wandering in to fill in the tournament and the list grows from 8…to 15…to 20…to 25. And these dudes aren’t just kids who’ve had too many RockStars, but grizzled old guys. I’m not sure how the call goes but it’s probably like, “Thor Hansen? Yeah, clean up needed on Tourist Aisle. Better come quick…” “Sam Grizzle? Yep, fish fry over in the poker pit, 2:00 tourney….got a half dozen live ones for you.” I half expected to see T.J. Cloutier amble up with “Son, this is going to hurt you but you’re going to be learning a lil’ bit of somethin’ here today.”

Smilin’ Sam’s half the age of everyone but me by the time the tournament whittles to around a dozen people. WHAT’S UP WITH THIS? Why the call to the Big Bad Binion Bullpen? We’re just tourists. Just chumps with a little spare change.

But why am I complaining? I once wanted to be among the best, so why discourage good competition and I think Binion’s has the best competition without having to pay World Series of Poker entry fees. Kudos for a well run tournament and some of the friendliest, but cagiest, players I’ve ever seen. Closest reminder to my dad’s days of post WWII poker in a smoke filled room with the Legionnaire’s and for that vibe alone I’m grateful.

Strategy tip #1:

I’m hanging in there myself, trying to learn the old pros’ styles and I’m picking up on a tendency creeping into my consciousness: if you mimic the bettor, they tend to fold. Mimic the percentage bet (half pot, minimum bet, betting the pot, etc) and even mimic the style of putting the chips out there. Whether it’s the neat stack slow push, or flip/tossing chips, or the ‘let’s break the bet into 4 even sub stacks’. Whatever their quirk, you just match it. That’s it – the trick is told. Think about it though. You trust what you know. You know how you roll your chips and if you suddenly see a mirror image of yourself, you are (a) flattered and (b) trusting for a moment that they’re just like you. So I try this a few times when I’m heads up and boom, the good folks seem glad to fold up their hand when their evil twin appears across the table.

Bad Beat:

So it’s pre-flop mid-tournament and from early position, I go 3x BB with KK and ol’ wiley T.J. Cloutier ( calls me. Then, Castanza (, who’s his usual nebbish self, suddenly gets desperate and goes all in at around 10x BB. So, I put Castanza on AA but I think I can get Cloutier on the over bet (he only called after all) and at least make some money off him. There’s no doubt I’m going all-in but I want to act it out right. So, like Cloutier does, I move my chips around first. Then, I look away from the table for about 10 seconds, taking a measured breath. Then, I look down at the hand again. And resignedly, “OK, I’ll go all-in too”. Academy award stuff. Cloutier thinks about it for about 60 seconds (C’mon, I got you ol’ pro, call-call-call I’m thinking to myself). And he does. Turns out Castanza’s got only 7-7, Cloutier is on A-J off suit and my K-K is now a decent favorite in a 3 way to determine who’s the sheriff here in the tournament. No Ace for Cloutier, another King for me (don’t even need it) – what could go wrong except…, except…., wait, what? There’s now 4 hearts out there on the flop and Cloutier, why of course, he has the Ace of Hearts…. so, yeah, so you’re a loser.

You know, you read people, you do all the right percentage moves, you play for 4 hours and then something like that happens.

NBA Intermission:

So I bet on NBA basketball as the leak in my game. Anyway, I’ve got New Orleans (-6.5) at Sacramento. New Orleans is up by 8 with 24 seconds to go and running out the clock, covering by 1.5. What could go wrong, I think. Try 6 unlikely events in a row.

1. No reason to do so, but wait, Sacramento fouls down by 8. Guess they’re figuring on hitting three 3-pointers in a row.
2. Tyreke Evans, a 70 % free throw shooter, misses his two throws.
3. Sacramento turns the ball over with a bad pass, going through the hands of two players but ruled New Orleans ball. But wait, George Karl, the Sacramento coach, is HOT - argues with the lead official to REVIEW THE PLAY. After all, Sacramento is down by 8 with 12 seconds left.
4. Back in New York, the call is overturned.
5. Given the 5 minute delay, Sacramento comes out of the break and gets an unchallenged dunk with 7 seconds to go. Down by 6 and covering the pointspread.
6. Now Sacramento and George Karl see NO NEED TO CHALLENGE the inbounds or to foul, letting the clock run out and preserving the 6 point loss.

Take that back, NBA. You want to allow gambling and yet you’ve got this stuff going down. Somewhere, somehow, a Maloof brother just cashed thanks to George Karl and his buds.

Vegas – rather bet on my poker skills then the NBA having a straight up game.

Tournament suggestion:

Good times - Smilin’ Sam got to the final table at Binions’ 2:00 tournament against 8 other guys who have been AARP cardholders for 10 years now. Again, nothing against these guys who are as amiable as Uncle Gil back home, just didn’t expect 15 of ‘em to come sauntering in a half hour after the tournament started.

But here’s the deal. At the tournament’s 4 hour mark, there’s still 7 players left but Smilin’ Sam’s Mom and Uncle (that’s me) are fixing to go to the Cirque Beatles show at the Mirage at 7:00 PM. We didn’t quite see a 6 hour tournament in the making when there’s 8 people showing up at 2:00 PM. So I’m frantically on the phone with the Mirage ticket staff, trying to swap 7:00 tickets for the 9:30 show, while Mom gives the stinkeye to Smilin’ Sam, looking for him to bow out in some gracious way while still wishing for him to win some money. Bad times.

So here’s the suggestion – how about an Opt-out? If at any point in the tournament, you get a call and your wife’s gone into labor or you’re going to the Beatles show and you want to leave? Just ask for an Opt-Out! Do a quick calculation. So maybe like Smilin’ Sam, you have 20 % of the chips at the final table. You take the Opt Out: 1,400 prize, take 20 %, subtract 10 % - hey, your $80 entry just got you $252. Would that be so bad? The Opt-out chips are out of circulation, so the tournament will actually end sooner, saving the casino some dealer pay. And no one has to feel bad for taking the good kid’s money at the end with his desperate all-in spree to try to leave the game.

But anyhow, Smilin Sam finishes 7th at Binion’s in the 2nd live tournament of HIS LIFE. Congrats to him.

Then I like to play the early morning crowd at the Golden Nugget - 6 AM, last night’s heroes who are still on a sleepover makes for a pretty loose game. I show up, hear from some other players, “I can’t play at that 2nd table. It’s too wild…too many guys are drawing out on you”. Of course, sign me up for table 2.

The Golden Nugget AM tour is how poker is supposed to be. Characters of all shapes and sizes. Nobody losing life changing money. No one flinging Benjamins like Pete Carroll calling goal line passes either. Just the right blend of competion and crazy. You could darn near write a book ( from these characters.

Two hands after showing up, and I’m winning hands like Queen-Jack-in-the-hole into a Q-10-9-3-[Ace-on-the-river] flop, where the opponent, Adam Scott ( puts me on a flush draw and is going to call whatever the heck I bet. So here I am, when the Ace falls on the river, thinking that one last bluff might convince Adam that I’ve hit the Ace and get him to fold. But no, he calls, thinking any pair is better than the missed flush/missed straight that he had me pegged as having. But he’s got a Queen-8 in the hole and the Jack kicker plays to give me the win. A $150 win there and a string of positive cash/ positive bluffing occurs.

An interesting hand then takes place, where Millhouse (, sitting right alongside Adam Scott gets involved in a dueling war. These guys are on the overnight plan with these huge chip stacks of 400-500, plus several Bennies, probably were the Poker IQ leaders all night long but that was 12 drinks ago. Anyhow, they’re playing into 3 hearts on 4th street when the raises start getting announced. And they’re not regular amounts either. It’s like an arithmetic series with these brainiacs of 15, 45, 135 and maybe a 405 at the end with about 30 second pauses between each where each player is trying to figure out who’s on the draw and who’s nailed the flush. Well, fun moment, when both are all in around the 945 bet or so (no kidding, can’t anyone round to the nearest 50?) and Millhouse turns over K-Q hearts where Adam Scott had the A-10 hearts. Ouch.

Millhouse goes a little tilty after the $900 loss, but before long he’s raking in more than he’s pushing when he hits a full house and a sneaky inside straight. All in all, staying calm despite the bad beat. No hard feelings - still good times being had by all.

Strategy tip #2:

Millhouse gets tilty. Adam Scott gets tipsy after the big win and slugs down a victory beer. Another guy goes passive aggressive and begins check-raising every other hand. I’ve always tried to put people on specific hands. But with time, I do much better putting people on MOODS. Who can blame Millhouse for getting tilty after a bad beat? And when he lucks into the inside straight, who wouldn’t think he’d be right back on the rails of good behavior after a suck out from the poker gods? Poker moods follow patterns: Lose Bad Beat – Tilty bets and raises – Lose More - Full Tilt. Or Bored – Random Raises to liven it up – Fold Big after being raised – Slow Play the next one to get even – etc. I’ve learned to look in the eyes of the guy who just lost and try to ponder just what kind of mood he’s falling into. Ashamed of himself and moving into a shell? Mad as hell that someone didn’t believe his raise and going tilty? You can see how they look at their chips or how they reach for their wallet and figure what mood they’re in. They’re still solid players at their core; they’re just going to have 5-6 dysfunctional hands here and if you can figure out which side of the rails they’re tilting on, you know to slow play them or raise them or whatever.

Drunken tangent:

Then the waitress unexpectedly stops serving to Adam Scott, while Millhouse, Ned Flanders, Comic Book Guy are all getting theirs. Adam says, “well, I’m going to turn in – they won’t serve me any more.” What the heck? There goes $1,800 off the table and well, half the table is saying stick around Adam and we’ll get you some more Bud Light.

So the next time the waitress is there, somebody asks for a Bud Light, completely out of character for his coffee sipping ways. Then Millhouse, Mr. Gin and Tonic, asks for a Bud Light too (Millhouse!?!). The waitress is onto this, throws a conniption, two non-Bud drinkers are riding the Clydesdales all of a sudden? And bing-bang-boom, there’ll be no pass-the-drink to the neighbor and next thing you know, the cash leader is reaching for his coat. Someone say, “Hey, Adam Scott may be drinking, but he’s the nicest drunk you’ll meet- not obnoxious, not delirious, not falling asleep – a real credit to the game.” The waitress says something about past complaints about Adam, slowing down the game the previous day. Bizarre scene that basically takes the game down.
Since then, I’m reading up and sure enough people have SUED not just for being served past their limit but (get this) for their gambling losses. Here’s one where a player says he blacked out at the Downtown Grand a year ago:

And who is an alcoholic black-out victim going to go after in a poker game? The players are long gone and the casino only takes a small cut. So I guess I get it – a sobering reality for the 2 drinks an hour crowd. You might get cut off …. even when you’re up $1,800.

But I do win $170 in the session and at that point had broke even. And strong kudos to the Golden Nugget staff for keeping the game friendly without players going face down at the table. Tough call either way.

Strategy #3 tip and out:

Got back to the Luxor where I’m a lifetime winner. Somehow, when a place has been good to you, every time you show up it’s like some of your chips are still on the table waiting for you. So here’s a mid afternoon crowd at the poker table, just off the sports book, guys just passing time before the Final Four tournament games. And what a style difference. Like a Calling Station Conference had broken out. Every hand is like 1-2 blinds and then someone goes 10 and there’s 7 callers. What the….? So, 10 hands in, I get an Ace-King. I push to 10, and sure enough, 5 callers behind. The flop is K-7-7, a little dangerous when working with the Calling Crew. I bet $40 and Amanda Bynes ( calls. Every hand, she is just stacking and restacking her chips. Loud… hangover loud at least. Impatient to bet. The river is another King for a full house for me. I bet 30 into the 130 pot and she instantly calls with JJ, a hand that never improved. Huh? So, Richard Kind (
), sitting alongside her says “Hey Amanda there, saw you calling into him just now with the King on the flop. Happened to notice that he had raised before the flop to 10. Figured he had the King.” Amanda says, “Oh yeah? Didn’t see that. The dude just didn’t seem sure of himself and I didn’t believe him” “Yeah, just wanted to make sure you notice the bet before the flop”, says ol’ Richard. So here’s a guy,. doesn’t know her; not like it’s his daughter. And then there’s Amanda Bynes riffling her chips, banging the chips on the table, just waiting to pass them out and we’re going to start giving her advice? C’mon, she can read a book if she wants to play better. Let her call away, win a couple, lose plenty and get those chips to somebody deserving.

We all know this one. So the advice here is to not give advice. Just say, “nice try Amanda. Keep pluggin’ away and you’ll get ‘em next time. And if you don’t, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone”. Players keep getting better out there, it’s harder than ever to win, so help out the grinders out. Besides, we need the cash to take on Binion’s Bullpen later today.