April 22 – May 1 2012 : a trip where tells mattered

Reports & Blogs by assenede about MGM Grand Posted

Early morning wake-up call at 6 am to leave for the airport at 7:15 am. Picked up my traveling companion at 7:30 and drove to the airport with my wife. Check in at 8:45 to get through security and customs about 45 mins later. A quick break the restrooms and trying out the wifi on the new netbook and skype home. Aircraft boarding and departure with US Airways was on time. Stopover at Philadelphia, a swift pass through customs and border control and after a timely flight an early landing in las vegas, half an hour ahead of schedule.

As we had rented two scooters, we had arranged for an airport pickup by harry from rent a scoot, who drove us to the Tropicana, where we checked into room 1714 with a strip view.
We walked about for a few hours and hit the sack to wake up at 630 am, which would be our standard waking time for the next week or so.

This was going to be a training holiday for live tells. I had just finished the new book by Zachary Elwood on reading poker tells and found some interesting concepts that I was going to experiment with at the tables.
Wow … I spotted at least fifteen important and recurring tells from his book , even from regulars and decent to good players. As a matter of fact, there were perhaps only two or three players I played with that I did not spot any tells on after going through extensive periods of observation.

I had intended to play at more properties,but ended up playing only three of the on this trip.
The Tropicana was the hotel I stayed in, so whenever there was action in there, I sat down. There is a decent rakeback promotion from 10 am to 7 pm where you get 80 dollars rakeback for 8 hours of play and four shots at a 200 dollar raffle. Unfortunately, this promotion is a nitfest, where you hardly see pots over ten dollars, with absolutely no action but with the stone cold nuts. No money to be made. The average age was 65+ and two at the table were poker book authors from the nineties (Alan Shoomaker being among them).
The real action would start at night when the promotion was over and the tourists would come leaking in. The room however has trouble keeping full ring games running at night; I played shorthanded for two nights, luckily with some worse players, giving me the opportunity to play LAG with the tells radar in full swing . I couldn’t believe how readable my opponents would get. The style created big swings in the stack, but was highly effective. Had it not been for numerous suckouts by the worst player at the table, who just kept shoving with air and getting there, I would have been up 2k on one evening. A few locals and dealers were then eager to get in the shorthanded game but made the mistake of buying in short (100-150) with over 1500 on the table between two loose players. Every pot was raised to a minimum of 15 preflop, so it was surprisingly easy to know when they actually had a hand. It didn’t take too long to bust their high pairs on low boards, as I’d basically play any two preflop in this kind of setup.

Definitely, if not playing total rocks, and with enough behind, LAG play is a money maker, provided the tells radar is finetuned.
I got one suckout myself hitting an eight outer for a straight against a flopped set for 300, but had my aces cracked preflop by K7 for 400, lost with a flopped set of fours to a flopped set of aces after a decent preflop raise on an AK4 rainbow board (which I saw coming by the body language but couldn’t lay down) for 500, lost a 700 dollar pot with kings to aces, had my queens cracked by tens that got there on the river for another 500, but still managed to make an overall 2000 profit.

The laydown of the week was a hand where Alan Shoomaker laid down his pocket kings for a whopping two dollar bet on the river in a pot approximating fifty dollars on an ATK4A board against another regular, getting one to twenty five on his money. Uber nitty, but villain showed the aces.

I sat in one of the larger MTT at the MGM, which was hosting the grand challenge series, but busted out after three hours, with an M of 9, trying to open shove steal from the CO with K7 and getting called by the chip leader OTB with … K8. Might have been a little too impatient, after three hours of having gotten no action at all on aces, kings and queens. This is why I prefer cash games by far.

MGM is still one of my favorite rooms, because of the incessant action, but the competition factor makes me look up the Excalibur every time, despite the lousy management, the poorer dealers, little enforcing of the rules and bad floor calls. The Excalibur is a certain money maker every time. From my last trip, I have learnt that you always want to top off max at the Excalibur, to maximize value against the bigger stacks.

This was my sixth Vegas visit in three years, and one where I felt like a shark in the water. I was preying both on other sharks and fish alike. I was properly rolled, willing and able to vary the style of play depending on the players involved and the situation at hand, and working hard on my image.

I tried out different image types and played each of them in different sessions: the uncertain tourist look, the shades and cap, the overconfident look, the slow thinking player type, the abnoxious knowall, the offensive approach, the table comedian, and the mr. Niceguy.

I owe a special thank you Zachary Elwood. His new book on poker tells is a must read for live play and allowed me to sniff out upcoming action and read bluffs, which I would never have called down or even shoved into before, both against clear cut amateurs and good to decent players.

I also had a questionable floor call. A novice dealer there was absolutely not in control of his game and I found the floor decision to be poor on this matter, despite me liking the floor person a lot. Here’s the setup:
I’m heads up in position, playing loose with K7 on the button against a tilting Northern Irish guy. The pot has grown to about 70 on an AxTx7XX board, and I sense weakness, so I bet out about 75, expecting to take it down, since he has only about 150 behind. The Irish guy says call and starts counting out the chips ten at the time rather slowly, but counts them out clearly over the betting line. When he is at about fourty (over half way) I table my hand saying, you probably got me here. The guy goes berserk, shows 97o, says, you told me I have it, and wants to rake in the pot, including my bet which is still not matched. The floor is called over. The dealer confirms my line but says he didn’t hear him say call although the entire table did. I point out that he definitely said call, otherwise I wouldn’t have tabled, and that he had more than half the necessary amount over the betting line already so that even if he hadn’t verbally called, his actions constituted a call. The floor nevertheless ruled against it and only awarded me the pot with the amount already over the betting line, 35 dollars short of the correct amount. I’d like to hear your opinions on this.

Apart from the poker, we went to see both David Copperfield and Chris Angel for the two high end magic shows. Copperfield still is the better of the two. We had dinner at three steakhouses, one at the Excalibur, one at the Monte Carlo, and one downtown at Binion’s. All of them good food. We preferred the breakfast buffet at the Tropicana over the MGM’s because of the better food quality and the cosier setting on the terrace near the waterfall. We enjoyed the rainforest café, but also breakfast on the strip at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Las Vegas.

Having rented two scooters for the week, we easily roamed around town, with minimal effort, no parking hassle and no sore feet, putting in over two hundred miles of distance on the tach.

We also had a great experience renting a private aircraft (yours truly is a private hobby pilot) and doing some flying around Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, for only a quarter of the price a commercial helicopter tour would have cost. We visited every higher end hotel on the strip, from the M resort to the Stratosphere, and went up and down to downtown and back, as our moped scooters from rent- a- scoot allowed us to get there easily. The flashy little retro models even got us to Henderson executive airport where we did the flying. No drinking and driving though. Always sober when driving…

I also met LVM on the last day, begging him for an AVP card capper which had been promised to me after my first trip report now already two years ago, but who referred me to Jon Friedberg. So Jon, if you are reading this, I’d be glad to get one in the mail….

One small regret though … I had tried to book a poker seminar with Jamie Gold during my stay but the man was not in town. A special thank you to Andy Cobb from the Tropicana poker room who really takes care of his players.

See you at the tables on my next trip...

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  1. great TR. I 100% agree about Zach's book. I just send him a tweet (@apokerplayer) giving him a heads up about your post. That book is gold. I'm flying to Vegas on Saturday and plan on rereading it during the flight to get me fresh (us online players can't spell telz anymore).

    Glad to hear you did so well... and I'm jealous about the private aircraft tool. sounds like fun!

    Did you play 1/2 most of the trip?

  2. A poker seminar with Jamie Gold? +EV on him not being in town for your wallets sake. Unless you can hold a productive seminar speaking about how to get insanely lucky. Maybe some will disagree....

    Good trip report. I will have to check out that book. Sounds like you had a great trip!

  3. Nice trip report. You sound like I did after I finished reading Mike Caro's book on poker tells. It's amazing what you can pick up when you pay attention to people. I'm still waiting for Mr. Elwood's book to become available for the Nook tablet.

  4. Regarding the ruling - I think that the floor's ruling was incorrect and you should have been awarded the full amount of his call.

    However, that being said, it is always best to allow the action to finish before tabling your hand.

  5. @vookenmeister


  6. very nice

  7. Nice trip report.



    This is a level right? You can't be serious.

  8. @24fanatics

    This is a level right? You can't be serious.

    Huh ? I sure am ...
    Despite some people not liking his style, it has proven to be highly effective against the pure math players among us.

    The man knows how to create and handle pressure and has proven that his style of play is a winner under stressy situations. Anyone able to reach the final table of (albeit win) the WSOP Main Event has tremendous skills well worth exploring.

  9. Worth exploring sure... But you don't have to be great to make a main event final table. You could just be a Luckbox. Darvin Moon?

    Or pretty good but mostly lucky like Jerry Yang? Who by all accounts seems to be a great guy

  10. @vookenmeister

    Another Sun Tzu quote:
    In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack - the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
    - Sun Tzu -

  11. In other words you want to harvest the pieces of jamies approach that worked while discarding the portions that didn't. The hard part is knowing which is which. And if you knew how to separate it then you wouldn't need to attend

    I really should read the Art of War.

  12. +1 to Vookenmeister! I just have a hard time thinking that anything but luck got him his bracelet. I've watched the televised portion of that Main Event and just can't help but think he is the biggest luck box ever. I know they only show a small amount of hands but what they did show displayed no skill IMO. Maybe I am wrong as I am not a pro, but good lord the deck just kept hitting him.

  13. Sounds like you had fun and really thats all that matters. Clearly you have to hone your player reading skills at lower levels but that being said its really not that difficult. Most people at this level are very fishy one way or another. In my opinion if you want to be profitable at this level you need to know who is going to call off all thier chips, who will FOLD because their scared of Flushes and straights, and who will dump their chips to you on goofy plays that make no sense. Your image needs to match your most recent play. By that I mean if you just got caught with 2nd best NOW draggem to the deepend with the same play but have the goods. 90% of players at this level have very short memories and for the most part only play their cards. DONT try to get creative, trying to read physical tells is like being able to read palms at this level. YES you can pick up on some very normal tells, like looking at their chips, shaking, counting out chips to call before their turn, etc etc. But I think betting patterns will serve you better at this level. DONT give the fish more credit than they deserve they dont have the tools that you do so dont think they are pulling off some FLOAT Steal move on the river. and trying to use those moves on them will go right out the window because they are clueless. Play TAG and make them pay dearly.

    Also I agree the donk should have been made to put the chips in he called off! However remember the floor loves both of you and your friends. They want your business and dont want you to have a bad exerience and tell your 10 friends to never play there. They split the differnce in most situations and try to make everyone happy.

    Jamey Gold seminar really? LOL every dog has his day. If I were to book any type of training I would look at the WPT Academy, WSOP academy or Deepstack U with the Grinder and Matasou.

  14. Shinds, agree that betting patterns are the most important thing. I don't think anyone would argue that. Tells can be very useful in those spots where information from a fundamental standpoint is pretty breakeven: like when you estimate a fold or a call is approximately break-even. If you have a little physical read on someone, even if it's just slightly statistically relevant, this can turn break-even spots into profitable spots.

    And of course sometimes you'll play with super-obvious players whose tells will be so obvious and reliable that it will drastically sway your decisions from what you would have done with just fundamental knowledge.

    I would never argue that tells are super-important in general. But against some opponents, and in some specific spots, they can really add to your bottom line. I always say that me personally, I think tells add somewhere between 10-20% to my winrate.