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This is the end my friends. Of another trip anyway. I'd have to say that this is the fastest it has ever felt. There's clearly more I want to do and the Vegas weather is supposed to heat up the next couple of days, which would have made the pool an option.
I feel pretty good with my packing choices. Didn't forget anything, had everything I needed, and the only things that went unused were brought as just in cases: an extra undershirt, an extra pair of underwear, a pair of shorts and a bathing suit. That's pretty solid. Unlike others, I don't delude myself into bringing gym clothes: it's just not going to happen.
It's hard to even talk about yesterday's gambling. I had a five-hour poker session, which was the worst one of my life. This is my first ever down poker trip which is, I suppose, great in retrospect, but its hard to go five hours essentially not winning a hand. And, actually I mean that literally. I had a few small pots I took down before any bets were put in or with a bluff, but in terms of having a showdown, I did not have a single win. I barely played any hands and I only had two pocket pairs in over 200 hands. Aces where I got my set and they still got cracked when four clubs came on the board and it was clear I had to lay down my hand when the guy went all-in even though I had already put a very substantial amount in the pot. And jacks that got beat by aces on my last hand of the day--although I didn't have much on the table at that point.
Butler won and I got to watch the entire spectacular game on a TV right in front of me while playing poker. I am sure the table could have gone without my screaming, but seriously, it was the high point of my day. They were going to have to deal with it. However, the Arizona loss was very tough. A win there, combined with Butler, would have recouped over half my poker losses from the day. A loss combined with my ridiculous loss taking the under in Butler, which was a lock until overtime, and I would be barely up on basketball and have my huge poker loss. When Arizona went on that run in the mid-late second half where they just had dunk after dunk, I really thought I had it in the bag. I'm not sure why they stopped doing that; not getting dunks, but pounding it inside to Williams. And seriously, why was the plan on the last shot to go for the win at all costs with a three instead of getting to overtime? I was a little upset at them shooting a three instead of going inside to start, but when you get the rebound and have what looks like a pretty easy two and instead kick it out for a three with almost no time left, that seems inexcusable to me. You take the overtime. Really a heartbreaker.
Finally, dinner was a signature experience as requested. We had the private chef's table at Mix at the top of THE hotel at Mandalay in a room with one side looking over the whole strip and the other side looking into the kitchen. The view was great, the service was great, and the food was great. I'm not sure I would pay those rates again considering we had such a great meal at Mastro's for less than half that the night before, but it was quite incredible. To me, the Filet Mignon Rossini was the top course. The chef came out afterward to introduce himself and it turns out that he started his career at a restaurant near where some of us live. Small world.
After that, it was mostly people watching as the food, drink and culmination of everything had us all pretty wiped out. My thought is that I will play a little blackjack in the hour I have before departing and then head over to the airport. Thanks for reading--until next year!
Well, this update is coming a lot later today as it was a very long night last night and I needed some extra sleep. Funny, but wives don't really appreciate you taking off four days to go to Vegas only to come home and complain how exhausted you are. Certainly did not expect to sleep until close to 11 am though.
After writing my update yesterday, my friends convinced me to go to the breakfast buffet yet again. As much as that gets you stuffed, it isn't a bad plan since you are certainly not hungry again until eight o' clock-in time for dinner. So, after my arm was twisted, I went to the buffet, this time with mostly a carb-avoidance plan and a focus on only the foods I really, really wanted. Now, I'm not sure if you've ever seen a Vegas buffet, but if you haven't, they are everything you would imagine and more. And the benefit of a place like the Bellagio is that everything is abundantly fresh. We were somehow able to put aside all thoughts of guilt at how they must have to throw 40% of the food away to keep everything so fresh--one buddy heard that they sell it to pig farms, but I cannot confirm or reject the accuracy of that statement.
However, we did have a very academic discussion over the following question: if you wanted to eat the highest percentage of the different foods at the buffet--assuming the rule was that you had to take a piece or portion of any item and eat at least half of it for it to count--what is the highest percentage you could get to? The range of our answers was 10-20%, with no possibility that you could try more than 20% of the offerings under the rules of the game. And, of course, to maximize that number, you'd really have to go for the fruit and the proteins first. Carbs would just knock you right out. Yes...these are the questions of the universe that my friends and I ponder.
After another walk over to the Venetian, I figured that I would give the big tournament another try. Well, I lasted a heck of a lot longer and got knocked out in 34th, but still too early for my tastes and not close to cashing. One friend got knocked out way early and the third got knocked out a while after I did, in 27th. That friend insisted that we join the 4 p.m. Turbo Tournament that had just started, the same one I had won the day before. I adamantly refused and said I was done for the trip with any tournaments.
So, two minutes later I am sitting at the Turbo Tournament and shooting daggers at my buddy after I lose almost half my chips on the first hand to a guy who never should have called me. Definitely the biggest waste of money on the trip, but at least I got knocked out quickly enough to get back to the room and see the entire second half of the UNC game. Ahhh, UNC. The easiest basketball win I have had in many, many years. I admit that I was a little worried when Marquette got it down to about 15 (a lead I would have been thrilled with if it had grown to 15 as opposed to being reduced from 30 to 15). But, the bet was never really in doubt and it just about paid for the cost of my VCU Money Line bet.
I love VCU. I view VCU and Butler like a good craps or blackjack run. Sure, your last bet is going to be a huge loss, but until that happens, you just keep riding the wave. They had me really worried in the first ten minutes due to their complete inability to pull down a rebound. I honestly thought the bet might be lost right away. Eventually, Florida State was going to start hitting some shots, but VCU's interior was never going to get any bigger or stronger.
We walked over to the restaurant around halftime, and the restaurant bar had the Kentucky-OSU game, so, again, we had to have the blackberries and iPhones out to get our updates. Once Kentucky won, they switched over to the VCU game, but as soon as one of my friends and I got up from the table to check out the last couple of minutes, FSU scored, and he was convinced that we were bad luck and we couldn't actually watch the game. So, I sat at our table, perfectly still, until hearing the crowd confirm our victory. Then we all toasted. It was beautiful.
That put me way up on basketball--despite my losses on the OSU-Kentucky over/under and my small bet on Kentucky to be the first to 15 points. I can't remember the last time I was up on basketball for a trip. Of course, I've also never ended a trip down on poker, and that is almost a certainty this year. A complete reversal of fortune on both fronts.
So... dinner. Dinner was incredible. We went to Mastro's Ocean Club, which is in a tree house structure in the middle of Crystals at CityCenter. I won't bore you with too many details, but we got an insane amount of food, including a ton of appetizers to split, each one better than the next: if you ever go, get the mussels appetizer. I've never said anything much about mussels--I usually view them as something that I like, but not that I would order over other things. These mussels ranked up with the best things I have ever had in my life. Just get them. In fact, the meal was so spectacular that I am a bit worried that our private chef's table tonight at Mix won't live up to the expectations and the bar that was set last night. I'll cross my fingers (and stomach) that it will.
So, before discussing the last event of the night, an aside to say that I walked through the Cosmopolitan casino for the first time last night, and I'm not an expert or even competent in interior design, but that place is beautiful. Every decision they made with that casino is the right one aesthetically. Blows the Bellagio and the others away in my mind. And speaking of the Bellagio...it's a great place and I love staying here each year, but something needs to be done with the tv situation. The TVs are fairly small, standard-definition boxes in a town where bigger is always better and high-def flat screens are the norm, with many hotels having flat screens in the bathrooms for goodness sakes. And the channels consist of a couple dozen basic cable choices with another two dozen channels that are nothing but ads for the hotel or international stations not in English. I know this sounds picky, but I expect a place like the Bellagio to have a better tv situation than, say, a Best Western.
Back to the events of the night. A couple of the guys don't play poker at all, but one likes to play even though he is a novice, so no limit is a bit intimidating to him. So each year, one night we just take over a table--those poor other guests--and play low-stakes limit poker. And similar to the person that wins the basketball pool without having ever seen a game, he cleaned up. I've never seen a lucky streak like this. He hit flush after flush, straight after straight, full house after full house. And each time, someone else at the table had a good hand, just not as good as his. Unfortunately, he has yet to learn the art of the raise, so he didn't win more than a hundred bucks, but it was a sight to behold. We didn't get back to our rooms and to sleep until almost 4 am.
So, here I sit, finishing this update before getting down to the poker tables to try to get my mojo back there. I'm going money line on both Arizona and Butler today, both around 3 to 4 point underdogs, so I am guessing the odds will be about +145, maybe +150. Seems like there is no need to stop riding the underdogs now. It's not like UConn or Florida are juggernauts. I think I am off the first to 15 points bets for now (unless I get some wonderful odds... really I can stop anytime I want). I'm still not hungry after last night, so I'll probably play through to the basketball games. Wish me luck.
It's a miracle. I ended Thursday, my first day in Las Vegas, slightly up on sports betting. It didn't start well though.
My first bet of the day was BYU on the money line to win. And, I finished a poker tournament--that I won, more on that later--just in time to see perhaps the most depressing part of the game. I literally got to the tv so that I could see BYU miss a free throw, Florida miss a shot, get the rebound for the last shot of regulation, miss it to send the game in to overtime, and then have BYU be demolished in overtime. Part of me felt like I caused the meltdown (well, the part of me that didn't blame the BYU honor code) since after my 1-9 record last trip, I was now on a seemingly impossible 1-10 run -- maybe worse; I don't remember my record from two years ago.
Then I watched the first half of Arizona-Duke from my room while getting ready for dinner where my run quickly went to 1-11 as Duke, not Arizona, was the first to score 15 points. Of course they were. The good news was that I had also bet the over (148) in that game and the points were coming fast and furious. Could I actually break my slump? The scores along the top also showed that my biggest potential victory, Butler to win at +190, was actually ahead even though my over in the game (123.5) was not looking particularly great. Just focus on Butler winning and Duke/Arizona going over, I thought, and I will be up for the day. And thank goodness I didn't bet on Arizona to win at +400: that would have been throwing away money, right?
We headed off to dinner with blackberries, iPhones, etc. all set to different updates to keep track of the scores. And when we finally sat down at Prime at Bellagio, they were all laid out on the table, refreshing every few seconds, showing me that I won my Duke/Arizona over, that anyone who did bet on Arizona cleaned up, and -- in something that almost made me spit up my drink -- Wisconsin had cut the Buter lead from 6,419 to 4 in about nine seconds. Appetizers? Can't you see I'm busy watching a bunch of three-inch tall screens simultaneously? Drinks? Get back to me in a minute as I may need many. Thankfully, Butler won and I'll be putting some additional bets on them on Saturday: you just don't make money betting against the Bulldogs.
I was also happy that we didn't put money down on what seemed like the biggest lock of the week, something that sounded so preposterous, it was like the casino was trying to give money away -- something I hear they don't do. Florida (giving just 5.5 points) to score more points in the first half as a team than Jimmer Fredette scores in the whole game. I couldn't imagine Florida, whose whole goal was to lock down Fredette, wouldn't score more in a half than Fredette did in the game. It looked even more ridiculous when Florida was scoring in bunches in the first ten minutes and Fredette was not shooting well. I didn't bet on it since I had BYU to win and betting against Fredette scoring a bunch and/or Florida having a big first half seemed too anti-karmic and would require rooting for a perfect storm of events. Good thing I didn't. Florida first half: 36; Fredette game score: 32. With the 5.5. points Florida was giving, Fredette won that bet by a point and a half. Vegas odds are crazy good.
The day in a whole was great. The spa at Bellagio may be one of the most relaxing places on Earth and it really set a nice tone for the vacation. Although having gorged myself at the breakfast buffet before that, I could have gone right back to sleep and that would have been relaxing too. I entered the noon Venetian tournament and got knocked out just before the first break at the 89 minute mark. Really I was decimated a few minutes earlier when I called another guy's all-in and it looked like I was going to almost double up when with just the river to come, I had the nut flush and he had a set of aces. But the board paired on the river to give him his full house and I was all but out. I then played 1-2 no limit and went way up before I made a stupid move on a guy who was over-agressive and never had anything--until he did. Or least I think he did, since I folded on the river having donated well over a hundred dollars to him on the hand. Ended up down a very small amount for the session, which I left because my buddy convinced me to enter the Venetian "Turbo Tournament," a 4 p.m. quick tournament where the blinds go up very fast. Usually, they get only about 20 people for this tournament, and this day they had half that, but it was still fun as my friend and I were two of the top three, and three got paid. He bowed out in third, and the other guy -- who introduced himself as Jeff--and I went back and forth for a while with the same stack. Finally, Jeff says to me, right after a hand is dealt (and he has looked at his cards, but I haven't), "this is fun, but we can chop (as in call a draw and split the pot) any time you like." I say sure. We talk for a couple of minutes and the dealer says he needs our cards back. Jeff turns over his K-Q suited and starts to say that he was about to basically push all-in, but figured he'd offer me the chop. I, having not even seen my cards, decide to just flip them over and see what I would have had: K-K. Oh, well.
Dinner at Prime was exceptional, although the crowd when we got there at 8 was enormous, and even with our reservation, we had to wait over 30 minutes to be seated. At least, when they did seat us, they gave us the nicest table in the place with the center view of the fountains. They probably should have offered us some free drinks too, but, alas, they did not. The most amusing part of the wait was after the hostess pointed out which table she was giving us and told us that they were just prepping it now. Ten minutes later, they were still putting out the silverware. It was like watching a scene from Inception, and I wondered if 30 seconds to the busboys was like ten minutes of real-time.
By the time dinner ended, I was wiped out. I know. Not even midnight in Vegas and I'm feeling like going to sleep? Lame. So, I toughed it out a bit to watch and advise one of my other friends play blackjack before heading up. With my friend basically even, a guy with a cigar sits down next to him and the fumes are overwhelming. This buddy of mine is not a big better and he's going at $10 a hand. So, I tell him, "look, you want to get up from the smoke and there have just been a bunch of low cards. Push in a bigger bet, make a score, and we'll get up." He goes to $20 (ok, maybe I had more in mind). He gets 7-7 and the dealer has a 2 showing. I tell him "split." He gets another 7. I shout "split again." Table is loving this even with not much money riding on it. His first of three sevens gets a 5, so he hits (as a 12 is the only above 11 count you hit on against a 2). He gets another 7 for 19. Great. Second seven. He gets a three. I shout "double." He doubles the bet and gets a ten. Third seven. He gets another three. The whole table now shouts "double!" He has to go to his wallet, but he doubles the bet and gets another ten, so his three hands are 19-20-20. At this point I am sort of glad he only put $20 down to start, because he now has $100 on the table, and I know that if it were more like $300, he'd be ready to kill me. After the 2, the dealer goes A-9-5 for a 17 and my friend was thrilled at his $100 pick-up. All's well that ends well and I was asleep 10 minutes later.
Still no celebrities sighted -- that I could tell anyway. And no one outrageously running naked through a casino or anything like that, but I will certainly report on that if it does happen. I do keep running into the very friendly ConExpo people. They make construction seem quite fun, something I would not have expected. I kept hearing the guy at the next blackjack table shout "It's like buying a flagpole at ConExpo! You should have bought the flagpole at ConExpo!" Someday, I'll figure out what that means.
My roommate for the vacation already got out this morning at the crack of dawn to pick off any drunk stragglers at the poker tables -- not a bad strategy. I might join him. Still haven't decided whether I will enter a tournament today. I do know that I am putting some money on UNC to cover (-4 1/2) and VCU to win outright (probably around +170). I could balance that UNC bet by putting a few bucks on Marquette to win the whole thing at 30-1 or so--hey, it's possible--but I'm doubting that strategy. There's a lot to be said for Richmond (+10 1/2) or Kentucky (+6) covering, but free throws at the end really scare me. I'm already liking the underdogs to win on Saturday in Butler and Arizona over Florida and UConn. I was actually hoping the UConn-Georgetown women's game would happen before I leave Sunday, because I can't imagine there is any line where I wouldn't go heavy for UConn.
Well, that's today's report. Overall, I'm up a bit, which is all I can ask from the first full day. Have to keep my energy up as, after seafood tonight, I have no plans on going to bed early two nights in a row.
I am looking live at Las Vegas -- and blogging it for the second straight year for SBNation.com. This is my 10th annual trip and the folks at SB Nation thought it would be fun to get an inside look at a March Madness Vegas trip through the eyes of your average basketball-betting, poker-playing, great-food-eating Joe. Or, in this case, Brad.
As a refresher, my buddies and I treat Las Vegas like a cruise ship. Everyone does his own thing, sometimes together, sometimes not, during the day, and then we all meet for dinner at one of the finest establishments Vegas has to offer. My thing is playing poker and watching basketball. Someone else's might be shooting off AK-47s and sitting by the pool. Hopefully, not at the same time -- though I think they have places you can do that here.
We flew in on Wednesday night. Three of us that were flying from Washington, D.C., had the same flight last night, which got me wondering throughout the day leading up to the flight: What's the dorkiest thing a group of guys sitting in various parts of a plane can do? Get matching bowling shirts? No, not worth getting the man's equivalent of a bad bridesmaid's dress. Wait until it is quiet and then start some weird chant where one of us yells something from the back of the plane and another responds from the middle and a third from the front? Nah, too high a chance of getting a body cavity search upon landing -- besides, every chat that comes to mind seems to be a random Charlie Sheen quote. "Vatican!" "Assassin!" "Warlocks!" or "Dying's For Amateurs!"
So, if there is any reader out there who has been with others on a plane and done something really stupid that won't get me arrested for future years, let me know. As it turns out, I was seated across the aisle from one of my poker-playing buddies, and we played our usual best 2-out-of-3 for coffee for three hours. The other two hours were spent watching the in-flight movie, "True Grit," a movie where nothing happens, making me think the Coen brothers could put their name on the equivalent of "Snakes on a Plane" and get a nomination.
I thought Vegas would be swamped this year because of a construction convention going on called ConExpo that has about 150,000 people, but the only time I really noticed it was passing by the entrance of Cirque de Soliel. Who knew -- construction folk really like freaky gymnasts. Part of me thought that on our way to check in at the Bellagio, we'd see drunken conventioneers on Caterpillar bulldozers riding down the strip. I still hope to see that, but I'm not holding my breath.
Our timing may be off for good events concurring with our trip. Next week is Michael Jordan's celebrity golf tournament with a much higher celebrity-sighting factor. Maybe I'll be lucky and, NBA games or not, Charles Barkley will come in a week early. Frankly, I've never been very lucky with such sightings. I'm pretty sure my list of random encounters for my entire life goes as follows: Ben Affleck, Rich Kotite, Lawrence Taylor (he didn't card me), Jimmy Johnson (the coach, not the driver) and Riker from Star Trek. A buddy of mine and I are also confident that, a couple of years ago, we sat next to Tim Floyd for an hour at a blackjack table, but the only ways we could think of asking him would probably have ended in a physical altercation.
After checking in, it was straight to the poker room, where after making one of the worst pre-flop plays I've ever made calling an all-in with my jacks when it should have been perfectly obvious that I would be no better than in a race and probably behind, I grinded for about two hours to end up a hundred bucks ahead before the east coast time difference got the better of me and I headed for bed around midnight PDT. Three of us will play in the Venetian noon tournament today, where I placed third last year, so I am hoping for another good start to the trip. Speaking of physical altercations, as much as I love the Venetian poker room, the closest I've been to such an altercation in a good 20 years or so is when I won a big pot from a guy on a bad beat and he sat there drunk for half an hour (not even playing) before finally getting up and coming at me. We're hoping to avoid similar occurrences this year.
Before poker though, there is going to be some relaxing in the Bellagio Spa, maybe a breakfast buffet, and of course, getting my Sweet 16 bets down. Amazingly, I went 1-9 last year on college basketball bets. If you want to make money on college basketball, just see what I am betting on and go the other way. And, it's not like I am going for big parlays; these are straight-up bets and I just, well, pick the wrong side. Maybe I will break that trend this year.
It was nice to see St. John's be relevant this year since they are the team of my youth and I would have bet on them if they were still in the tournament. But, in all honesty, I picked Gonzaga over them in the first round in every pool. They would have been better off playing someone really good. The Johnnies can beat a Duke. They just can't beat a Fordham.
Today, I love the Butler and BYU money lines, especially Butler at around +180. This means the teams are doomed for sure with my golden touch, but I'm just not impressed by Wisconsin (I lost a bad bet on them nine years ago and I still haven't gotten over it) or Florida -- or Florida State for that matter tomorrow, when I will take VCU. I feel like two of those three games should be a lock to get. Having said that, let me make the argument against those teams that has nothing to do with basketball. Wisconsin, Florida, and Florida State are all huge football schools that know how to shield their athletes. It's nice that their teams made the Sweet 16, but that's not a big deal for a big, public, sports school where the focus is football. These kids will be able to focus all week. The Butler, BYU, and VCU teams, especially VCU. ... I'm not sure how much they have been on campus this week, but those kids will be mobbed every second of every day by their classmates. They will be made to feel like they already won something big, and they have established themselves as the kings of school. There's a lot of danger in that, a lot of loss of hunger and focus. Convinced? I'm still betting on them.
I also like the over in Duke vs. Arizona (145) and Wisconsin vs. Butler (124) and I am staying as far away from any UConn game as possible, including the pick 'em against San Diego State. Last betting note: The Bellagio has a prop bet on first to score 15 points and Arizona is +170. Doesn't that seem off? Yes, Duke is way better, but condensing a game down to the first few minutes seems almost random. A 70 percent return on something not much worse than a coin flip might be too good to pass up.
That's the day in a nutshell. Tonight is steak and I'm already getting hungry. Tomorrow is seafood and then Saturday is our "signature experience" dinner, about which I will write more later. In a personal first, I had to sign a contract for the Saturday dinner. It better be good. Unfortunately, some of the top Vegas restaurants have closed this year. Supposedly, the reason is that people don't want to do a three hour dinner. To me, it's like a show in itself, and I'd rather go for that, feel like a VIP and have ridiculously good food, than see the gymnasts. But what do I know? Also, I can't feel too bad for the restuarants. I think they should have at least tried to lower some prices before boarding up the windows. It's some form of hubris when you essentially say that if people won't pay your outrageous prices, you'll close.
Wish me luck, or say "break a leg," or whatever the Vegas vernacular is. Hmmm, you'd think with all the superstition and lingo in this town, there would be a special way to say "good luck."
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