January 28, 2010

Las Vegas

I booked two nights in the Riviera on the morning of January 15th, arriving at the north end of the strip later that evening. The room was nice, and cheap, enough, but the casino and immediate surroundings were bleak. The first night in town I wandered in the direction of the closest nice hotels in search of food. At around 11:30PM I landed at the Encore, sister to the Wynn, in a casino-side eatery called Society. The quality and price of the food and wine registered fine with the lavish setting. I had a delectable salmon dish served with a quinoa cake and fennel/orange salad, in the process polishing off a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I traipsed back to my room, content to forgo any wagering until the next day.


Jet-lagged, I woke up early on Saturday and set off again southward down Las Vegas Boulevard. My destination this morning was the Mirage, home to a bountiful poker room and certainly one of the strip's keystone casinos. En route I picked up a bottle of Pellegrino ($1.99), a coffee and a croissant for breakfast. I was a little surprised, even at 10:00 in the morning, to find only two games in action - $1/2 No Limit and $3/6 Limit Hold'em, the basement of Las Vegas poker. I registered and paid my $80 buy-in for the 11:00AM daily tournament and sat down with a rack of $1 chips to kill some time in the Limit game.

When the tourney started I colored up what remained of my stack, stuffed the $25 and $5 chips in my pocket, and sat down to a couple hours of good action. I didn't make the money, but I did enjoy a few rounds of drinks and plenty of poker. I lost most of my chips after gutting out a call of a huge over-size bet at a flop of JT9. I held two aces, and had re-raised an early position raiser pre-flop, receiving a call. My opponent shoved for twice the size of the pot without much deliberation after the flop came down, and I was vexed for a moment before opting to call. He held AQ, and needed a K or an 8 to make a straight. The King rolled off immediately, and the rest of my tournament was spent scratching around for a good spot with a short stack.

After finally busting I was ready for lunch. Stepped outside and continued down the strip, magically drawn into the Bellagio by escalators and walkways. I skirted the casino perimeter, noticing a number of nice looking eateries - none of which were open yet. Ended up in a far corner of the first floor, where the entrance to the hotel art gallery stands. I was more interested in food than paintings at that moment, and the $15 entry fee dissuaded me to turn back toward the casino. I was "hungry-walking" and brisked past a familiar looking gentleman headed in the same direction. I kept my pace and advanced fifty feet before holding up at a hotel phone station. Uncharacteristically, Sammy Farha's signature cigarette was smoldering, as was the notably taller woman who accompanied him. They walked right up, as if to greet me. Before he could reach for the phone I gave a sly grin and groveled for a quick autograph, to which Sammy replied, "Sure thing, buddy," scrawling a hasty S Farha across a sheet of Bellagio stationary. I thanked him and split as he grabbed the phone, presumably to call the poker room.

I ended up at Planet Hollywood, eating at the bar of a crowded P.F. Chang's. After a greasy, yet relatively cheap and edible lunch, I sat in a $1/2 NL game for about an hour, doubling my initial $100 input. This was a must-win situation, because my debit card only allowed a $400 stake for the day, two-thirds of which would have been gone had I lost that buy-in. Now all I had to do was double-up what remained of my chips from the Mirage and I'd be profitable (at gambling) for the day. It took one hand of blackjack to accomplish that before my return to the Riviera. I was ready to skip the long cashier line I passed on my path back into the Mirage card pits, and plunked the whole $50 down, with a couple of $1 chips leftover as souvenirs. Stood on a 17 against a dealer 5, 6, 4, 8 - bust. Blackjack is easy. Tipped a buck and was happy to wait in line to cash out for a big bill. To the room for a nap.


For dinner it was off to the Wynn, where I found the Daniel Boulud Brasserie and sat looking out at "The Lake of Dreams" in the hotel's courtyard (featuring a giant animatronic lip-synching frog amongst a rotation of oddities). I ordered a bottle of Pellegrino ($8), a half-bottle of Calera Pinot Noir, and Duck Confit with lentils and foie gras. The entrée also featured a tuft of fennel and orange salad and a purée that I thought may have been lentils and foie gras combined. Needless to say, the meal was superb. The service was as sharp as anywhere I've eaten, the sommelier attended to my wine glass with zeal, and the food was positively delicious. I don't relish paying so much to eat so well, but Vegas has a way of dissolving one's sense of proportion when it comes to cash.

I decided to recoup a bit by gathering some free drinks at the Wynn's poker room, and maybe even some chips. I sat in a $1/3 NL game and fluctuated for a couple of hours, eventually breaking dead even after an embarrassingly karmic reversal of the big hand I played earlier. This time I made the straight on the turn with AQ to double up through the guy holding AA. I'd had my fun, was not a favorite in the game, and had a flight out of town at noon the next day, so I called it a night after a few more hands - pleased to be the fish lucky enough to break even.

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