Vegas Trip report: 4/27 - 5/2
It was time for the semi-annual Las Vegas backgammon tournament again, and
the wife and I flew out Wednesday morning on Delta. Uneventful flight, the
flight attendants were very nice, but the meal situation is pretty strange.
I expected on this 4+ hour flight to get the menu where you can get a
sandwich or salad for $8, but instead we got two drink services and the free
'snack'. Cheese and crackers, raisins, and Oreos. I'd rather pay for a real
Took the CLS shuttle from the airport to the Riviera, ($5 each) and we were
the 2nd stop after the Las Vegas Hilton. We had to wait about 15 minutes
before the shuttle took off, but we weren't in a rush. For about $5 more we
could have taken a taxi, but at least going this direction I prefer to save
the few bucks. Flying solo, (like when I go in the fall) the shuttle is the
only way, dollar-wise.
I didn't enter the Super-Jackpot ($750 EF) and the director won't let me
enter the Limited Jackpot anymore ($400 EF) so I didn't have any backgammon
scheduled at all for Wednesday. The wife suggested that we go see the
StarTrek Experience at the LV Hilton. This turned out to be a great idea.
The two different shows were really entertaining and interesting. Both walk
you through several rooms with live cast members to develop the plot, (like
ending up in the transporter room and then walking to the bridge), and then
you finally end up at the main ride. The Klingon Encounter is a motion
simulator ride and the Borg Invasion is a '4D" movie, which includes the 3D
glasses and the seats that blow air on you and poke you at appropriate
moments. I think the floor vibrates as well. One $35 ticket lets you see
both, and you can repeat on the same day if you care to. Both shows were
certainly up to Disney-like standards, though the projected movie with the
motion simulator ride was a bit fuzzy. It was cute because you time-travel
and end up flying over the Las Vegas skyline for part of the show. Very
entertaining and the live cast members did a good job.
We ate at Quark's Bar and Restaurant which is adjacent to the StarTrek shows
and had a nice meal there. They have these wild drinks in huge globes and
put a piece of dry ice in them to make them look like they're steaming.
Decent food and not terribly expensive, the tower of onion rings is a real
hit. We checked out the slots at the Space Quest Casino section (also
adjacent to the StarTrek stuff) but didn't play any. The 1-cent Babooshka
looks like fun. They also have a slot machine that you get to play for free
when you earn points that has a $1,000,000 payoff, They have the million
dollars in cash on display in a big plastic display case.
Downtown was the next stop. We went to Fitzgerald's because I always need
to play some Spanish 21 with the double-double-double down feature. I never
got the cards that would let me double more than once, but it's a fun game
regardless. (Get the proper basic strategy at
http://www.wizardofodds.com/spanish21 ). Broke even on that and then played
Blackjack Switch for 30 minutes. You play two hands of blackjack, and
before playing them out you can switch the 2nd cards between the two hands.
A lot of time you can create a hand that you can split or give yourself an
eleven, or at least make one hand pat. They give you this advantage but you
only get 1-1 on blackjacks and if the dealer hits to exactly 22 you push
both hands. It was amusing and gave you more things to do than regular
blackjack. I looked up the house edge on this and it isn't really bad at
all. Broke even here as well. The wife found some fun 5-cent machines
upstairs and made a few bucks.
Moved over to Binion's to play some real single-deck (3:2) blackjack. They
don't allow double after split, and hit soft 17, but that's the only
negative rules. However, the penetration is so weak so if you're counting
you can't really get an edge. And if you're not counting it gets boring
because he's shuffling the cards all the time. Even with only 3 spots
playing, he shuffles every two rounds. I'd rather play a shoe game. Lost a
Next stop Golden Nugget to throw the dice. The table was choppy, making a
couple points but nothing to rave about and I was down about $75. But when I
got the dice it changed quickly. I held the dice for about 25 minutes and
threw lots of numbers between the points. I counted and made the point 7
times. It's lots of fun actually be the shooter when a hot roll comes. I
was only putting about $45-$60 on the layout, (pass and 2 come bets), but
cashed out $215 to the good.
Time to get some eats so we headed to the Golden Gate. I thought I was
going to the deli to get the shrimp cocktail but ended up in the regular
restaurant line by accident. It turned out great, though. The Shrimp Louie
salad was great with huge shrimp and (fake) crabmeat. The wife had a soup
and sandwich that was huge and she said it was really fresh. Pretty cheap
overall, and I would recommend it for a low-budget but full meal.
Went to the Plaza to play their good double-deck game, (S17, splits aces to
4 hands), but the dealer was red-hot and I lost most of my buy-in. Still
had fun and got to play for an hour. We stepped out for the FSE light-show
and saw the patriotic USA show. Pretty well done. I caught a cold
somewhere and was feeling pretty sloppy by now so it was time for the taxi
home to the Riv. Overall Downtown was lots of fun with good people watching
on Fremont street. Several music acts and the spray-paint painter were in
action, strange that he wasn't using a gas-mask though, that has to be toxic
as hell. Didn't have time for the fried Twinkie, though :) I stayed
semi-sick the entire trip, but I wasn't dragged out enough to really slow me
down. Bad sore throat and ear-aches was the worst part, but lots of free
water at the gaming tables helped out.
Thursday the main BG tournament begins but I got up early (jet-lag) and
played some BJ downstairs at the Riv. A miracle occurred and I actually
walked away ahead from a BJ table, and got my free breakfast comp as well.
(I play about enough in the Riv for a breakfast buffet each day).
Blackjack, me and the Riv do not mix well, somehow. I've been terrible
unlucky with that game in my 'home' casino. Oh well, got a little back
In round one of the tournament I got matched up with the #5 player in the
world, Paul Magriel, who you may have seen on one of the TV poker shows.
Strange person for sure, and he was quacking when he rolled double-2s. He
got out to a 11-6 lead (match to 15), but I managed to rattle off a 9-1
finish to win the match. The turnout was lower this year, so we didn't have
any main event matches scheduled until Friday morning. Dinner was at the
Peppermill next door, and we really enjoyed it. Paula got a Cobb salad that
was literally about 8 or 10 inches high piled on the plate. It was like a
volcano of blue cheese and avocados! Pretty funny, but it was tasty, though
pretty messy to eat. A second plate was a requirement. That evening my
friend, Cem, from Atlanta asked to play in the doubles event, so we signed
up for that and won our first match that evening.
Had some free time after that and got in some late-night PaiGow Poker and
VP. PaiGow Poker is getting to be my favorite game. With the Fortune Bonus
bet you have a chance for some multi-hundred dollar hands, and the main game
swings are small so it's easy to win some and not to lose a lot. I also
like to be the banker when it's my turn. Every 7th hand you can play
against all the other players. That adds some more excitement to the game,
and you actually are playing with a tiny positive edge during that hand. In
5 PaiGow sessions I saw 3 straight flushes and two 4 of a kinds, so the big
hands will come. If you play the Envy bonus you also get paid something if
anyone at the table gets a big hand, (you'd get $20 on a SF, for example).
VP was boring as usual, played 30 minutes on a 10/7 Double Bonus 25-cent
machine, lost $40. I'm pretty much off VP, I just find it dull.
Paula and I had talked about going to the Wynn for the grand opening,
(Wednesday night after midnight), but we were so tired we skipped it.
Apparently there were lines of people for blocks and blocks going both ways
to get in, and they let in people slowly 100 at a time, so we're glad we
missed that. Friday I did take the opportunity to walk over there in the
morning, (15 minute walk from the Riv), and played some blackjack and slots.
There was ONE $10 blackjack table in the whole place (7AM on Friday), two
$15 games and the rest were $25 and up. In the back row there were about 10
dealers at idle $100 tables. Except for the slots this place is aimed at
the high(er) roller. Craps had two tables going, one for $15 and one for
$25 with a 2nd $25 table ready but idle. My blackjack game was from a CSM,
but they do allow surrender. Didn't really inventory the rest of the
blackjack tables, but I'm guessing the $25 games were mostly 6-deck shoes.
The atrium and entrance to the hotel is gorgeous, and the Parasol Bar is
extraordinary with the spiral escalators (how do they do that?) and the view
out the 2-story window to the lake and waterfall coming down from the
mountain. Flowers everywhere in the entrances and the perfume from them is
intense and absolutely real. The mosaic tiled floors are really stunning.
The shops in the Esplanade are a rich-man's (woman's) dream but make for
great window shopping for the rest of us. Don't miss checking out the cars
at the Ferrari and Masarati dealerships as well, right inside the hotel.
One taxi driver said the taxi stand at the main entrances is too small and
backs up onto the street, but the one on the south entrance wasn't a
A full day of backgammon action on Saturday. I lost in round 3 of the main
event. This was a particularly painful loss as I was leading 14-7/15, and
the odds say I should win the match 94% of the time, but not this time. My
opponent won 5 games in a row and took the victory. I then lost my
consolation match, but we won two more doubles matches which put us in the
finals of that event for Sunday. I also entered the $500 Jackpot but lost
the first match there. Sometimes it seems silly to play one backgammon
match for $500, but if you don't play, you can't win :) I've won jackpot
tournaments like that before, so it's not really money down a rat hole.
Seemed to have some excess energy so Cem and I went to Westward Ho so I
could show him how to play some $5 craps (The Riv only had $10 and $25 that
night, but has $5 at the slow times). The table was ice-cold and I was
playing my pass/come/come method. Three different times exactly one roll
after I made my 2nd come bet they 7'ed out. It was hard to explain to Cem
why this game is fun. He told me about some poker table game called Deuces
Wild-Hold'em or Fold'em over at the Stardust, so we played that for an hour.
It's pretty fun. You get 3 cards, then match your ante to get a fourth card
then double the ante to get the fifth. They don't seem to care about you
seeing the other player's hands, even though knowing what cards are already
out can really help you decide to fold a hand you might normally play. All
deuces are wild and there are some big paybacks for big hands. Cem got five
7s early in the week (he got 20 to 1 on the $20 minimum bet). Something like
3.2% HA on this, but lower if you can snoop the two hands beside you. You
can also use the information of people standing or folding in front of you
to guess how many deuces are already out, as staying in with three cards
often means a player has a deuce, (and people often brag out loud if they
get one). Sit at third base to leverage this advantage. I then wanted to
show him PaiGow Poker, and we played that for 90 minutes and he even pulled
4 aces, (50 to 1 for $250). If he would have also had the joker it would
have been 400 to 1 ($2000).
Early Sunday morning I finally got a good session at a card tables and won
$205 at SuperFun 21 at the Stardust. Gave a lot of it back earlier at the
craps table, though. I was betting the dark side exactly when the one
female decided that 10 was an easy number, (she made 4 points of 10 in a
Sunday is the last day of the tournament and the new groups are in force at
the Riv. 5000 darts players are taking up most of the convention center, and
the body-piercing-tattoo crowd is having their get-together as well, (Lots
of laughs there, for sure.) The Last Chance starts and I put on a run of
good dice and good play and win four matches to get to the finals. The
finals gets to the last roll of the final game and the opponent needs a 43
or better to win it, and gets a 43. But 2nd place was worth $895 so I'm
pretty happy. Cem and I set up for the doubles final, and we are playing
the #1 player in the world, Nack Ballard, and his wife. We start of to a
good lead and manage to win a close race and take the victory. $1428 each
for that, so I end up ahead $715 for the tournament and send home two nice
It's time to rush to dinner and the big show. Playing this late in two
finals made us just have enough time to get dinner and see the new Cirque de
Soleil show 'KA' at the MGM Grand. About 6 blocks away from the Riv in the
taxi I realize I forgot to bring the tickets, so a U-turn on Paradise and we
start again. We had originally planned to eat at the Aladdin buffet, but we
then decided to eat somewhere inside MGM to save time. We choose wisely and
had two fabulous rib eye and shrimp dinners at Wolfgang Puck's Cafe in the
MGM. Really wonderful, fabulous pieces of meat, and dropping $150 wasn't a
big strain with the win at the tournament. The KA theatre is right across
from the Cafe, so that worked out great. KA was absolutely stunning. Just
gawking at the theatre and the stage setups is enough. How do they think
this stuff up? There is no stage, just a big void, but these monstrous
slabs of steel rise up to become the stages. Each stage can rotate to any
position around any axis. Sometimes they become a mountain to climb or even
a vertical wall where the players are on wires and have a battle on this
vertical wall and players fall off the stages all the time (on purpose)..
The performances were outstanding, with martial arts, dance, macro-puppets,
batons, trapeze bars, archery and the 'wheel-of-death', and more stuff than
I can list. The show is long, (but you wanted it to go on) at 105 minutes.
Mystere is better for more pure acrobatics, but this is so visually and
aurally stunning (speakers in the headrest of every seat), that this is
clearly my favorite Cirque show. And there is actually a plot of sorts so
that makes it hold together nicely. Don't miss it. We booked 4 months
early on the net and got 5th row center. Sitting this close during parts of
the pre-show made us crane our necks around to see what was going on behind
us, but we didn't really miss anything in the main show, and seeing the
performers that close was great. Next year we're planning on seeing the
Dragone show 'La Reve' at the Wynn. Not actually a Cirque show, but it will
have a lot of the same elements that make Cirque so great.
I've completely lost my voice with the cold in my throat, but heck, we're in
Las Vegas! Another couple hours at the PaiGow table with 5 darts players
was lots of fun, and one girl got a straight flush with $10 on the bonus for
a $500 payoff for her, $20 for me. Then to bed.
We have a 2:20PM flight on Monday, so in the morning the tables still
beckon. I take advantage of a $10 free slot play for $20 offer for
established Riviera card holders, and end up $14 ahead on that. Then more
PaiGow, and this is the best gambling story I have. I'm playing along and
am down a bunch because of three really disastrous banking hands. I set
12:30 as the time to leave, so it's 12:25 and I announce to the table that
this is my last hand. I also decide to 'load up' the bonus bet to $11 ($1
for the dealer). Picking up the cards, I fan out 2 Queens, and then a 4.
the next card that appears is a Queen and I go: "how about a 4 for a boat!'.
No 4s, but the 7th card is the last Queen! Pretty good time to add to the
bonus. I get $250, the dealer gets $25 and that was a great way to remember
my last bet on this Vegas trip.
Great trip, the weather was never hot and just about perfect, good success
at backgammon and lots of fun at the tables. KA was super. I'll be back,
going solo in November (Paula can't come in the fall because of work
commitments). Can't wait!
Hope the TR was interesting and not too long!