There's nothing holy about the holidays to me. (There's nothing holy about much of anything to me, though the fervor with which I'll promote Miller's Crossing, the works of Haruki Murakami, Vonnegut's Mother Night and the virtues of kosher salt comes close.) My mother made the classic educator's mistake of encouraging me to always think for myself. I was prepared to toss the Catholic church overboard before my confirmation, but realized that doing so would be devastating for her. So I sucked it up and made some compromises. In preparation for your confirmation, it is common to choose a saint's name to be your "confirmation name". (Less common nowadays, but I grew up around some unreconstructed, pre-Vatican II types, so That's How It Was Done. It's a miracle I don't speak fluent Church Latin.) I made the most seditious choice I could: St. Anselm, who was Archbishop of Canterbury around the end of the 11th Century, and whose primary claim to fame is the positing of an ontological proof of God - such proofs being, to my mind, a big load of hooey. Empiricism uber alles! Yeah, I was cranky well before I had any reason to be. Pascal's Wager is a sucker bet - whatcha gonna do about it? I'm not a raving, ACLU-card-carrying atheist. I've got the tiniest flare of agnosticism somewhere in me, a part of me that thinks that, well, wind spirits and Jesus lag well behind "aliens came down and juiced the primordial ooze and started evolution" in the probability department, but it's all certainly possible. I'll give you a funny look if you question the separation of church and state and mentally mark you down as someone who can't be reasoned with, but I won't take you off my Christmas card list. So to speak. The holidays shouldn't mean much to me. I'm neither a fan of the Celebration Of The Birth Of Jebus nor a pedant who likes to go around pointing out the connection between pagan solstice holidays and Xmas (though I do find it amusing when people decry the commercialization of Christmas, because Christmas is a commercial). And yet I loves me some Christmas. People are nice to each other, for the most part. Some assholes are assholes year-round, but I try not to waste a lot of time on those assholes. People give each other shiny things. Last night on Sunset a truck driver let us cut in front of him when we were in the wrong lane at a traffic light, and though the subject didn't come up, you could hear the Christmas spirit in his voice. I've caught myself singing "White Christmas" to myself, sotto voce, more times than I can count, never mind that it's impossible to find anyone who'll lay you odds of a white Christmas in LA. I like holidays not for what they ostensibly celebrate and represent but for how people react to those holidays. The War On Christmas is obvious bunk (I'm pretty sure that can be proved ontologically, but I'm on vacation), as anyone who's tried to find a secular holiday card at Rite-Aid can tell you, and my wife can vouch for that personally. If there is a War On Christmas, though, I think it was lost long ago. Christmas has been seized by insurgents with grand ideas of what it should be rather than what it originally was. I leave you, dear reader, with one eminently cynical thought: I think a lot of holiday good cheer can be attributed to fear of Santa ("no coal in my stocking!") rather than love of Jesus. If you're a psychology grad student, happy holidays and you're welcome for the thesis idea. It's my gift to you. Pay it forward.
- the number of revelations I wrote down upon waking from a few hours' post-blackjack sleep Seven-thirty ante meridian is just about the worst time to stumble back to your hotel room in Vegas. I'd checked the time on my phone when I finally began the long march back to the elevators but didn't quite believe it. The hallway was as dim and dingy as ever. Only when I opened the door to my room was the horrible truth made apparent. The cold, sharp light streaming through my room's inadequate curtains was sending me a powerful message: You can sleep here, buddy, but you're not going to like it. I gave my teeth a desultory brushing and briefly considered moving the bedding into the bathroom, where at least it was dark, but rejected this plan on the grounds that it sounded like too much fucking work. So I rearranged the curtains to provide some semblance of darkness and collapsed on the bed. When I awoke I realized two things: 1. Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville is to celebrity-themed restaurants what Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was to filmic adaptations of classic horror novels. 2. There is such a thing as "inverse implied odds" in limit cash games, and it covers a set of circumstances completely apart from the usual canards about reverse implied odds.
It Makes A Man Mean
...but, apparently, also prevents cancer. Mean, cancerless men: the wave of the future?
- my +EV result in my first ever -EV game Let me make one thing clear: I don't fucking care what Sklansky says. I don't gamble. I don't get it. I don't have the gene that most of you seem to have in spades, the one that makes you drop an extra green chip on the hard ten and pray that you get paid on your sucker bet. (Let me make two things clear: I think no less of you that have it. It will probably make each of you a far better poker player than I can ever hope to be. Also on balance you will have a lot more fun with your money.) I don't know why I don't have it. Addictive personality, check. Perverse fascination with the intersections of skill, chance and knowledge, check. Obsessive-compulsive thought patterns, check fucking check and mate. Maybe it's that I never got the sports bug outside of an unhealthy amount of time at center ice with the Blackhawks in NHL '93 for the Genesis. In high school I enjoyed tennis, racquetball, and maintaining a firm glower that stopped me getting hipchecked into lockers for being a weirdo. I've never even put money on the home team out of a misguided sense of loyalty, as if my faithful bets would inspire even a second-stringer to pull over and give me a jump on some blizzarding January day. I gotta have an edge. I never put one dime into poker until I'd convinced myself that I knew enough about the game to have an edge. (I was wrong, but thankfully I am a quick study.) And while I recognize that yes, there are people who understand how and when to get their money down in the sports book, I am never going to be one of them. It might as well be roulette. Or craps. Or blackjack. All of this is by way of explaining that when I found myself at a blackjack table at four in the morning, greeting the fourth (and surliest) dealer ever to work our little corner of the ill-named Champagne Pit, I was a little surprised. Even more so to discover that I was winning. I'd stumbled down to the casino floor in search of something to salve my Bellagio-bruised ego, and come across the Full Tilt crew in full force: hdouble and the Mrs., ephro and Rick, each holding some sort of travel apparatus in one hand and a beer in the other. One hot dog later they'd divested themselves of luggage and looked ready for action. There wasn't much of anything happening in the IP's poker room - some dead-eyed tourists hunched over a 2/4 table, probably being shanked by incognito bloggers - so we headed back to the main casino floor. Blackjack was the consensus. Actually, beer was the consensus, blackjack just looked like the means to acquire beer. hdouble and ephro sat down at an empty $10min two-deck table and each dropped a couple hundred bucks on the felt, and after a pointless few minutes of resistance, so did I. I figured hdouble was my edge for the night. Note to self: when your edge ditches you after twenty minutes because he spies a hot craps table, you are on thin enough ice that you had better damn well learn to skate tout suite. Here's what I learned in my first five hours or so of blackjack: 1. In a two-deck game they want you to hide your cards from the other players, but not bend them like they're hole cards. 2. But if you hit 21 you might as well flip them up sooner than later. 3. Also there are beads. 4. If you are a clueless moron, it's fairly easy to get around the restrictions against showing your cards to other players, simply by waving them around and asking if you should hit a 20 against the dealer's 7. 5. Split a pair of 8s. When dealt another 8, split again. Then double when you get a 2 on one 8 and a 3 on another. Then wonder how you ended up with 37 times your original bet riding on the dealer not turning up something between a 5 and a 9. 6. When a skilled card-counter announces "Bet the farm!" that's the secret signal for the dealer to turn up a paint card or an ace. 7. Insurance is a big sucker bet. Just playing at all is only a small sucker bet and therefore draws from the power of having relatively positive EV. 8. It's hard to lose when you get a 20 for like an hour's worth of deals. Unless you're ephro.
A Brief Interlude: School 1, Everybody Else 0
Read this and then please tell me that I'm not the crazy one.
- the number of big bets I lose in this post It's Thursday afternoon. Soon there's going to be a swarm of bloggers descending on Vegas. But for the moment I don't know a soul here (or, at least, how to reach any of the souls with whom I have a marginal acquaintance). Reasoning that I came here to play poker, that's what I set out to do, wandering over to the Bellagio. I've never been to Vegas in the winter. Distances that are oppressive in summer (i.e. anything over a hundred yards) become a brisk, invigorating stroll. On the walk from the IP I feel better than I have in weeks - certainly better than I'm going to feel on the walk back. I could play in the 8/16 game but I don't want to start out the trip with a $500 loss if I have a bad run. So I settle for 4/8, getting a seat in the back corner of the room. I could knock on one of the walls of Bobby's Room from where I'm sitting but I think this is unlikely to endear me to the players within. Nobody likes my rendition of "Shave And A Haircut" anyway. The cards I get for the next five hours are an unmemorable blur. Overpairs are no good, two pair will always lose to a gutshot, there's always a bigger flush, etc, etc. The faces at my table are unremarkable as well, until a woman in her 60s with long dyed-blond hair and a lot of gaudy bling sits down two to my left. She's cooling off from the 20/40 stud game, and it shows. "Call and see what happens" is her mantra; if she's in a hand she's going to see all five cards no matter what, which allows her to lay a string of three-to-six-outers on everyone at the table. I make one good hand all night long, completing with A5s from the small blind in a four-way pot. On a 559 flop I get a lot of action from an incredibly cantankerous old duffer who'd limped with aces - a mistake on his part, because he was far too old to be slowplaying anything. An orbit later he racks up his chips, refuses to pay his blinds, then curses out the dealer for not dealing him in anyway. This sours the table pretty quick and I decide I've taken enough of a beating, racking up the remainder of my second buy-in and heading out into the early evening - fuck me, it's midnight. By the time I get back to the IP there is no salve for my ego but an unnervingly juicy hot dog and the welcome sight of some accomplices from Murderer's Row, who I hope for once will change my luck for the better.
- my home away from home at the Imperial Palace All I want is a king bed. My expectations for this place are low - all I want is something remotely bed-shaped that I can sprawl out on. I'm not that big a guy but a double just doesn't do it for me, and I'm gonna be here for a while. But no dice; I get a double. The front desk staff apparently doesn't have the firmest grasp of the hotel's layout. I get directed to an elevator that literally could not be further from my room, passing two other elevator banks on the quarter-mile schlep. This is aggravated by the fact that, since I'm here for a week and a half, I have packed like a complete and utter woman - that and I have graciously allowed my woman to pack some things with me so she can get by with a carry-on when she joins me in a week. All that aside, though, once I've gotten in the door I feel a sense of peace. I can live with this. This is the cheapest hotel room I've stayed in since I was twelve, including all the fly-by-night motels I've crashed in on road trips; considering that it's not a bad value. Plenty of space to stow clothes, decent light, a garish-pastel painting of a parrot on the wall under a yellowed plastic smoke detector that may predate solid-state electronics, for all I know. I eye the clothes rack and consider phoning down for a few more hangers until I realize that there's going to be no way to attach them without welding gear, and while I may be loaded for electronic warfare I'm not equipped for heavy industry. Polo shirts are hence consigned to the sub-Ikea dresser, which looks like it's taken a few drunken tumbles down the stairs in its time but is still eminently serviceable. The posted rate on this room is $400 a night, which I find hysterical for all the obvious reasons. Hotels all have their own certain character; this place is like everyone's worst passive-aggressive aunt, the one who fulfills filial obligations grudgingly because she doesn't want to be left out of the will. I think it's calculated: if I paid $400 to sleep on a bed that feels like a Tempurpedic without the flexibility, I'd be wanting to break the bank here too. From my balcony there's a nice view of the new Venetian tower, a taunting sight. When I discover that the balcony door opens, I am simultaneously thrilling to the possibility of fresh air and boggling at the fact that the IP hasn't started a "Kill yourself in style on the Strip!" ad campaign, because if ever there was a hotel room you'd want to jump out of, baby, this is it.
Vegas By The Numbers: One
- The number of hours my flight was delayed. I am at the airport plenty early, having cleared security in thirty seconds flat despite my carry-ons being loaded with enough electronic gear to make me the 007 of the nerd set. I am early enough to wolf down a hamburger and fries from a place called - apparently with no irony whatsoever - Chezz Burger. I am early. My plane is not. My plane is, for some reason, in Missouri, having taken off and then returned to the ground due to some sort of mechanical failure. Thankfully the good folk of Southwest know better than to leave two flights' worth of Vegas-bound gamboolers stranded at the Burbank airport - at least, not since the TSA decided to allow pitchforks and torches through security again. An announcement is made: There's an empty plane on the way from Vegas and it will be there posthaste. The flight is brief and uneventful. I play a few rounds of Super Punch-Out! courtesy of my PSP's SNES emulator, nod off for five minutes, and we're on the ground. My cabdriver is a Russian woman who seems very uninterested in my reasons for coming to Vegas. She is really into the Foreigner record blaring from the minivan's anemic speakers. I can tell she's not just a casual fan because this isn't a greatest-hits collection - this is 4. Traffic allows me to nod my head along from "Juke Box Hero" to the beginning of "Urgent", certainly not the worst Foreigner song cycle I could have stumbled into. I consider asking her what she thinks of Lou Gramm's solo stuff but realize that she is a bad enough driver and a dedicated enough Foreigner fan that this line of questioning could lead to my death in one way or another, and having just got here I am not remotely ready to die. Don't worry, I'll get there.
It's hard to trash-talk people you haven't met or conversed with, with whom you haven't even shared a virtual table. It's very hard. Am I going to let that stop me? No. - I hear BadBlood has Gunz. Well, I've got wrist-mounted rocket launchers, baby. All five fingers on each. - The first person who uses the phrase "sewing circle" in my presence will need reconstructive rhinoplasty. The second person who uses the phrase "sewing circle" in my presence will really wish they'd been the first. - Special to the Minneapolis contingent: I used to live there. Y'all ain't so special. Yeah, you'll be playing in conditions thirty or forty degrees warmer than you train at, but that don't mean you don't have to bring the heat. - Geek, if you're reading this (and you so are): you KNOW the only way you can win against me is if I beat myself. Well, daddy's leaving his self-flagellation paddle at home, so don't even try. - Mr. Joe Speaker: I thought about honoring you with a last-longer bet, but I asked your wife and she said you were dead money in that department. - I can't tell one April from another. Don't you worry, ladies, it's not April season for a few months yet. I ain't no poacher. - Prof? Those who can't do, teach. That's right, I said it. Snap! - Hey, change100: Greenlight this. And now just imagine the rudest gesture you can think of. Which is probably much ruder than anything I could come up with anyway, as I am a perfect gentleman. - You like to bet on horses, BG? Well, so do I. Five bucks says you've got a view of the field. My next post will detail my personal tournament bounty. It's a waste of my precious time, as ain't none of y'all gonna win it, but I do like to go through the motions. See you when T-minus equals zero.
A Field Guide For Bloggers: My Contribution
'Tis the season for posts on how to pick individual bloggers out of a horde of drunken miscreants. I see that we're mostly taking advantage of the Imperial Palace's insanely low rates, so at least we'll all be in it together. Probably one good simultaneous barrage of toilet-flushings and we could take the whole building down. I'm sure that many of you are curious as to my appearance and are eager to put a name to a face. Therefore I'm using this space to give you some handy tips which, if used properly, will help you to pick me out of a lineup with a minimum of effort: - I am fourteen feet tall and weigh six pounds. I can be blown over by a stiff wind or the wake of a passing butterfly and hence wear clothes made entirely of lead. - I eat only Foods that begin with the letter F and drink only Drinks that begin with the letter D. Fritos, foie gras and Drambuie is my idea of a good time. The only herbs I like are fennel and fenugreek. French fries are doubleplusgood. - My hair is the color of the smoke billowing from the cheeriest forest fire you ever did see. My eyes are the steely grey of razor blades. Also they emit laser beams which, when properly directed, will render a bag of microwave popcorn suitable for consumption. Bag and all. - I do not wear hats, but people often mistakenly assume that I am wearing a hat. I am happy to correct their perceptions. - Dolphins are scary. This tip isn't actually about me, just a fact that I feel the liberal media doesn't disseminate to the best of their ability. - I use the best, I use the rest, I use the enemy, I use anarchy, 'cause I wanna be anarchy. (The only way to be.) - My DVD collection consists of three Dora The Explorer videos and the seminal 1984 film Hardbodies. Many years from now my children could be going to school with your children. - I live in a menagerie; thus, the adroit smeller will detect about me odors of peacock-spray, tiger urine, and bullshit.