Sunday, February 14, 2021

Flying Chips at the Stick

One of the best things about moving to Arizona has been my proximity to the Arena Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort. With good promos and different games and levels, it is really a great poker room. I decided to partake in a Saturday late afternoon/evening $3/$300 spread limit poker session yesterday. I bought in for $400. As usual, the Stick did not disappoint.

Early on - perhaps in the first 45 minutes or so, I got into a big hand. I looked down to see A-J unsooted and put out a small raise to $10. The button re-raised to $25, and I called. The flop was A-A-rag. Since I was new to the table, I didn't have a lot of prior information to go on. The player seemed solid, so I thought he could have one of several combinations with an A, or perhaps KK, QQ, maybe JJ. I checked and he put out a $50 bet. I called. The turn was a Queen. I checked and he checked behind. The river was a beautiful Jack, giving me a full house and the second nuts. I raised $100 and my opponent re-raised to $200. At that point, I considered just calling, but seeing how I was ahead of almost anything he could have, I shipped the rest of my chips. He called and flipped over A-Q for the stone cold nuts. Major ouch! Less than an hour in and I was felted for $400. At least the guy who did it was  good player and didn't river me with some crap hand. He also showed a little empathy, so I just kept a stiff upper lip and bought back in for $300. What a bad start to the poker day.

Well, as it so often happens in poker, things changed about a half hour later.  I did get a few hands and won a few pots. Then ... it happened. I was in the big blind with QsJs. Someone raised to $15 and got several callers. It came back to me and I called. The flop: 9-10-K rainbow! I led out with a small $30 bet to see if I could get someone to raise. There were a couple of callers until it got to the player to my right -- the guy who had felted me a bit earlier. He raised to $100. I raised $300 (the max), making my total raise $330. The opponent went into the tank. Finally he called. I had about $75 left behind. The turn was a low spade, butting two spades on the board. I pushed the rest of my money in. He called. The river was another spade. I flipped over my cards to show the flopped straight. He turned over pocket 9s for a flopped set that didn't improve. So ... shortly after losing my $400 buy-in, I scooped a $1000+ pot. Isn't poker a great game?

The players at my table seemed pretty good. Different people were hitting hot streaks and chipping up, then losing some. It was a fun, challenging night of poker ... until a terrible player came to the table. Unfortunately, he was also unbelievably lucky, hitting a number of winners on the river. I took him for some pots and then, unfortunately, rivered the nut flush on a paired board. When he bet $100, I fortunately just called. He had turned quad Jacks. Day-um!

He was like an elevator -- up and down, up and down. He was pretty much a calling station and was spewing chips. The sport over the next few hours was to see who could end up with his chips. I am not sure, but I think that he bought and rebought in with a total of $1,800. Pretty hefty for a game of $3/$300 spread limit. He was finally felted by a woman wh had suffered some terrible beats to him. There is justice in poker?

With a small but acceptable profit, I called it a night late in the evening, had a quick dinner using my comps, and road home in the dark and quiet night, remembering why we love this game called poker so much.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Settling into Arizona Life: Fun Everyday Stuff and Poker at Talking Stick Resort

It is amazing how you can sometimes settle into a new life and have everything feel natural. Such has been my transition from being a resident of Illinois to being a resident of Arizona. Of course, I had a number of things that made the transition easier. My wife scouted out a place for us to live and did a great job. We were able to transition into a new house, get rid of many old belongings and buy some new things, and take care of other tasks like getting Arizona license plates and drivers licenses without much of a problem. We continue to become more familiar with the area and have gotten into some regular routines. There have been, however, some interesting aspects such as getting used to the local flora and fauna.

The Saguaro Cactus
The Cholla Cactus
The Prickly Pear Cactus
Although we had a few coyotes in the area in IL, they are loud here some nights.
Our dog, Fredo, chased a javelina down the end of our driveway.

I look forward to spotting some snakes and scorpions once the weather gets warmer. 

I live in an interesting area. There is plenty of space for lots of wild animals, yet some human creature comforts like Walmart, Home Depot and Burger King are only a few minutes drive away. Once COVID-19 is on its way out, we will appreciate the other things that will be close by -- MLB spring training, professional sports and major venues for concerts.

I will enjoy the nice, mild Arizona winter for now. As the weather, heats up, I am sure that the pool in the backyard will get much use as I adapt to the cruel, hot summers. One other thing that is much different (and appreciated): instead of needing to drive hours to get to a decent poker room, I have one within a 30-minute drive. Speaking of poker ...

The Stick

It has been sooooooo nice to be able to hop in my car and be at the Arena Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort -- or, as people commonly call it, "The Stick" -- in 30 minutes or less. I had been successful at the Stick in the past and had also suffered some horrible beats. My game of choice is the $3/$300 spread game as No Limit games are not legal here. Having played at this game before, I transitioned to it pretty easily. Blinds are $2 and $3, and before the cards are dealt, the dealers grab $1 from the small blind for the promo drop. Raises are limited to $300, which makes the game play pretty much like a No Limit game anyway. Buy in is capped at $600, and there are sometimes stacks of $1000-$2200 or so on the table, partially due to some of the good promotions.

I started out by winning four of my first five sessions (I broke even the other one) until I hit the inevitable slide which included plenty of run bad with some tilty bad play mixed in. I did play a session at nearby Wild Horse Pass and won there. I took a bit of time off and jumped back on the horse, winning my last two sessions. I am pretty sure that I will keep my sessions late afternoon starts, where I seem to do much better. Just from my small sample, it appears that the daytime players I have run up against have been more aggressive and better players overall.

About a week ago, I got a telephone call from old poker blogger friend The Poker Meister. He seemed pretty impressed that I was able to complete my plan to retire, sell my house, and move west during the pandemic. To me, it was just doing what I needed to do. However, if that serves as encouragement to some of my friends to continue to work hard and then enjoy the results of their hard work, so be it. Sometimes as I drive to the Stick on a beautiful day, I am still sort of amazed that my wife and I set this plan a few years ago and it has worked out so well so far. As COVID-19 and other things have taught us, tomorrow is no guarantee. I will enjoy where my life has taken me and look forward to seeing what happens the next years or so. I have been retired for over six months now and actually have considered what kind of job, if any, that I might do to help occupy my time. Having a part-time job sounds kind of fun until I remember that I would actually have to work! I'll just take my time with this decision.

I have tried to detox myself recently by staying off the political channels and the news since the inauguration. I have stepped back some from social media and the cesspool it has become. Life is to precious to waste with crap! So, for now, life is very good. I will enjoy it while I can. I might be making a trip to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, and hope to soon take a two-day trip to Tombstone. I guess I just have to decide to "say when."

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

A Repost From Ten Years Ago: Visiting the Plane Crash Site Where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper Died

It was 61 years ago today that a performance in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa became the last stop for music icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The plane crash that occurred during the night on February 3, 1959 -- The Day the Music Died --  took the lives of the  three young rock and roll stars. I decided to take a road trip to the crash site over ten years ago and later wrote the following post:

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2010

Famous Sites in Popular Music -- Part Two: The Day the Music Died

In 1971, singer Don McLean released the seminal song and album, American Pie. Although written in a cryptic, poetic style, it was easy to see that the subject of the song was the plane crash death of three American rock and roll singers -- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson, AKA The Big Bopper. McLean referred to to the February 3, 1959 tragedy as The Day the Music Died. 

The biggest star to perish that fateful night was Buddy Holly, a unique guitar player and vocalist from Lubbock, Texas. Buddy Holly and the Crickets had a number of popular hits including Oh Boy!, Peggy Sue, and That'll Be the Day. 

The youngest performer to die was Ritchie Valens, a 17-year-old singer and guitar player from southern California. Although only 17, Valens was already making a name for himself across America with hits like LaBamba and Donna.

The final performer to die in the tragic flight was Texan J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper. Richardson was famous for his song Chantilly Lace.

The evening before, the performers played at a popular spot, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

After the concert, the musicians boarded a plane in nearby Mason City, Iowa. Shortly after take off, the plane crashed just north of Clear Lake, killing the three musicians and the pilot.

I had always wanted to visit the site of the plane crash and pay homage to the singers, so I made a road trip last June with my youngest daughter. We drove up to Clear Lake, Iowa, got directions, and immediately headed out to the crash site. Where along the country road to stop to find the site? Just look for the Buddy Holly marker!

Next step: Walk through a corn field. The memorial is located on private property, and the owners graciously allow pilgrims to visit.

A marker lets you know that you are almost there.

Then ... you are there. The memorial is small, with all kinds of small tributes, and frankly, junk all around.

A small memorial to the pilot was recently added. Although the memorial is not aesthetically pleasing, just being at the site that changed the rock and roll music landscape forever is a powerful, and yet sad feeling that I will never forget.

"A long, long time ago... I can still remember How that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had my chance That I could make those people dance And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while. But February made me shiver With every paper I’d deliver. Bad news on the doorstep; I couldn’t take one more step. I can’t remember if I cried When I read about his widowed bride, But something touched me deep inside The day the music died."

Sunday, January 03, 2021

New Year, New Everything


Good Morning, Viet Nam! It has been over three months since I last posted - the most ever since this blog's inception. I can't say there was a specific reason for it. Perhaps it was just weariness with COVID-19, nasty political discourse or frustration/depression with the lack of activity on my house while it was for sale.

Midway through October, I sent my realtor the  required 30 days notice that I was ending my listing agreement with him. Coincidentally (or not), viewings of the house increased. Of course (u see), it might have also been due to the most recent reduction in price I made. As Thanksgiving was coming near, it certainly appeared that I would be spending another cold winter in Illinois and would likely have to postpone Arizona dreams until spring. However, a couple who had seen the house twice requested to see it a third time. Then it finally happened: THE OFFER! Although we would have preferred to have sold our house when its worth was higher, we accepted the bid and quickly began preparing for our next steps.

My wife, who had just come back from spending two weeks in Arizona visiting her best friend, was home a week before flying back out to find us a house to rent. Meanwhile, we had to start preparing for a move that would be taking place before Christmas. Packing up after being in town for 26 years was quite an ordeal. We were selling things, giving things away, and throwing out what we could bear to live without. We had our belongings loaded on a semi truck and driven to Arizona for us, prepared our house for sale, rented an SUV, and began the 1,600+ mile trip with our cat and our dog. 

We decided to take three days for the trip. The first night, we stayed overnight in Tulsa in a hotel overlooking the Hard Rock Casino. Of course I had to play some slots there. I came out a winner, which was a great sign. The second night we stayed in Albuquerque and had dinner and a delightful evening with a friend for the early 1990's and his wife. On the third day, we made it to our new location in the Phoenix area.

We have now been here more than two weeks. It really feels like much longer. One of the first things I did was buy myself a new car as I had sold our junky old van to an auto salvage shop as one of the last acts before we left Illinois. My family in Arizona paid for people to unload our truck (a fantastic gift!). We still have boxes in the house and garage, but we are working on things. Adapting to 60 degree weather in December has not been a problem. Ice and snow are coming down in central Illinois, but that is no longer our issue.

As we have been very busy with setting up our house and the holidays, I have only been to the Arena Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort four times so far. However, that has resulted in three winning sessions and one in which I came out even. There are some sweet promos at The Stick, and playing there has so far been really fun.

The next few weeks should provide more of the same: furnishing/setting up the house, taking care of boxes and playing poker. I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks, and am likely going to take a weekend trip to Las Vegas before the month is over and hit up some poker rooms with ZetusLarry.

I have been somewhat away from social media with the move and all, but am still alive and kicking -- and enjoying my  new version of retired life in Arizona.

A belated Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy New Year to everyone! Let's hope COVID-19 can begin to disappear sooner rather than later and that we can begin living whatever our new normal lives  will be.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Weekend Trip to St Louis September 25-27, 2010: Poker, Friends, Food and Jesus

This past weekend seemed like the perfect time to get out of town for a few days. My wife and I have been getting frustrated by the lack of activity on our house that is up for sale. The trip had actually been planned for over a week, but Wednesday night brought a little more reason to want to get away. Mrs. lightning was returning home from an activity after sunset and ran her car - her precious baby - into a deer! Thankfully neither she nor her passenger were injured, but the deer did do some pretty decent damage to her car. She was able to drive it home, but then the fun started as we had to begin online  paperwork on an insurance claim. That actually went pretty well. We were able to get her car in to an auto body shop Thursday for an estimate, then was able to get an appointment to take it in for repairs on Friday at 8:00am. Sometimes you can run good even when things are bad!

Friday afternoon we loaded our stuff into our (t)rusty old 2005 Grand Caravan and headed toward greater St. Louis.

It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down. I had the radio on. I was driving. Trees flew by. Me and Del were singing Little Runaway. I was flying. Hmmm ... those could be lyrics for a song!

We checked into our hotel and decided to do one of the things on my "to do" list for the weekend: Get Imo's pizza, a St. Louis favorite. The thing that makes Imo's different is that instead of loading the top with mozzarella cheese, the pizza has Provel cheese, which is a combination of cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses. Also, the sauce on the very thin crust pizza has a different kind of taste to it with a bit of a zing. It is a different kind of pizza, but really quite good.

Imo's pepperoni and green pepper pizza

After the pizza, we then began the next item on my list: frozen custard at Ted Drewes, another St. Louis staple. There was a long line, but employees had it moving fairly quickly. We each had concrete mixers. The verdict: pretty good and reasonably priced. We both wished that we had tried sundaes instead so that all the flavors wouldn't have been mixed together. Maybe next time.

We went back to the hotel where my wife assembled her things that she enjoyed that would keep her busy: books, phone and movies. Meanwhile, I headed out to play poker. I decided to go to Hollywood Casino as opposed to Ameristar largely because Hollywood was using plexiglass on the poker tables and had been extremely diligent in observing COVID-19 safety protocols.

The $1/$2 NL session at Hollywood started out being very frustrating. I was actually catching cards: KK, AK, KK, ... Unfortunately, the table play was mostly tight unless two guys decided to go psycho on one another. I was making little headway until some new players came to the table and play opened up. You can guess what happened: I was card dead. One guy who came to the table had been on a dinner break and sat at the table with about $600. It looked to me like he was just using the chips to successful bluff/bully some players at our table. I looked down at pocket 8's and was hoping to make a go of it. There was maybe one limper, and the player with $600 made it $24 to go. I decided to put my trust in the snowmen since I thought his bet was bogus. I was rewarded with an 8 on the flop. I slow played it on the flop and turn, merely calling his bets. The key was on the river, which was a King. I was hoping that it helped him, and I was hoping that maybe he had A-K. However, he checked. I put out a bet of $50, hoping he would call with the amount of money in the pot, which was around $300. I was really hoping he would actually shove. I didn't have much more behind - maybe $50. He tanked for a bit and called, showing K-J! After he had a few minutes to settle down, he gave me the tap on the table, meaning "nice play." He also said that he wouldn't have called if that King had not showed up. Of course, then he would have only had K high! This hand helped me to make a profit at the table. Remembering that the weekend had just begun, I left at a reasonable time and made a quick late night food run at Jack in the Box. It included two of their terrible tacos. I was given two small containers of ranch dressing for the tacos. wtf?? Will I never learn?

Saturday morning we slept in late and headed to historic Main Street in St. Charles, MO. It had been a few years since we strolled the streets and checked out the many antique, craft and other stores. After  brief lunch, my wife decided we REALLY needed to get some rolled ice cream. We stopped at Craving the Curls Rolled Ice Cream. Half the fun was watching the young worker pour the liquid mix on the frozen board and watching her work it into a frozen state, then "scoop" it up in rolls. It was delicious!

We headed back to our hotel to relax, shower, and change clothes for dinner. I had arranged for my wife and I to meet up with Twitter friend Vegasfan1970, who would be bringing along his girlfriend, HuckleberryGirl, who I also knew from Twitter. Vegasfan had suggested that we meet at a place that has great smoked chicken wings, the Brass Rail in O'Fallon, MO. We all met for dinner and as what usually happens when meeting Twitter friends in person for the first time, we had an absolute blast! I already knew that my wife and Huckleberry had a lot in common, and I knew that both Vegas and Huckleberry were great people to talk with on Twitter. Easy call to meet up. It is always fun to talk about some mutual acquaintances from Twitter, so if your ears were ringing early Saturday evening, you now know why! And oh yeah - the smoked wings were pretty good!

Mrs. lightning36, blog hero, HuckleberryGirl & Vegasfan1970

Vegas and Huckleberry were going to a concert after dinner, so after saying our goodbyes, my wife and I were ready to head back to our hotel. Except ... Mrs. lightning had been discussing Ted Drews with both Vegas and Huckleberry and noticed that there was a frozen custard place in O'Fallon that had great reviews. So ... after filling up the van with $181.9 unleaded gasoline, we tried out this other custard place -- Fritz's. One word: Outstanding! We both had sundaes and I believe mine was the best turtle sundae I have ever had. Good call, wifey!

After filling what little room was left in our bellies, we headed back to the hotel. Mrs. lightning was just planning to stay in the rest of the night. As for me ... after a brief nap, it was back to Hollywood for more $1/$2 NL! I was card dead for quite some time and never got more than $75 up or $75 down. I decided to call it a night slightly after midnight, settling for a meager profit. But hey - I had fun, and it WAS still a profit!

We were in no great hurry to get up Sunday. After spending the morning sleeping and lazing around, we checked out of the hotel and headed for lunch at a BBQ place with a reputation: Sugarfire Smoke House. I had a burnt ends sandwich with creamed jalapeno corn and Mrs. lightning had a pulled pork sandwich with green beans. We shared an order of hushpuppies. The verdict: Meh. My burnt ends were a tad fatty and were missing the flavor you expect from burnt ends. The jalapeno in the corn was minimal and I felt little heat. It tasted like corn drowning in butter. The pulled pork lacked flavor, and the green beans and the hushpuppies were just okay. It was a very disappointing meal, especially for what we paid for it. Maybe it was just a bad day for the restaurant - I dunno.

Burnt ends sammich and that buttery corn

As we headed east on I-70, we stopped in Effingham (yes - that is the town's real name!), IL to visit close up the Cross at the Crossroads. We actually lived in Effingham for three years, but that was before the cross was built. At 198 feet, it was once the tallest cross in the United States, but is now the second tallest. It is really quite a sight for the drivers on Interstates 70 and 57.

To give you a little perspective, Mrs. lightning is standing at the base of the cross!

Since we were in Effingham, I decided to surprise my wife by stopping at - what else - our old favorite ice cream stand, the Homewood Grill. Mrs. lightning had a turtle sundae and I had the best Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream in the world!

If this trip sounds like it was an overindulgence in sugar, you are correct. However, this was our weekend to just do whatever. It was not our plan to overindulge in sweets, but it felt like we were kicking COVID-19 in the teeth! And as long as we were being sugar degenerates, we made one final stop: Flesor's Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, IL. One of my retirement gifts from a work colleague was a gift certificate to this place. We stopped in before it closed for the weekend to get me some huge malted milk balls that I had tried before. At least we took them home instead of eating more ice cream at the store!

So ... what a weekend! We did get in our 10,000 steps on Saturday, so at least that will help a bit with all the sugar we ate. But it sure was good!

And a special thanks to Vegasfan1970 and HuckleberryGirl for meeting up with us. People who know me know that I am always trying to arrange meetings with people I am friends with online. I am proud to say that many of my online buddies are also among my very best friends. Although I certainly worked my butt off in a serious occupation prior to my retirement, I also set a goal for myself to try to have fun in whatever I do. In doing so, I sometimes piss off family and friends when I make jokes about serious situations, but that is the only way I know to live. As I get older, I have become intensely aware that most of my life has already passed. You can bet that for the rest of the years that I will be granted, I will be trying to squeeze the most fun out of it that I can. This vehicle accepts passengers, so join me for the ride!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Reminders to Live Every Moment

The local boys singing Live Every Moment in concert

It's interesting that many people believe in the old superstition that bad things happen in threes. I know that it is easy to shape the world around us to find things that fit into this model, but I was struck today at how this really played out this weekend. The first two instances of bad news deal with deaths. On a national level, the country is mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For those of us with poker as a profession or hobby, we mourn the passing of Darvin Moon, who made an amazing run to finish runner up to Joe Cada in the 2009 WSOP Main Event. The third event, however, was much more personal and local.

Less than two weeks ago, my wife and I "celebrated" the ninth anniversary of my September 2011 heart attack. After spending a night in the hospital after feeling some pain in my breastbone and the back of my head, I woke up very early the next morning expecting to do a stress test. A cardiologist came in to speak with me first. After talking with me about what happened the day before, he said "Based on what you told me, I am convinced that you had a mild heart attack. We're not going to do a stress test. I'm going in."

What? Holy crap! They were going to be doing stuff with my heart and I barely had any time to even prepare myself psychologically for it. For the first time in my life, outside of doing a few rather foolish things when I was younger, I was facing the fact that I might die that day. The cardiologist assured me that I was in great hands and that everything would be okay. He asked if I had anyone with me at the hospital. I told him that my wife was getting ready to come to be with me for my stress test. He told me that I shouldn't have her hurry since they will be done with my angiogram anyway by the time she got there. I called my wife to let her know right before they wheeled me away to do an angiogram. I was friggin' petrified!

I went home later that day knowing that my life had just changed forever. I was very, very thankful for that cardiologist. I then became dedicated to healthy eating and doing cardiac rehab since I knew that I had another artery with some blockage, but not enough for surgical intervention. However, about 16 months later, I noticed some trouble breathing when working out at my local fitness center. I had slacked off a little over the Christmas and New Year holidays and attributed it to that. I gave it some time and then decided I should see my cardiologist. I went late in the afternoon. After he examined me, he said "I need to go back in. How about tomorrow? I decided to have it done first thing in the morning. What a choice: have less time to prepare my mind or wait longer, thinking that I would be the dumbest guy in the world if I had problems that morning when I had passed up the early morning time. I went home filled with anxiety.

The next day, my cardiologist went in again and fixed things in my heart. I'm still around today thanks to this great doctor.

I continued to see my cardiologist for annual exams over the years. Earlier this year, I needed to see him for medical clearance for some other surgery and was told that he was taking some time off. When I went for my annual visit this summer, I saw his associate and was told that my cardiologist was on medical leave. Everyone at his clinic was tight lipped about what was going on with him. I just found out today.

I was shocked to see the news article briefing sent to my cell phone this morning: my cardiologist had gone public about having ALS. Although he appeared to me to be much older than me, in reality he is only six years older. In the news article, he referred to himself as a "retired cardiologist." He discussed dealing with the idea of having ALS and having professional knowledge of how his future life will be in his remaining time. He has chosen to face life with courage and dignity by using his final years to be an advocate for ALS.

So for me, this was bad thing number three. The man who helped me to live a great life these past nine years is now facing an incurable, debilitating illness for the remaining years of his life. It doesn't seem quite fair that this doctor who has dedicated his life to helping people like me who have had heart issues should be given such a terrible path for the end of his life. But we all know that life is not fair.

I hope my readers and poker friends have not had their "third" this weekend as I have had. It is certainly a reminder that nothing in this world is guaranteed and that our life can completely change unexpectedly at any instant.

Live every moment. I will try to keep this in mind as I begin this new phase in my life.

My interventional cardiologist's tips for me:
1) You can't control the past. Your problems are now fixed. But you can control the future.
2) Try to eat one meatless meal each day.
3) Walk. Every day. Anytime you are going somewhere: walk.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Las Vegas Trip Report: August 30 - September 4, 2020

With more than a little trepidation, I scheduled a weekday trip to Las Vegas at about the same time I did very year - right around Labor Day and right around the birthday of thundering36, my brother. The way the calendar worked out this year, I actually went the week before Labor Day instead of beginning the trip on Labor Day weekend. Being newly retired, I now have more flexibility in terms of when I can travel at the end of August.

I was playing poker pretty regularly until the COVID-19 crisis hit. Since then, however, I had only played online until I took a trip to the St. Louis area to play poker a few weeks ago. I felt the rustiness in St. Louis and also felt it in Las Vegas. Despite some COVID concerns, I decided to make the trip.

I had already been warned by my wife as to what I would find when I got to Chicago Midway Airport on a great Sunday morning: the ever-popular food court was closed.
Things seemed really slow for a Sunday morning, which I expected. Not knowing what food options would be available, I had stuffed away a large bag of Gardetto's and a Coke in my carry on. That was a wise choice as I always had a ready snack if I got back late from playing poker.

I am claustrophobic, so I had initially been concerned about wearing a mask for the entire flight. However, the St. Louis experience helped train me to keep on a mask for an extended period of time. I also stayed up late the night before my trip so that I would hopefully sleep most of the flight, which I did. My Southwest flight had empty middle seats and still had some availability.

Upon picking up my luggage at McCarran Airport, I took the shuttle to get my used car. Rates finally went down as my trip neared. I didn't make the reservation until the day before. I rented a full size vehicle from Thrifty. The wait was not too long and my customer service rep was fast. Apparently, Thrifty is using some cars that belong to Hertz. I was given a GMC Terrain which I liked. The only problem was that it reeked of smoke! I thought that perhaps whoever cleaned out the car was smoking when doing so, but the smell was indicative of a lot of smoking inside the vehicle. Had I known it would smell that much, I would have asked for a different vehicle. At least it was relatively cheap.

I was spending four nights at the Flamingo. Perhaps one good thing is that with all the sanitizing for COVID, I couldn't smell the familiar piped-in custom smell for Flamingo, which I do not like. That was a big plus. Most of the checking in was done via machines set up in the lobby. The process seemed relatively efficient.

My Fab room:
It was okay. The room was decently nice, but the carpeting was old and stained. One time thundering36 got us a sweet comped room/mini-suite at Flamingo, but the few other times that I have stayed there, the rooms have tended to be underwhelming.

How Safe Did I Feel?
One of my major concerns with making the trip was the level of safety I would feel. This would include airplanes, restaurants, poker rooms, inside casinos and The Strip. The answer: very safe in all places. Everywhere I went, people were wearing masks. Social distancing was not always around six feet, but I believe that people were respectful about being too close. When in the South Point buffet I forgot to put my mask back on as I went to get some more food, I was tracked down by a friendly employee who brought me a fresh mask that was in a sealed plastic container. The poker rooms had plexiglass up to separate players. After a player left, the seat, plexiglass and entire area was wiped down. The poker rooms felt especially safe to me.

How Was It Playing with plexiglass?
I was glad that I had gone to St Louis for a trial run to see how play was with plexiglass separators. Once you get used to them, they are not so bad. However, they certainly cut down the chatting and friendliness at the tables. I guess that is the price you must pay to play poker in a COVID-19 world.

Poker Horror Stories
To put it bluntly, my first evening of poker sucked. I decided to play at Venetian,  which was eight-handed $1/3 NL. One kind of scruffy looking guy was raising $20-25 many hands, only to later showdown with crappy hands that were the initial raise. I was in the small blind and made a call with a one gapper. It didn't cost much, and several people were in the hand. I had a gutshot straight, which I hit on the river, in a hand where everyone was checking. When it came to me, I threw out a bet of $10, practically begging for some callers. To my surprise, the big blind raised to $40. I was guessing the maybe he had the same hand as me or hit a lesser hand like two pair. I announced "raise," took my  initial $10 raise back, and pushed out a stack of $100 in redbirds. At that point the scruffy guy started got agitated and yelled out "you can't do that!" Huh? I clearly announced my intention to raise, took back the chips I originally raised with, and put out $100, then said "$100." Scruffy guy claimed that since I did not announce the amount of my raise before placing my chips out that I was restricted to only putting out  minimum raise. Everyone at the table was wondering where this came from, and the dealer waited a bit and then called for the floor as scruffy guy wouldn't let it go. The floor came, heard the situation from the dealer, and said the raise to $100 was okay. Scruffy guy then said that one of the room bosses had made a decision the other day that since the plexiglass was up and it appeared that some people could not hear things properly and other players were using the listening issue to angle shoot, that an unannounced re-raise could only be two times the initial raise. The floor said that he would inquire about this, taking more time. After what seemed like an eternity, the floor said to scruffy guy "You are correct. The raise can only be to $80." We had been waiting for a long time and I was certainly tired of listening to scruffy guy as well as thinking that this unannounced rule was not fair to everyone playing. I then made a big mistake, which I own. The big blind announced "all in." Instead of taking my time to re-examine the board, I insta-called. It turns out that I had missed that a bigger straight than I had was possible. The big blind tabled his hand and indeed I was beaten. I know that it is my own fault for not carefully re-examining the board, but I felt like I was so frustrated at listening to scruffy guy's unending yapping that I was pissed and just made the call. I left very unhappy.

I next went to Caesars Palace even though the game would be short handed. It was $1/2 and I bought in for $200. I was seated quickly, apparently at a table that kept losing players. One guy who had been away from the table then returned. He apparently was a regular because he seemed to know the female dealer quite well. She was announcing everything in a loud, shrill voice due to the plexiglass, and the guy started telling stories that I, and I imagine others, didn't really care to hear. He started by saying that he had connected with a young woman  on Tinder or some other dating or social media platform and was ready for a first date with her when COVID-19 put a hold on things. In the meantime, he had lost 40 pounds. He claimed that he was 6'6." Remarkably, in that same amount of time, the young woman had gained 40 pounds. Well, of course now he was not going to take her out. Huh? Was this guy really bragging about this - it was okay for him to have an extra 40 pounds, but now that this young lady put on the same amount (very common for many to put on weight due to COVID restrictions) he wouldn't take her out? And sometimes people actually wonder why poker is seen as a haven for d-bag males.

Along with hearing this shit show, I ran an overpair into a higher overpair and then two pair into a flopped set. In my mind, it was time to call it a night in poker and unwind with some slot action. Very crappy start to the trip.

Who Did I See in Las Vegas?
People who know me know that I am a social guy and always like to connect with old friends and meet new friends and online people I haven't met in person. I like to think of these meeting as some of the real highlights of my trip. I went to see ManInBlack. I stopped by his place to see how his apartment was coming along, then headed out for some lunch at The Egg and I. I had never been there before and apparently was a failure at lunch (according to RobVegasPoker) for not actually eating eggs there! It was lunchtime, however, so I opted for a buffalo chicken wrap while MIB wisely opted for the greatest looking cheeseburger. Next time I go for LUNCH, I'll give that a try. Sorry for disturbing your egg equilibrium, Rob! I have known MIB for many years and admire his tenacity to keep going when times get rough.

I headed to the Sahara poker room Thursday evening for some mixed poker games. Luke Johnston was sending out invitations and got Chris Abramski and Shady Steve to show. It was good to see Luke, whom I've met a few times, Chris, who I have known for several years, and Steve, who I had messaged with many times but never met in person. I was disappointed that Steve did not bring his attractive girlfriend for fear that I might steal her away.

Unfortunately, the mixed games were not mostly of the HORSE variety, but other games which I do not really know. As I told them, they might win my money, but I am not just giving it way playing games I know little about. Unfortunately, I didn't get much time to talk with Luke or Steve before Chris and I heading to another table to play some $1/2 NL. I didn't particularly like the other people at the table and it was my last night in Las Vegas, so I left after a short time to go bonus hunting at Venetian.

Opinion of Poker Rooms for This Trip
Caesars - I have never felt comfortable playing at Caesars. It is the only room where I have been warned due to getting into it with someone. And with what I mentioned earlier, I did not have a good experience again. However, the desk people were very friendly to me as I waited to be seated, so props to them.

Orleans
I only played one session at Orleans. It is another room where I feel slightly uncomfortable, maybe because it is such a locals place. Nothing negative happened there, so maybe it is more me.

Venetian
I spent a lot of time at the V because of the high hand promotion that started at the beginning of September. I wasn't able to snag one there, however. I took an overall loss there. I find that the players there tend to have an edge to themselves there, but I also recognize that the level of play there is, in my opinion, above average.

Red Rock
Played one evening session there. It's nice just to take the drive out there sometimes. Play at my table was wild. One guy should have been felted early on when he ran his KK into AA. He was saved by a King on the flop or turn. He then went on an unreal heater and cashed out a short time later with around $1,300. Nice ROI!

South Point
I was pleasantly surprised at South Point. I had only played there once before since I recently have not rented a car. I found the daytime regulars to be pretty tight and good players. Play was a little looser in the evenings. I found the players to be friendly and mostly polite.

I tried the the morning tournament there and had some aggro people at my table. I got bounced out of the tourney with AA when two aggro guys called my preflop all in and I had a terrible runout. I lost to a crappy hand like J-9os. Meh.

Food and Miscellaneous
Some restaurants were closed or had abridged hours. I pretty much took the low road this trip when eating. I did, however, enjoy the buffet at South Point twice. They did an excellent job with serving the food.
I am surprised that more places haven't opened theirs. And I had a graveyard special at the Coronado Cafe inside South Point one night.
Overall Trip Evaluation
I did have some excellent sessions during the trip, but not enough to overcome some errors I made along the way. I really felt like I was at a disadvantage from only playing b&m poker for two days in the past 7+ months before the trip. Poker friend Bill Tait told me that I am too hard on myself, but I worked for years doing a job where part of it required an anal attention to detail. I am used to having everything be 100%. I struggle inside when I do stupid stuff in poker. I'm getting better at letting things go.

I am glad that I took this trip and got away from my house for several days. It is amazing how for some of us our homes have almost become prisons due to COVID-19. Even so, I considered canceling the trip the morning of, which I have only done before due to medical reasons. I'm glad I decided not to wuss out. I am looking forward to another trip to Las Vegas in the next few months. It may or may not happen depending on if and when my house sells. Once that happens, Phoenix and "The Stick" will be source of my poker successes and frustrations for at least a year.

Note: I did not see any of the fighting or terrible behavior that has recently been posted on Twitter. The weekdays I was there were just typical Las Vegas days -- except for the number of healthy looking younger people who were tearing around the Las Vegas Strip in scooters! And I did get tested for COVID four days after I got home from my trip. The results were negative.

Thanks for reading!