Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mom and the 2002 Champions on Ice Olympic Tour

While I was in Las Vegas just over a week ago, the 2018 Winter Olympics began. One night as my wife was watching the prelims of the figure skating competition, she texted me to say that she had thought about my mother while watching the skaters.

My mom, for as long as I can remember, was an figure skating addict. Growing up outside Chicago, we often turned on the television to watch the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and a number of regional college teams in many sports. It was not unusual on a Saturday afternoon to hear my mom say "Can you please turn on the figure skating?" If there was a competition on, she would watch it. The look on her face when I told her that I met Scott Hamilton in a hotel on a trip to watch the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament ...

Shortly after the 2002 Winter Olympics that were held in Salt Lake City, I saw an advertisement for a skating tour that would be coming through central Illinois: The John Hancock 2002 Champions on Ice Olympic Tour. It would be featuring the top figure skaters in the world and would be in town about two weeks before Mothers Day. I got four tickets for myself, my mom, my wife and her mother. We invited both mothers down for the weekend -- one of the few times they had actually ever spent any time together, making for a very special few days.

I'll never forget as we walked down to our seats in Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois -- April 29, 2002. I was fortunate to get fantastic tickets. We kept getting closer ... and closer ... until were in our seats in the first row on the main floor. The look on my mom's face when the skaters came out to warm up was unbelievable. It was like watching a kid open his presents on Christmas morning. All these skaters that my mom had watched in the Olympics and over the past few years were all skating a few feet from her. It was a great show featuring a wonderful line up of skaters:

*  Sarah Hughes
*  Michelle Kwan
*  Irina Slutskaya
*  Alexei Yagudin
*  Timothy Goebel
*  Sasha Cohen
*  Evgeni Plushenko
*  Elvis Stojko
*  Michael Weiss
*  Victor Petrenko
*  Philippe Candeloro
*  Rudy Galindo
*  Surya Bonaly
*  Nicole Bobek
*  Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat
*  Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev
*  Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz
*  Oksana Kazakova & Artur Dmitriev
*  Isabelle Brasseur & Lloyd Eisler
*  Elizabeth Punsalan & Jerod Swallow

With so many skaters, it was a long, wonderful, exciting show. And really, it was pretty cool being so close to the ice and watching all the jumps and turns from a few feet away. For my mom, it was pretty much the show of a lifetime. It was gratifying to hear her say many times that that night was one she will never forget.

My mom passed away in 2016. Even as I watch Olympic figure skaters  this weekend, things just aren't the same. If you ever have that chance to do something really special for your mother (or father), do not even think twice about it. It will serve you with memories that will last long after any show or event.


Friday, February 16, 2018

February 2018 Las Vegas Trip Report - Part IV: Bally's Poker, Cruisin' with VegasDWP, TheTrooper97's Game at Westgate, Red Rock Poker and Pizza with grrouchie

Thursday, Feb 8 had great potential to be a fun day. After eating lunch, I was determined to get in a short poker session at Bally's. Although this used to be my Las Vegas "home" poker room, I had not even played any poker in there yet this trip. I knew I would have somewhere around an hour to 1 1/2 hours to play. I was seated immediately at placed at the table where my buddy Ronnie B was dealing. Despite being my friend, Ron always seemed to be dealing when I have taken losses at Bally's. Some friend, huh? NOTE: Just kidding, Ron! Anyway, Ron started dealing me some truly wicked cards. I won several hands in a short period of time. By the time his down was finished, I was already about $300 up. Not bad for about 20 minutes of $1/2 NL play! As subsequent dealers came in, I pretty much floated. Then right before VegasDWP called me to tell me that he was waiting for me outside, I flopped a set on a board with three diamonds. I was in the hand with two other guys. After I raised, one guy went all in for about $80. From what I could see, he was a decent player, and I immediately put him on a flopped flush. Although I was pretty sure I was behind, I had been running hot and called, knowing that I had a number of outs. Much to my surprise, the player to my left also called. He seemed to be a decent player also, so I was pretty sure that at least one of them had flopped a flush. The other player and I both checked on the turn and river as I saw, for me, brick ... brick. As I guessed, the player who went all in had flopped a flush -- in fact, the nut flush. I never saw what the other player had as he mucked when he saw the flush exposed. So ... I still ended up a couple hundred ahead, but was unfortunately one card away from sucking out and having a really great short session.

VegasDWP had offered months ago to drive me to a few desirable sections of the Las Vegas area to scout out potential housing options in case my wife and I relocate to Las Vegas after I retire in a couple years. After showing me the inside of his place and driving me in different corners of Las Vegas, (a BIG thank you, David!), we headed to Westgate for dinner at Sid's Cafe, then a little fun at TheTrooper97's Trooper Thursday game. We were later joined by TBC and and his friend and semi-landlord, Vinnie. Unfortunately, they were seated at a different table. At my table, Trooper was in seat five, I was in seat six and VegasDWP was in seat seven.

I played tight-aggressive for the first half hour. I actually then got involved in many hands. I had chipped up but then lost most of it when I chased an open-ended straight draw. The Euro-aggro guy in seat four pushed all in after the turn and I was forced to fold. It was quite a ballsy move on his part as he risked most of his stack with nothing but air. Dammit - so close on the turn. The big hand for me came when we were involved in a splash pot. The way that works at the Trooper game is that all players (it is optional, but everyone was in) put in $10 before the cards are dealt, therefore starting off with a $90 pot. The dealer deals everyone two cards and then puts out the flop before before any betting occurs. I looked at my hole cards to see that I had ducks. A quick look at the flop - BINGO! How nice to flop a set in a splash pot! Unfortunately, nothing ever comes easy, it seems, as there were two spades on the flop. After I raised, VegasDWP pushed all in. Putting him on a flush draw, I called the all in and hoped for no spades. There was a spade on the turn or river and I expected to get my lunch handed to me. Fortunately, David had two pair and no spades, so I felted him. He got up to leave and declined my request for a ride back to The Strip if I cashed out (ha!). I stayed around for a bit, but then became concerned that I would need to reschedule my flights home due to upcoming weather in Chicago. I watched a bit of the Golden Knights game in the sports book (who could pass that up?), said goodbye to Tony and Vinnie and took the monorail back to Bally's.

It was still relatively early, so I decided to press my luck at Bally's. Unfortunately, the Bally's juju from earlier in the day was gone, as nothing but crap cards came my way. I took a loss and headed upstairs for the night.

Friday, Feb 9 morning didn't go quite as planned. I woke up but kept falling asleep. Eventually, I woke up at 10:30 and was rushing about to shower and pack. I had hoped to meet and have lunch with poker pro Jimmy Fricke, who is from my neck of the woods, but he was off Twitter for several days and we never finalized details. I decided to grab lunch and then head to Summerlin to drive around a bit, then get in a poker session at Red Rock. The highlight of the session was when two guys were all in and a third guy said "I know I have the best f**king hand right now," and folded. The flop came out rag-King-King and the guy exploded! He threw something across the table and unleashed a litany of f-bombs. Yes - it seems that he folded K-K. He not only would have won a huge pot, but also would have won a high hand bonus of over $500! The mood at the table abruptly changed, and not having fun or success there anyway, I asked for a table change.

The table change seemed to be for the better. The action was not quite so wild, and I actually picked up some cards and won a few hands. Unfortunately, I ran Kings into Aces and lost most of my buy in. I shoved the rest with A-J vs K-Q and lost, deciding at that point to end my poker for the trip and play some slots to relax.

After a little fun, I headed to Giordano's Pizza near Red Rock. I have known grrouchie for some time (after all, he was the presumed Exalted Grand Poobah of the TBC Inner Circle before it was "gifted" to me!), but had yet to meet his wife, so I invited grrouchie and his family out for pizza. His wife, being a good ol' Chicago gal, chose Giordano's. We met out at the crowded restaurant and shared great pizza and stories about ourselves, relationships, football, Chicago, poker, TBC ...

After a ton o' fun, I needed to start inching my way to the airport. We said our goodbyes and I called TBC to see if he needed one last ride before I returned my rental car. I picked him up at the Nugget, drove him to the Stratosphere, said goodbye, and headed toward the airport to return my rental car and actually get there EARLY this time for my 12:15am flight. The only problem I had going home was my final leg of the trip. I had boarded my plane at O'Hare to hear, right before take off "We have a minor maintenance issue." That issue could have caused our plane to not stop before hitting the end of the runway at the end of the flight, so we were delayed three hours while American Airlines got another plane. In the meantime, props to them for setting up a free lunch for us at the gate to ease the pain of the delay.

And speaking of pain, I got home early Saturday afternoon to see my dog, Fredo, who had undergone canine ACL surgery while I was gone. He was looking pretty good, but man -- the old sockroll took a hit with that surgery!

Back home, which felt good, and looking forward to some charity games poker the next weekend, which is now tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 2018 Las Vegas Trip Report - Part III: Poker Extravaganza -- Orleans, South Point, Flamingo, Mirage and Harrah's

Tuesday, Feb 6 proved to be one interesting day. It began by my reading the note that had been slipped under my door earlier that morning:

As Dirty Harry would say - "Marvelous." I was paying a resort fee of $34/day AND $10/day for parking, yet I couldn't even take a friggin' shower when I woke up Tuesday morning. Great screw job, CET!

Tuesday was the only day that I ate at a Las Vegas buffet. It was not unusual in the past for my brother, thundering36, and I to do a few buffets on each trip. This trip, however, one visit to the buffet at the Orleans would be it. Food and service was very good, as usual. After brunch, I decided to play for awhile at Orleans. I had only played there once, maybe twice. Frankly, my session there was so far from being memorable that I remember very little about it. I was card dead and did a lot of folding. A guy moved to our table after having an altercation with a woman at another table. The brush came over and some f-bombs were dropped, resulting in at least a temporary ban for the offender. I believe I lost a little money there, but remembered that I have not had much fun playing there.

When I finished my afternoon session, I headed toward South Point Casino to meet friends Stacy and Miyuki at The Boulevard, a nice bar across the street from South Point. Stacy and Miyuki had both come to the 1st Annual TBC "Memorial" Meet Up last year in January. Stacy knows Tony very well from the TBC days at the Gold Strike Casino in Jean, Nevada.While the others ate, I just slurped down a beer (Thanks, Stacy!) as we had a great time talking poker and the past. Soon they were off to their bowling night and I decided to play for the first time at South Point.

I got a few cards early, but unfortunately the table started out being really tight. Soon TBC joined me at South Point and was seated at a different table. Since I was basically just treading water, I switched over to his looser and more aggressive table. It paid off when I got in a pot with a one-gapper and flopped an open-ended straight draw. I hit the straight on the turn and was able to more than double up.

After a profitable session at South Point, I drove Tony to a Walmart to pick up some food, then dropped him off at his super secret hotel somewhere in southern Nevada. Confident that I was not being followed by anyone looking to STEAL the famous sockroll, of course, I decided to play one more session of poker, u see. I hoped to get into a game at Bally's, but only one game was running and there were a few people already on the list. Instead, I went to Flamingo, another of the rooms that has never been particularly good to me. This session really turned out to be the capper for the night.

I bought in for $200. Before I could even sit down, the dealer noticed I was coming and dealt me two cards. Sweet! I looked at them without sitting down, only to find that in my first hand I had been dealt the dreaded Pocket Kings. There had been a raise to $10, so I bumped it up to $25. I had no idea how the table had been so I just made a good guess as to amount. I got two new callers and the original better also called. Therefore, the pot was right at $103. The flop was a rainbow Queen, 9 and 5 -- pretty sweet for my hand. The initial raiser checked and I bet $100. I was surprised to get a call from the guy on my immediate left. Had he flopped a set? The pot was now $303 and there were two of us left. I had $75 and he had about $50. The turn was a deuce and I insta-shoved. He called. I don't remember the river as I was pretty anxious to see what h had. After the river, I turned over my pocket Kings. He turned over 9-2os! WTF?????? Who calls a $25 pre-flop raise in $1/2 NL with that? I looked at him and he mumbled "I'm drunk." A few minutes later he said "I had to call." I said "NO - you didn't." I guess it didn't matter if we were talking about calling $25 pre-flop with 9-2os or calling $100 after hitting the flop with the 9 and a shitty kicker. A few hands later I pushed in with a straight draw and hit it, only to lose to a bigger straight. I went back to my room in Bally's one unhappy camper.

Wednesday had to be better than Tuesday, u see. After sleeping late getting something to eat, I headed over to a room that had been pretty good to me in the past: Mirage. My session there was one of those boring sessions where little worth writing about happened. I was down initially and spent most of the session trying to get back even. I finally did, then dipped again. Suffering from extreme boredom and beginning to get hungry, I cashed out with a loss. I had plans to have dinner with friend and uber-liberal Michelle (9ontheturn), but she was not feeling up to it and had to take a pass. Her text message was actually pretty funny: "It feels like there is an elf dancing around my sinuses and my throat feels like I ate steel wool." Ummm ... that sounded like a definite "some other time" to me!

Using some comps to defray the cost of dinner, I ate at California Pizza Kitchen in Mirage. As usual, great pizza and great service. After gorging myself, I decided to check out Harrah's or Bally's. Harrah's had immediate seating, so I stopped there.

I lost part of my stack when I flopped trip Aces with A-10. However, I was pretty sure that I was outkicked by another player and chose to fold rather than potentially lose my whole stack. One table donk chased and rivered me, and I finally was felted when I shoved all in as a 60% favorite and lost. Let's just say that Wednesday (which actually started with the brutal beat in the early hours at Flamingo) was a really crappy day for poker (with the exception of South Point) and just overall (with the exception of seeing my friends). Thursday would have to be better ... wouldn't it?

Coming in Part IV: Bally's, Cruisin' with Vegas DWP, TheTrooper's game, Red Rock and Pizza with grrouchie

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 2018 Las Vegas Trip Report - Part II : Bonnie & Clyde; Clark Gable & Carole Lombard; TBC & lightning36

After waking up on Monday, Feb. 5, it was time for some breakfast and then checking out of the hotel. As I walked outside in the sunny, clear and moderately warm day, I was reminded of the nasty cold weather I left behind. It seemed like that day would be great for a road trip I had planned. I hopped in the car and drove south to Primm, Nevada. Destination: Whiskey Pete's Casino. Purpose: Check out the original vehicle that Bonnie and Clyde were in when they met their maker.

The back of Clyde Barrow's shirt

After leaving Whiskey Pete's, it was back north up I-15 and a little west to Goodsprings, Nevada and the Pioneer Saloon.

Classic movie buffs might know that this is the place that Clark Gable hung out getting drunk after wife Carole Lombard died in a plane crash nearby. The location of the crash was desolate, thus it took search personnel a little time to get to the bodies that perished in the crash.

As the afternoon wound down, it was time to head back up to Las Vegas and check into Bally's. There was a long line at check in, but fortunately only two people ahead of me in the Platinum check in line. I stopped at the Total Rewards Center to get some new cards. I was surprised to see that they were Gold, not Platinum. After checking in my room, I stopped back at Total Rewards to inquire. It seems that, unbeknownst to me, Caesars, although notifying me a year earlier that I would have Platinum status through 2018, apparently revoked my Platinum status since I had not been using my Rewards credit card. The funny thing is, despite having been given Platinum status the year before (shortly after my brother and I stayed at The Cromwell), I have played enough poker to fall just short of earning Platinum, on my own in 2017. Just short -- as in NOT. Therefore, I had to pay the dreaded CET parking fee to park in the Paris parking lot for the balance of my stay. Yeah - paying the $10/day should not be a big deal, but it is just the kind of thing that pisses you off when you pay the friggin' $34 daily resort fee for shitty wifi.

So, with my run good (since getting on my first flight!) over, I headed to an ultra-secret location to pick up Tony Bigcharles for some degenerate poker. Although the Golden Nugget has never been one of my favorite rooms (and certainly one of my least successful), I decided to give it another chance. Unfortunately, when Tony and I got to the Nugget, almost 100 people attending a convention were playing in a private tournament, taking up all available tables. Fortunately our wait wasn't too long, and shortly we were sitting at the same table.

(In)famous poker pro Tony Bigcharles

I was playing well and building a decent stack despite taking a brutal hit when a player chased a gutshot straight all the way to the river -- and hit it! It looked like the Golden Nugget curse would be broken, but ... then disaster  happened very quickly. There were several players at the table who were poor players and were wild, but lucky. I looked down to see pocket Queens. I four-bet a short stack who then went all in. One of the table donks followed. I easily covered them but had a bad feeling about those Queens. The short stack had A-K and won the pot. Even the table donk beat me with the mighty K-8os. The very next hand I looked down at the dreaded Pocket Kings. Well, of course (u see) I would be shoving. Again I was in a hand with the players who seem to swim in the shallow end of the intelligence pond. You can guess what happened: I lost to the mighty Q-10! I was reminded that Q-10sooted was one of my favorite hands. Well ... it is for cheap speculative trapping, not for calling the all-ins of someone who has only shown down excellent hands. Bah!

We left the Nugget and drove to the Stratosphere. Tony, I and an old friend of Tony's were all able to be seated. And once again, my premium hand of a set of 8's (which I shoved) was drawn out by a guy with a straight draw. What a crappy night. After my good poker start, some bad luck had me right back where I started. I then found a video blackjack game and martingaled off $2,000. Oops -- sorry -- wrong blog.

Monday, February 12, 2018

February 2018 Las Vegas Trip Report - Part I : Almost Missed My Flight and Poker at Green Valley Ranch

Tony Bigcharles asked me when I was going to write a trip report on my recent trip to Las Vegas and how many parts would I be writing. I told him I may not even write up anything, which is what I have done on occasion. However, this seems to be about as good a time as any for me to type a few things out, so here goes.

The trip got off to an unbelievably bad start. Instead of driving to Chicago-Midway and taking Southwest (my usual routine), I flew out of my home airport to Chicago-O'Hare, then to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, I was concentrating on the three-hour layover I was going to have at O'Hare and completely screwed up getting to the airport. It was just past 12:30 pm on Saturday, Feb. 3, I was ready to head to the airport, and then I realized that my flight was leaving at 1:12pm! I had just 40 minutes before my flight would leave. I yelled to my wife that we had to scramble, got in the van, and was sweating bullets as my wife was majorly exceeding the speed limit to try to get me to the airport on time. When we got there, I bolted out of the van with my carry on while my wife was getting my suitcase that I would check. I got inside the airport and saw that American Airlines had already closed its ground floor check in counter since my flight was the last one leaving for the day! An American Airlines employee saw me and suggested that I go upstairs and see if they would let me run my suitcase through TSA security. I was throwing off my hoodie and shoes and getting stuff on the conveyor belt as quickly as I could. I got through and ran to my gate only to see ... that I still had a minute or two to get on! I was quickly checked in and my luggage was able to be tagged through to Las Vegas and make the flight. I entered the plane with an armful of things including my hoodie, jacket and shoes ... but I made it! Whew!

I arrived in Las Vegas just after 7:00pm, got my luggage and headed to the rental car center. I had gotten a great deal on a week's car rental through Hotwire and was wondering how the service would be at Thrifty Car Rental, which I had never used before. Despite several negative reviews on Yelp!, the Thrifty folks were friendly and quick. No problems at all. My car was a 2017 Nissan Sentra with 11,000 miles. I was soon on my way!

Hotel rates for Super Bowl weekend were running a little high, so many thanks to ManInBlack, who got me a nice mini-suite at his hotel in Henderson for a cheap price. Excellent job, Joe!

Alysia Chang happened to call and was also looking to get dinner, so she came by, picked my up, and we ate at Taco Y Taco. Great food there, but the ordering process was confusing for this  first-timer. She dropped me off at my hotel, and I found that MIB, who thought he would have to work, didn't have to. I grabbed some stuff and we headed to Green Valley Ranch for some poker. I had only played there once before (thanks to TheNeophyte), so I didn't really know what to expect. I played my usual $1/2 NL. The game was quite nitty for some time, but loosened up. MIB came to play at the table, and a few people were practically giving away chips. Stump saw on Twitter that we were there and made an appearance. Pretty soon all three of us were at the same table. Good times! It was a virtual Republican takeover (although TBC says that I am a RINO). And ... I think I finally got back at MIB for destroying my top two with his set of deuces several years back! I cashed out with a nice profit, dropped MIB off at his place and headed back to Henderson. The day ended much better that it started.

After a few hours of  sleep, I got ready for Super Bowl Sunday. My plan was to play at MGM, one of the few places that seemed to have a good Super Bowl promotion for visitors. I played there a total of seven hours. In that time, I never flopped a flush (which would get me a chance to pick an envelope for cash prizes) and never had my seat drawn in the random drawings for picks. I therefore got absolutely zippo out of the promotion! I did, however, book a small win.

After my session, I grabbed some dinner and was able to have a great chat with The Boss -- Pokerkraut's wife. She was very sweet and told me about their upcoming vacation, which would start the next day. I had this great (heh) idea for Pokerkraut's vlog, but there wasn't enough time to talk with him about it since he was getting ready to work. Maybe next time.

Coming in Part II: Road trip to Primm and Goodsprings and poker with Tony Bigcharles.

Friday, February 02, 2018

On to Las Vegas 2018

You know how, when a vacation is looming, that last week at work seems to last forever? And that last day? I seemed to get this in spades (ha ha) this time around. In my job, one of the busiest periods is from Halloween to about mid-January, thus my frequent trips to Las Vegas usually include one at the end of January/beginning of February. Tomorrow ... it is on -- pending bad weather which could screw up one of my flights.

In a bit of a twist, I decided to rent a car -- something I have not done for a few years. It looks like I will have to carefully plan my parking on The Strip. Fortunately, I should be okay to park in the CET lots and will mainly have to avoid MGM places.

Long-time friend ManInBlack helped me secure a hotel room in Henderson for a couple of nights, after which I will move to Bally's for the rest of the week. I have some things I want to do this trip, including taking a road trip to Goodsprings and Primm and hopefully getting a change to do some initial scouting for a potential beginning of retirement casa.

I hope to see several of my Las Vegas friends and maybe even play a little poker with them.

I will be checking text messages and Twitter regularly to keep in touch, so hit me up if you want in on the road show.

And oh yeah: Eagles over the Patriots in a thriller.