Wednesday, May 26, 2021

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Las Vegas

I had originally planned to go to Las Vegas this week, but I didn't actually make my hotel reservation until right before I started on the trip yesterday. With a brief stop for lunch, it takes me about five hours driving. MGM Resorts has been generous with its room offers to me, so after staying at Delano in February and Mirage in April, my May trip brought me to ... Excalibur. I had read that Excalibur had improved, so I thought I would give it a shot since it would cost me the least of any Strip hotels.

Impression after one night: Definite improvement! My only problem was that my phone would not unlock my door with the digital key. I never was mailed a QR code, likely because of the last-minute reservation. I got a plastic key at the desk instead.I 

My Stay Well Fresh room is not bad! My view of the Excalibur pools also was a pleasant surprise. 

The casino doesn't reak of smoke like it did years ago, and the entire place seems cleaner ... more like when it opened. So ... if you are looking for a decent but not extravagant room at a great price, Excalibur has my recommendation. 😀

I played an evening session of poker at South Point. The place was hopping on a Tuesday night! I wanted to eat at the dinner buffet first but the line was too long. I went straight to the poker room for $1/2 NL.

The poker room was also packed. Cash games were nine handed and the plexiglass had been down for a couple of weeks. It was nice to feel the return of "regular" poker. There was even a bit of talking among players. I was telling another guy a bad beat story and flipped him a chip. The atmosphere okay. There were no jerks at our table.

I originally was down when I called a $20 raise in middle position with AdJd. There was one other caller. The flop had two diamonds, no Aces or Jacks. The original raiser checked and I checked. The other guy made it $20 and I called. Brick. I checked and the guy went all in. He was a short stack and there was about $150 in the pot. Brick. Down about $100 early on.

Two other hands of note. On the button with AsKs, I raised to $15. Everyone folded except the big blind, who called. The flop had an Ace and a spade, so I led out and he called. The turn was a spade so, with top top and the nut flush draw, I bet bigger. He called. The river was a beautiful spade. I made a value bet and he shoved. Perfect!

In the second hand I had AA. There was a $5 button straddle and  $12 raise ahead of me. I bumped it to $30. The player to my left raised to $60. Now the question was "How much should I raise?" I made it $160 total and he called. The flop was great - low, uncoordinated and a rainbow. I shoved my remaining $180 or so and he called. He turned over pocket Queens and bricked the turn and river. That's the way it is supposed to work.

I cashed out with a nice profit and played slots until midnight hit. There was a long line to get into the Coronado Cafe for the midnight specials, but I was in no hurry.

While waiting to get in Coronado, I became aware that my name was dropped on a Twitch stream, so I joined the chat. Lightning Poker (@lightnin_), an obvious lesser version if the REAL lightning, has invited me to come on his stream -- to duke it out for the title of top Lightning. I have accepted the challenge! More details should be available soon via Twitter (@lightning36 or @lightnin_), this blog, or the faux lightning's Twitch feed.

On to day two in Las Vegas. Poker might include Wynn, Bally's and/or South Point.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Impressions: Brand New Poker Room at Gila River - Lone Butte (Chandler, AZ) and Reopened Poker Room At Desert Diamond - West Valley (Glendale, AZ)

Lone Butte
Since my move to the Phoenix area last December, I have had been essentially two choices of where to play poker: Talking Stick Resort or Gila River - Wild Horse Pass. Gila River Hotels & Casinos made a decision to close the smallish Wild Horse Pass poker room and build/open a brand new poker room at a sister property -- Lone Butte, which is just over three miles away from Wild Horse Pass. The poker room opened just a few weeks ago, and last Monday, April 26, was a special day as vlogger Brad Owen, advertised as a "poker influencer," was making an appearance to play $5/500 spread and have drinks afterward. I got a message from a former poker blogger, Zooks64, asking me if I wanted to meet up with her at Lone Butte during the Brad Owen event, which we assumed would help draw a healthy crowd. Zooks is a former central Illinois resident who beat me out to Arizona. I occasionally played at her home game in Illinois, which was just over 100 miles away at the time. I hadn't seen Zooks for a few years, so I excitedly said yes to her invitation.

Lone Butte advertises the new poker room like this on the Bravo app:
- New 8,000 sq ft poker room with 30 tables
- Private entrance with convenient parking
- Nine 90-inch TV screens plus a video wall covering over 200 inches
-Earn $1 in comps for every hour played
- Private patio with smoking area

Unfortunately, Lone Butte, like the other major poker rooms in town, does not allow players to phone in to get on the waiting list. I made the 45-minute drive to Lone Butte, which I had visited once before when trying to figure out where the new poker room would be located.

There was covered parking near the new poker room - very nice as the Arizona sun has been getting pretty hot. The day I went was a cooler day, however, so I parked a bit closer to the room's outdoor opening. The outdoor patio area is pretty spacious and seemed to be used that day mostly as a smoking area. There were tables set up so players could eat outside if they chose. There was a poker menu posted inside the building and food and drink counter was set up.
Food is also available in the casino's food court.

The tables are all brand new, sectioned off into seven playing spaces by plexiglass. The chairs are comfortable and are not on rollers, but slide across the carpeted floor on metal chair glides.

The room itself is wonderfully large and the tables are spaced appropriately. There is a good-sized main desk area where the lists and seating assignments are controlled and a separate area for chips. Restrooms are conveniently located right outside the room.
I got on the list for $2/200 and $3/300 spread limit games. There were only one table of each open when I got the before noon as most of the games that were going were Limit games. I had to wait about 45 minutes to be seated at the $3/300 game. Two additional tables were started soon after.

I was quite shocked to find that the maximum buy-in for the$3/300 was $1,500! I had been used to the $600 max buy-in at the Stick. I would have preferred to play at the $2/200, but I was still far down the list for that game. Soon Zooks came in, and she had what appeared to be a pretty long wait.

The players at my table ranged from Terrible to Pretty Good. I was doing okay -- winning my share of pots. The only stumble I made was while hoping to isolate a poor player with my A-K. The third player in the pot, a guy to my immediate right, unfortunately, had A-A. That cost me a couple hundred. That lucky guy got Aces three times in a half hour and got paid off each time. 

Zooks was at a different table that had a lot more money on it than mine. Also, it sounded like the players there were tougher. I cashed out after several hours and took a loss due to the A-K/A-A hand. I played some slots to cool down, then headed back home.Zooks and I messaged back and forth (using a hands-free method). She left before me and lived closer, getting home rather quickly. I saw Brad Owen there, but didn't have a chance to meet him.

Evaluation: Very nice new room. If the buy-ins stay that big, I'll have to move down to $2/200 or $2/100 spread. Dealers were experienced and professional. This room is an excellent option if you are looking to play in the south Phoenix area.

Desert Diamond
The same day that Zooks and I played poker at Lone Butte, the poker room at Desert Diamond reopened. Two days later, I decided to check out the reopened poker room while my wife was working a temporary part-time job. She works and I play poker. Seems right.

My drive to Desert Diamond is about 35 minutes: longer than Talking Stick but shorter than Lone Butte. However, seeing that my closest crappy poker room in Illinois was 1 1/2 hours away and the nearest good rooms were over 2 hours away, you'll hear no complaints about distances from me!

The unfortunate part of playing here was the lack of spread limit tables when I visited. $2/200 spread limit had only one table running and $3/300 spread had two. The wait lists were not long, but they barely moved. I was enjoying a good run at the slot machines, which kept me busy. However, it was close to three hours before my name was announced for $3/300. I had actually thought about just leaving, but that would have been hard with seeing my name at the top of the list. It was there for quite some time.I received a text when my name was called, and you have five minutes to get there. A guy was in line in front of me asking several questions. When I got to the poker room worker, I saw that my name had disappeared off the list! She sent me directly to a gentleman at a station inside the poker room who was seating people. He said U just got there in time. Next time I'll go straight inside if there are people in line at the check-in station just outside the poker room.

The play at the table was okay -- the usual mix or bingo players and decent players. One aggro guy was getting lucky, hitting the river several times to win hands. My first big hand, I got my taste of action with him. He raised to $15 (he raised just about every hand), and I stared at my pocket Kings in the small blind. I popped it to $40 to isolate. He called. The flop, of course, had an Ace. I made a continuation bet on the flop and he called. We both checked the turn. I checked the river and he threw out what looked to be a value bet. I called. He turned over A-5sooted to drag the pot. I did get my revenge, however, when I was on the button with pocket 9s and raised to $15. He raised it up to $35. I figured that he could have almost anything and decided to call. The flop was 9-7-rag rainbow. Sweet! I played the hand really well, merely calling first his flop bet, then his turn bet when another 7 fell, giving me a full house. After he raised on the river I shoved in the rest of my chips and he called. Unfortunately for him, he had a 7 and thought he was felting me with trip 7s. Wrongo! I had a very nice pot.

I lost some of the stack when I again was dealt pocket 9s. I whiffed the flop, but floated to either checks all around or a minimal raise. The tune was lovely 9, giving me a set. Unfortunately, it also completed a player's open-ended straight. I was pretty shocked when I lost that hand.

Now it was time for the King of Run Bad (me!) to once again keep my crown. I looked down to see K-K. A player in early position who was too busy playing with his phone and rarely played any hands raised to $30. I raised to $70, which should be screaming A-A or K-K as I was not being overly aggressive in the game. H shoved all in and I called. The flop was Q-rag-rag. The turn was an Ace, so I was pretty sure I was dead. The river was a rag. I had already flipped over my K-K. He finally showed his Q-Q. Two outed for all my chips once again (see final hand from my recent Las Vegas trip report). Feeling frustrated and defeated, I left the table and headed to the food court before making a stop on the bitter ride home.

Evaluation: Another very nice, spacious room. Dealers seemed to make a couple of questionable decisions. I would normally never wait so long to play, but the slot fun kept me there. The casino was really hopping with action. It was nice to see that I now have three good poker options in my area. It will be interesting to see what changes are in store in the future. Will the plexiglass stay? Will masks still be required?

Although I will admit to making some poor decisions and stupid plays, the run bad I have been experiencing has really left a bad taste in my mouth. In between these two sessions, I played at Talking Stick and messed up when I hit a straight on the river but failed to see that the card also completed a flush, and then ran into quad Kings. I leave on a trip to Wisconsin and Illinois in just over three days and therefore will get a poker break whether or not I play in the next three days. Handling the downswings in poker is something I struggle with, especially when they seem to go on for several weeks. How the pros can make it through the times of huge losses - good luck to them!

Thanks for reading!