Predictably, I awoke at 1am after being in bed for what seemed like about ten minutes, but in reality was more like 43. Jet lag is a strange thing. I managed to drift off sporadically and finally threw in the towel about 05:30. I became aware that I had forgotten to eat the previous night, and as Simon and Clive were in a similar predicament, we all breakfasted early at the Aria Cafe.
I ordered the Corned Beef Hash – a huge trough of proper corned beef (not the Fray Bentos version) served with crispy potatoes, caramelised onions and two eggs over easy, which I partnered with just a coffee as I’m watching my diet. The other two ordered the Eggs Benedict, and Clive bullied Simon into a freshly squeezed orange juice to keep up his vitamin C. About half way through the corned beef I hit critical mass, and passed the trough to Simon who readily hoovered it up, Doberman Pinscher style, after already having demolished his more modest vat of Eggs Benedict.
The plan for Day 2 was always to kick off with the $60 bounty tournament at Monte Carlo, so Simon and I left Clive to begin his new career at the Aria cash tables and walked south to the adjacent operation. The card room was tucked away (as they often are), small but nicely done, and virtually deserted. It was the first of several early morning tourneys whose life would depend on enough players turning up. Luckily, there was a large gentleman, possibly of Samoan origin, swaying slightly and trying to focus on his wallet, who was already at the desk trying to register.
“Was I playing here last night?” he murmured hazily.
“Yes Sir, you played the 11pm.”
“Oh, I did? How did I get on?”
It transpired that the guy had enjoyed a convivial evening on the complimentary cocktails, had stumbled off well after midnight to get an earful from the family, and had decided to do it all again the next day. As the tourney started, with just seven of us around one table, some of the regulars seemed surprised that the Samoan had reappeared so soon, and revealed that several times the previous evening he had tried to make small bets after all the small chips had been removed from the table.
Our affable bunch started playing and chatting, and a new Vegas day seeped into existence over the green baize. True to form, after a few levels the green 25 chips were removed and the Samoan tried to raise to 225. I had already knocked Simon out with pocket Aces versus his pocket Tens, a loss which he took graciously by elbowing me in the head as he went off to rebuy.
Other players get a little wary when they realise Simon and I know each other, but are soon comforted that there are no team tactics when we start hurling insults at each other and calling each other’s raises with junk. We are close friends of over 20 years, but sworn enemies at the table, and rightly so. After I knocked him out for the second time with 57 offsuit when he failed to make his Flush, I feared for my safety and asked the floor manager to escort him from the premises.
After about an hour and a half, a quiet guy in Seat 10 made a pretty speech as he pushed all in pre-flop.
“I really wanna play cash. I go all in.”
“That was a nice little speech,” I said “but what does it mean? Pocket Aces?”
Unsurprisingly, there was no response. I looked down at A7 in the big blind, the last to act with everyone else having folded. A7 is normally garbage in this situation, but he had been saying for a while how he really wanted to play the newly opened 3/6 cash table. Seat 10 stared into the neon distance behind me, mute once more. In most games this would have been an easy fold, but the trouble was I was in Vegas, it was a 9am shovefest, and I’d told myself I was going to play aggressively. More significantly, if I got knocked out I could just about make the 11am at Treasure Island and tick another off the list.
“Alright, this is loose, but I call” I said, as I pushed all my chips forwards.
He turned over pocket Kings. No Ace came on the flop, turn or river, and I was out.
“Idiot!” said Simon, in consolation.
We rushed up to Treasure Island, but it was even quieter than Monte Carlo and clearly wasn’t going to run. The taxi driver back had a gnarled face, his eyes burnt away by years of harsh desert sun bouncing off the cruel tarmac. Normally I prefer my taxi drivers to possess the sense of sight, but he had clearly driven those roads so long that he no longer needed, or wanted, to see.
The Aria at 1pm was the next on the schedule, and the first of the proper tournaments – a decent field of dangerous opponents, a slower blind structure to allow more play, and a bigger buy-in with an enormous prize pool to match. If I was serious about my poker, it was these tourneys – Aria, Bellagio, Venetian, Ceasars, Wynn – that would form my yardstick. They would also define the success, or otherwise, of my challenge to play all the tournaments on The Strip within 80 hours. It was a bizarre and perverted set of balancing scales – success in one of these big ones would almost certainly equate to the failure of my quest. As Clive had sagely reminded me at the airport 36 hours earlier: “It’s lunacy, Neil.”
I sat at Table 5, Seat 10, and for the first hour the deck hit me in the face with one big hand after another. It was undoubtedly the biggest rush I had experienced in my poker life. I busted Seat 3 with QQ versus AQ. Against Seat 8, I flopped the nut Flush and slow-played it beautifully to let him catch up to Trip 9s before crushing him on the river. Pocket Jacks made a Set for another big score. I was up to around 30k from a starting stack of 10k.
Then a greying guy in shades sat down at the vacant Seat 7. He was acting like the big cheese and talking to people like he owned the place (a young British pro later confided that he was an actor called Bobby Cooper who’d had a few lines in ‘I Am Sam’ and had appeared in an episode of ‘Two And A Half Men’, and also that he was a dickhead).
“You must get this a lot, but you look like Larry Byrd!” was Bobby’s opening gambit to me.
“Who’s Larry Byrd?” I replied, which caused uproar at the table (I Googled him later and was not entirely flattered).
Anyhow, fairly soon after that I got pocket Kings in early position and raised his big blind, which he defended. The flop came K53 to give me a Set of Kings, but there were also Flush and Straight possibilities so I didn’t mess about. I guessed that Bobby would play if he’d caught any piece of it – he wasn’t going to be bullied by some Brit who didn’t even know who Larry Byrd was. He was the self-appointed table captain and was going to set the record straight.
I bet big, he check-raised, and I put him all in. When he started giving it all the chat I knew he was going to call. I sat there blanking out his noise and wondering what I wanted him to turn over. If it was AK, a Set of 5s or a Set of 3s I had him crushed. If he was on the Flush draw it would be trickier. After some further Hollywood-ing he eventually turns over A4 of spades. Any spade that didn’t pair the board or any 2 would give him the winning hand. He had about a 40% chance. I sensed the rest of the table rooting for the ex-basketballer lookalike that could rid them of the fading film star.
The really weird thing was that I didn’t know if I wanted to win the hand. If my stack climbed further I would most likely be in the tourney for the long haul, which would jeopardise my schedule – possibly even terminating my already flimsy hopes to go Around The Tourneys In Eighty Hours after less than a day of playing. The dealer collected the pot together and dealt the turn card…..