Wake up at the crack of 10:30 to the birds in the courtyard. Coffee, orange juice, bagel and cream cheese. Computer on, weather forecast perfect, five on the interest list for the Venetian 8/16 half-kill Omaha-8.
I phone the poker room to get on the list. Twenty seconds later I hit F5 and giggle. The interest list now shows six. Wonder briefly why I find this modern marvel humorous, then shatter national stereotypes by shaving and showering. Put on my uniform of silver rings, cat collar bracelets, and one of my signature cat’s eyes T-shirts, yellow-green on black, gimlet glare. Cuban heels complete the ensemble and I’m on my way.
There’s a light wind out of the North and the Southwest Airlines 737s are climbing over Paradise, most banking left above the Wynn and heading West over the mountains towards the coast. I duck into Walgreens for a power bar and banana.
Arrive at the Venetian just as the game is being called, lock up the ten-seat and get two racks of lime green two-dollar chips. Only the gentleman in the three-seat has an oxygen tank and it is a small, hand-held model rather than the more common monsters on wheels favored by stud players at The Mirage a few years ago. As the cards get in the air I ponder the possibility that The Mirage stud game died because…well…it literally died.
Something I didn’t anticipate when I returned to live play is my tendency to get “drifty.” It’s not something that used to happen when I was playing online, probably because there’s simply no time, but live I keep finding my mind wandering all over the place. The game must have been going bad because I’d open-raised from cut-off and it had folded to an Asian gentleman in the big blind who was taking forever to make his decision.
My meandering thoughts are somewhere between Jay Leno not being funny and the London Zoo marmosets when I see four chips being tossed into the pot.
As the dealer taps the table my opponent looks straight at me and barks “Chicken or duck?”
I blink twice. The flop comes off and I scan it, puzzled, then look at my adversary. He is still staring at me and seems irritated.
“Chicken or duck!?” he shouts.
Completely at a loss, I am about to mention that this is an odd choice since both offerings are poultry, then realize I am not sure that duck counts as poultry, and am in danger of getting into one of my anxiety paralysis loops when I notice the dealer’s upturned hand indicating it is my action.
“Check!” I say, not because it is the best play, but because it seems like a promising route out of the impasse.
Almost immediately my opponent shoots back: “Chicken or duck?”
My skin starts prickling the way it does before I start sweating profusely, then I finally realize the gentleman is saying “check in the dark.” I have completely forgotten my hole cards at this point, but having been offered chicken or duck twice, my only sensible plan of action is to fire out a bet. My opponent folds, I take the small pot, and decide this is my last orbit.
Then Mr. Interesting intervenes.
Mr. Interesting is in the five-seat; a position which allows him to get the attention of the entire table with his loud, Texas drawl. I won’t repeat in detail the fascinating story he told, largely because, unlike Mr. Interesting, I recognize that those I address have things to do and places to be. Suffice it to say that Mr. Interesting recounted a long tale about a gentleman he knows who, nearly every day, goes on a walk through many of the casinos on The Strip, starting typically around the MGM and heading via the Bellagio and Caesars Palace to the Mirage and the Venetian. During this walk, our hero keeps a close eye for dropped, discarded, and otherwise available loose change around the slot machines. Which he pockets.
“And almost every… single… day…” drawls Mr. Interesting, “my buddy collects enough change for a cup of coffee.”
The only person at the table younger than me—a guy in his twenties with big, red, noise-canceling headphones that are currently around his neck so he can enjoy all the story—looks like he is contemplating calling the floor to have Mr. Interesting thrown out, but can’t think of a legitimate infraction beyond “took sixteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back.” The gentleman in the three-seat is stabbing at the nozzle of his oxygen tank with his car keys and it is not clear whether he is attempting to cease the flow altogether in a desperate attempt at final escape or to accelerate it to restart his heart. Meanwhile I have my own problems and realize with horror that I am on the button again and have seven hands to play before I can leave. I decide to use the time as best I can.
“This may interest you, sir,” I say to Mr. Interesting. “At five o’clock today, Allen Kessler is giving a seminar at the Orleans. Apparently he has figured out a method whereby if five associates pool their second-tier Harrah’s points, play at least ten hands of video poker each, and buy a bun at “Nosh,” they are eligible for a free banana. Not each, obviously. One between the five of them.”
I underline my point by whipping out the banana I purchased earlier, notice uneasily I am pointing it at him like a gun, and re-holster it in my jacket.
I rack up my chips, head to the cage, then walk out of the Venetian onto one of my favorite Vegas views: the big hump-back pedestrian bridge over the “canal,” the Venetian campanile, and the entrance to the Mirage lined with palm trees. I grab my banana firmly in my right hand and head south.
The banana comes into play almost immediately. The “Girls Direct” snappers are completely thwarted by it. As I walk past them they start to offer me cards with naked women on them, then realize I am in no position to take a card due to my firm grip on the banana.
“Alice! Alice Cooper!” It is now two in the afternoon and consequently a third of the people on the Strip are hammered. The one mistaking me for Alice Cooper lurches towards me. The vain Kat wants to tell this asshole Alice Cooper is fifteen years older than I am; the sane Kat holds his banana to his ear and starts pretending he is talking on the telephone. Suspecting that I am nuts and possibly dangerous, the inebriated Alice fan backs off.
The density of pedestrian traffic increases, so I implement evasive maneuver Kat-Delta-Three and start weaving into casinos to get off the sidewalk. At Harrah’s shouts of “C’mon Roller!” mingle with “Ozzie!” and “No, it’s Alice!” as I cut past the craps and blackjack tables. My mind wanders again to the brave mariners who sought the Northwest passage as I try to shave another few meters off my walk to Bally’s.
Breeze into the Flamingo and the sickly scent of vanilla-coconut-showgirl-sweat-despair. The table games are busy and the walkways are nearly as crowded as The Strip outside. I decide to try the path less traveled and in the middle of a maze of slots I T-bone a tiny Asian woman.
She bounces off a Tora! Tora! Tora! slot machine and lands on the floor.
“Oh shit! I mean, are you alright?”
I help her off the floor. She seems a little dazed but uninjured.
“You slow down!” she says. Then glaring at my T-shirt continues: “Black cat unlucky!”
“I’m really sorry ma’am. Miss. Ma’am.”
“You be more careful, Mr. black cat, you hurt someone!”
I walk at a reduced pace through the remainder of the Flamingo, then cut the corner of Flamingo Road via Bill’s, emerge briefly into daylight, and thence into the familiar hubbub of Bally’s.
There is an open seat at table 2. Jesse brings me three stacks of red chips and I slip into the rhythm of badly-played 1/2 No-Limit Holdem.
It’s a loose, good game. Just sit back, make hands, and bet them. Combine getting a read on players with looking for characters I can use in poker articles.
There seem to be a couple of good candidates. A gravel-voiced Alaskan woman in her sixties wearing a flannel shirt is making sardonic comments after most of the hands. A gentleman with platinum-blond hair, spiked with gel, and wearing a black visor is verbally sparring with her. I simultaneously profile him and his game. Chatty, relatively aggressive, possibly competent, but splashing about. Probably in from SoCal with that hair.
He drags a big pot, and by way of a celebratory flourish removes his visor. His platinum-blond hair comes off with it revealing a shining shaved head.
This is well appreciated by the laughing table, particularly by me since laughter equates to profit. I try to extend the mirth by explaining that my own mass of black hair is, in case anyone was wondering, very much real.
“Yeah, but it’s dyed,” growls the Alaskan.
Yes it is. And everyone laughs. I’m fine with that.
After five hours I’ve doubled my red stacks from three to six and decide I’ve worked enough for one day. I cash out and leave Bally’s out the side door, retracing my steps through Bill’s and into the Flamingo. The February evening has become unseasonably cool and windy and I pick up the pace.
In the middle of a maze of slots I T-bone a tiny Asian woman. She bounces off a Tora! Tora! Tora! slot machine and lands on the floor. My banana has been thrown from my jacket and has landed on her face. She looks up at me from just above the banana and her eyes turn crimson.
“You again! You stupid cat! I facking keeeeel you!!!”
Casinos are staffed with people well-trained in dealing with customers in distress. They can get this.
I slip into the night.
And so to bed.
Kat Martin is a poker player, writer and coach from London, U.K. who accidentally spent the last eighteen years living in Kansas. The death of online poker in the U.S. compelled him to relocate to Las Vegas – one of the few cities on Earth where he blends.