Prologue, June 2005
My last trip to Vegas was for the WSOP. Late last April, I won a "Bracelet Race" satellite on Full Tilt while reading a bad romantic comedy spec and watching American Idol with Showcase. About two hours into the tournament I busted Rafe Furst with my QQ vs. his JJ and found myself with a huge stack. I put down the script, turned off the TV, went to town on the short stacks, won a key coinflip, and cruised to the finish. I had been playing No-Limit seriously for only four months and I had a $1500 World Series seat. What the fuck? I was dead money but utterly stoked.
I wanted Showcase to come with me, but he had just taken a week off and couldn't take another. It was just as well, because now I could treat this all-expenses paid trip to Vegas as the serious gambling excursion it needed to be. I crammed for the tournament like a final exam. Harrington. Brunson. Sklansky. Hours and hours online and even more at Commerce. I got Pokertracker. I got the Pokertracker Guide. I played SNGs and $20 tournaments until my eyes bled. I played two $125 tourneys at the Bicycle Club and got deep in both. My learning curve was nice and steep in those 10 weeks and as I sat down at Table 160 with a pounding heart and fidgeting hands I almost felt ready for what I was about to do.
Turns out that I wouldn't last that long in the tournament. The hands that I got, I played well and the hands I was sucked out on, well, that's poker. I walked out of the cavernous Rio Convention Center through a half-mile of hallways, past baton-twirling pre-teens and paunchy guys on cell phones telling their bad beat stories to one of the bars in the middle of the casino. I ordered a tequila and a Corona and donked off $20 at video poker while I decompressed, rewound all the hands I'd played in my head and momentarily wondered if I should have made the more practical decision to sell my lammers and pocket the cash. But that wasn't the point. I had played in the World Series and on a freeroll, no less. Wasn't that something to be proud of? I'd probably have been more disappointed had I not played at all.
But here I was, tipsy at 3 PM in this hooker bar that I'd been reading about online with no further agenda for rest of my trip. I had a gorgeous suite upstairs, a decent bankroll in my pocket and 48 hours to play whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted. This was supposed to make me happy.
Instead, I found myself awash in the sort of Las Vegas malaise that can unexpectedly descend once the fleeting highs of gambling and booze and freedom dissapate and leave you to wrestle with your own inner demons. Especially when you're there alone. I had a tragic moment when thought about just going back to my room, injesting every gram of drug I had on me and sleeping for the rest of the trip. Instead, I managed to pull myself together long enough to get up from the hooker bar and begin a long, sweltering trek across the freeway to Bellagio. This was my cherished time away from work and Hollywood and all that fucking bullshit I had wanted to escape for months and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to put it to good use. I was here to play cards.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Six Months Later
Room 235 was in a remote, forgotten corridor of the IP adjacent to what looked like a crack alley. The clueless lady with the bad dye job at the front desk obviously had no idea where it was either, because I managed to go up and down every freakin' elevator in this two-star maze of a hotel, while dragging my heavy, overpacked suitcase behind me before wearily asking for a second set of directions from one of the pit bosses. I finally found the right elevator after about 20 minutes and squeezed inside along with about a dozen Stetson-clad cowboys.
When I opened the door to my room, the scent of stale unfiltered Camels nearly knocked me all the way back to the elevator bay. The walls were yellowish and my king bed was covered in a garish floral comforter. After setting down my suitcases and hanging up the garment bag I wouldn't touch again all weekend, I rummaged through my makeup bag for the cheap bottle of Gap Scents: Dream that I knew was in there. Cheaper than perfume and more pleasantly scented than Lysol, it comes in handy in removing offensive and/or illegal scents in confined spaces. I doused the room in Dream and flung open the curtain, revealing a small balcony. There is a God. And some much-needed ventilation. After a quick smoke break on the balcony, I changed clothes, sorted through my cash, and decided it was about time to find the poker room and meet some bloggers. Somehow I had left Los Angeles without any phone numbers. Aside from Pauly and the Murderer's Row gang, I hadn't met anyone and was relying on posted photos and a little faith to hook me up with the group. I suppose this was my first real gamble of the weekend.
The Imperial Palace poker room is an odd one. Unlike most Vegas poker rooms, the IP's room is actually separated from the main casino floor. It sits on the third floor next to a broken escalator and a few dozen old Keno chairs. If I needed a treasure map to find my room, I needed a compass, a magic 8-ball and a trail of bread crumbs to lead me to this place. As I stepped off the elevators, I saw about 10 tables largely populated by cowboys, still in town for the rodeo. I milled around the rail for a couple of minutes seeing if I could recognize any bloggers. Aside from the cowboys, there were a number of twenty and thirtysomething guys in poker hats and shirts that easily fit the type, but I couldn't be sure. I panicked for about thirty seconds. Shit. What if I couldn't find anyone?
Then I saw Joanne. I recognized her from her photo, but her smile was bigger and her hair redder in person. Next to her was none other than Derek McGrupp. I steeled my nerves and walked up to both of them.
"Excuse me, are you Joanne?"
And I was greeted with a huge smile and a warm hug. I introduced myself to Derek next, and mentioned that I had met his brother in L.A. Almost on cue, Pauly stepped out of the elevator and joined us. Another huge hug. He was waiting for a call from Jaxia, who was due to land at McCarran any minute. Hank and Rick Wampler stopped by next, then I met Maudie and Gracie. The general consensus was that everyone would be heading over to the MGM that night for donkey poker and the H.O.R.S.E. game that Joaquin had set up.
Pauly left to meet Jaxia, the gang dispersed, and I decided to sit $100 NL with the cowboys for a couple of hours. I won about $50 before cashing out and hitting the monorail to the MGM.
It is there, my friends, that our story really begins.
To be continued...