Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mojo Walkabout c.2

Chapter Two - Easy Come, Easy Go

Thursday morning we hit the open road, using Mom's Z28 SS Camaro convertible, basically at her insistence. She trusted its reliability more than my aging Durango. Yeah, I know, sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? And while I admit its a hell of a ride, for someone my size at 6'4”, its a little cramped for long distance traveling. But, I'd get used to it...

Tearing down I-55, it was apparent Autumn was settling into our region. Golds, yellows, browns, and faint shades of red covered the landscape. I admired the beautiful scenery speeding by my windshield at 80 mph. The rocky cliffs along the highway making up the north eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains brought back many a memory of traveling to Cape Girardeau as a youth, where my mother's family is from. This stretch of highway is very familiar. That makes the distance seem much, much shorter.

Crossing into Arkansas, while more unfamiliar to me, but not completely, stoked my anticipation as I know I'm only an hour from Memphis. Mom pointed out something I'd never seen before: a cotton field in full bloom, waiting to be harvested. It was a fascinating sight for someone more adjusted to the Corn Belt corn field/bean field alternations of the Illinois prairie. I gazed upon a field of red sticks covered with shiny, white globes that almost sparkled in the sunlight. So many, it almost looked like snow. Red sticks? Baton Rouge! I was enlightened. I knew I was entering a slightly different world.

Briefly pausing for some mild Memphis rush hour traffic, we made our way down to I-69 directly to Tunica under the late afternoon sun. The highway lead across a wide, flat river bottom decorated only with occasional cotton fields of white and red, but little urbanization. Its as though they looked for the most remote place they could find, and said “lets spend millions and millions of dollars developing this into a new Las Vegas!” Well, I guess Las Vegas was a desert once. Huh, I mean, its still a desert, but... You get what I mean.

Instead of sand and cactus though, this was fertile river bottom soil and cotton. Much of it harvested into semi-tractor trailer sized bales by this stage of the season resting in a barren field, but often we'd pass wide open fields of cotton, still waiting to be harvested. I was becoming enamored with them. I even pulled to the side of the road and photographed one of the fields.

We settled into Sam's Town located at the very end of the strip of casinos in Tunica. Casinos in Tunica are situated in clusters of development amongst the cotton fields, like oases of sin and excess amongst them. Sam's Town is at the farthest reaches of them. Built to resemble a pioneer gold rush town of Nevada, or perhaps the Black Hills of South Dakota, it was still familiarly corporate, and almost amusement park-like. Disneyland for senior citizen slot jockeys.

As a side note, the Sam in Sam's Town is none other than Sam Boyd, President of Boyd Gaming. An ironic, humorous aside to my adventure, and completely unplanned. Each time I passed a Boyd Gaming or Boyd Enterprises sign in the casino, I'd smile.

We checked into a comfortable room, and quickly made our way to the casino floor. Mother was anxious to grab some dinner and hit the tables as she loves to play blackjack. She's not a gambler, she's a gamer. She loves the excitement but she also loves the competition, even if its only with the House. Its not a matter of how much she's winning, its only that she's winning. I guess as her son, I can relate, as I've inherited some of that trait from her.

While her poison is black jack, mine is poker, and I needed to find out when the evening tournament started before I sat down to eat. I'm not as skilled a “cash game” player as I am a tournament player, and cash games require a much larger bankroll than a tournament, and subsequently much more added risk. I'd much prefer to play $50 or $75 in a tournament for a few hours and lose, than have to grind a cash game table with $200 or more out there at stake for 4 or 5 hours, and not feel as confident in my playing abilities.

My guess was the evening tourney started around 7pm, and it was nearly 6pm. That should give me enough time to grab some dinner and mentally prepare for the tournament. To my surprise, when I registered at the poker room, the tournament was about to get underway at 6pm! And, also to my surprise, it was only $20. Well, excellent! Mom shuffled off to grab me a burger to eat while I played, and I jumped right into the fray. I ordered up a Corona from the waitress, and quickly learned beers were complimentary while you were playing. Uh oh! This could be dangerous!

As an added surprise, I learned the tournament was a rebuy for the first hour, unlimited. That meant you could buy back in for $20 if you ran out of chips in the first hour. Any time you wanted. And you could add-on as well. I immediately added on for another $20 doubling my chip stack. Standard procedure in a rebuy tournament. This also juices up the prize pool.

I felt my way through the environment, and felt comfortable in my game. I munched down a cheeseburger while at the table, doing my best to keep the grease off the cards. Not the most spectacular cheeseburger I'd ever eaten, but it would do as sustenance. The good hands weren't coming to me yet. I remained patient, studied my opponents, and looked for opportunities to take some chips to stay alive. I even survived the rebuy period thru the first hour, and since I hadn't really won any big pots I decided to rebuy two more times on break, bringing my total to $80, within what I was willing to spend for the most part.

Time passed into the second hour, and I still wasn't getting much in the way of playable hands or opportunities to steal. You want to be protective of your chip stack and not bleed them away on speculative hands, but the forced blinds were rising in stakes, as well as antes kicking in. I understood the structure of the tournament, which was fast, and knew that I was going to have to make some big moves soon or waste away. People were starting to drop out quickly. It was becoming an All-in Fest. Not unlike the turbo tournaments I would often play online. If I didn't start getting some hands and taking down pots, I'd be next!

One gentleman across from me called a guy down only to have his better hand out drawn on the last card. Ouch! Typical in these types of events. He stood to leave, but the dealer halted him as the counted out the two chips stacks and alerted the unlucky player that he still had a few remaining. 600 to be exact. The blinds were 500/1000. Ouch again! And he was now big blind, which he couldn't even cover! Agony. We both smiled across the table at each other, and he shrugged his shoulders as the dealer dealt his fate. He's all in “dark”, not even looking at his hand. No reason to; it didn't matter what two cards he had, he just had to win to stay alive.

To his good fortune, he won that hand all-in, I think his queen came out and no one had anything better. And while he basically doubled up his chip stack, it still wasn't much. Next hand he still had little choice with his puny stack, and shoved all-in again with any two cards. Once again, he pulled the best hand. Now he was starting to get back in.

“You're going to go from the out house to the penthouse if you keep that up!” I told him as he raked the chips towards himself. He smirked while attentively focused on the next round of cards dealt. He didn't believe it, he was pretty sure he was done for evening. Just a matter of when.

My time of reckoning came soon enough, and with a ragged ace I shoved my chip stack in a go-for-broke gamble that I'd have the best hand and have it hold up, but to no avail. I busted out 17th out of 42 players. Oh well, entertaining. That was enough poker for me. Time to try a little black jack with my mother. Isn't it wonderful, I can bond with my mother at a black jack table? How cool is that?

Mom was seated at table with around 4 others, with an empty seat between her and the rest of the players practically inviting me to the table. I pulled out a couple hundred dollar bills and plunked them down for chips, which made my mother gasp. I guess she wasn't expecting me to buy in for that much, but I felt pretty confident I'd be all right. She's taught me the game well. And at $5 or $10 bucks a hand, it ought to last me a while.

It didn't take long to realize that the dude to my right had no idea how to play black jack, which was chaffing my mother. She doesn't suffer idiots well. There's certain things you don't do at the table, like hit on 12 or 14 when the dealer is sitting on something like a 6, because odds are he has a ten in the hole, and will have to hit, and probably bust. Odds are you'll hit a ten and bust your 12 or whatever. But these drunks are just playing their hand, and “feelin' lucky”. Worse yet, to have something like 13, hit, get a 15, then stay because you're scared now; that drives mom insane. All you're doing is messing up the shoe for every one else. And that's what this drunk was doing. Painful to watch.

What was equally painful was my luck. That black jack table beat my ass. I couldn't win for losing. One of the most brutal sessions I've ever encountered. And it had nothing to do with the drunk guy. I just was getting my hands crushed. 17s losing to 18s the dealer would run showing a 5. Double down on a 11 to get 13, and the dealer turning over a 15 only to hit a 6. Shit like that. Really ugly. I need some more free Coronas.

Mom was holding her own, but it wasn't a picnic for her either. She was barely even, and betting very little. She could feel the table was cold, and waiting it out. Or for the drunks to bust out and leave. I was constantly struggling with 15s and 16 showing up repeatedly as my starting hands, and when I'd get lucky and make something, the deal would beat it. I was starting to steam. And my money was starting to vanish.

“Unbelievable!” I muttered as the deal ran a five card 20, beating my 19. “I think I'm hungry.”

“Yeah,” mom said, “maybe you should just step back and cool off for a while. Sometimes that helps.”

My chip stack was short, so I went ahead and played it down to the felt. It didn't take too long for the house to snatch it away, and deliver me one of the coldest black jack streaks I'd ever endured. With the last of it, I stood up from the table and polished off my Corona. $200 bucks, gone in about a half an hour. Ouch.

“Headed to the buffet,” I announced to mom in disgust. She nodded and continued to play. Hell with that!

The buffet was winding down as it was getting late in the evening, but they still had some prime rib and other decent fare. I scarfed down what I could, but attempted to stay close to my diet. I needed a little cheesecake comfort food after that ass thrashing I took at the black jack table. Hey, I'm on vacation!

While attacking the cheesecake with my fork, I plotted my next move. I knew mom was going to play for a while, and it was still early. 9 pm-ish. I wasn't really done for the evening. Still, I was down about $300, and losing anymore would turn my “walkabout” into a reckless gambling disaster. I had a real dilemma. Gamble on and try to win it back? Or lick my wounds, sit around a casino with nothing to do for a few hours, and be $300 short.

There was only one option: Craps table!

What the hell! I 'm here to have some fun! If things to horribly wrong, I've got mom to bail my ass out. I'm gunna live it on the edge a little bit! I headed over to the ATM and pulled out another $200. $500: that's all I'm losing. Honest.

I learned to play Craps from a computer simulation. Its a complicated game, and extremely fast paced. You can bet on any damn thing you want, practically. They're happy to gamble with you, because the house ALWAYS has the edge. But, as I learned from this computer game, Craps is one game in the casino that you can lower the house edge to almost 50/50. The catch is it takes some money to play, and there are some wild swings of fortune. Craps is the reason they coined the phrase “easy come, easy go”. It can come to you in a hurry when the dice are hot, and it can leave you just as quickly. I either was going to win my money back and then some, or I was going to drop this couple hundred really quickly. That's edgy.

I dropped my two Ben Franklin $100 bills on the green felt, and they pushed me a stack of red and green chips. The dice were out, and I was in the action. First couple rolls were good, followed by a crap out. Pass the dice, start again. Another series of decent rolls, and craps. Start again. That's the way this game is.

Gentleman to my right wearing a pastel polo shirt staggered a bit, swished his beer, and fumbled with his chips. He was hammered. His face was red, as though he'd been out in the sun for a while. He made some bets, playing differently than I do. Like I said, there's lots of ways to play. I sometimes wonder what these other systems are I've seen other people play and wonder if they're successful, but I stick to what I've learned, as it claimed it was the optimal way to play. And the casino knows what I'm doing, because the table staff know where my bets are going when I start making them, and if I miss one, they remind me. Is that good or bad??

A hip hop dressed black gentleman got on a good little roll, and my chips stack began to grow. He seemed a regular as the casino people knew him by name. A couple shooters later, another black gentleman, slightly older, and well dressed hit a hot streak as well. This is what I needed! The chips kept coming to me, and every point me made, I threw a $1 toke to the table staff as a tip. I was their friend now! Let's hope I can stay on the hot side, as I've seen these tables get cold quickly. My growing chip stack caught the attention of my drunken sunburned partner to the right.

“I've never played this damn game before,” he said, “I have no idea what the hell I'm doing!” Followed quickly by another sip of Miller Light.

“Well, looks like you're doin' ok,” I said, being friendly, laying down some bets.

“You sure are,” he said, admiring my chips. “How you play this game?”

I started to show him my system, and he played along. They passed him the dice, and he commenced to roll a nice hot streak of his own. Beginner's luck? Whatever! I was up over $200 by now.

“I have no idea what the hell I'm doin'” he repeated as he kept rollin'. I just smiled and stacked my winnings. “My name's Larry.” he said, “I played 54 holes of golf today, and we're just have some beers.” Well, that explained the sunburn. Seemed a friendly fellow, though.

He crapped out, and the Stick passed the dice to me. Now, one time at Argosy I was playing Craps, and a fella next to me always put the dice on 4 and 1, then rolled, and he had a couple hot, hot streaks. Since then, I always do the same. Dunno if it matters, but I do it any way. I grabbed those ruby red dice, spun them 'til I found a 4 and a 1 and tossed 'em across the felt.

“7, winner!” shouted the Stick.

Cool. Actually, winning come out rolls aren't where the money is at. $5 bet wins you $5 more. I want to establish point and bang some numbers, pushing my odds. Then I start getting 1.5/1 to 2/1 odds, and I usually have $10 or $15 behind. I toss the rocks again.

“7, winner!”

“Hey!” I said, “get those 7's out of my system!”.

I established point, and rolled for a little while. Nice little streak, making me, and my new parter, a little bit more of the casino's money. I also had a growing urge to urinate! The free Coronas were catching up! After I crapped out, they happily watched my chips as I departed for the head.

On my way back, I passed the dude at the poker table I mentioned that almost busted out, and stopped him.

“How'dja do, man?” I asked.

“I won,” he said quietly.

“You won? No shit?” I was floored! He nodded and smiled softly. “Well, congratulations, man!”
He quietly thanked me and went on his way. Not a real talkative fella.

I arrived back at the table and pulled the protective plastic cover the house had placed over my chips. I made a pass line bet, and the hot hip hop dude threw an 8 establishing point. I just knew this guy was hot, and 8 is a pretty easy number to roll, as easy as a 6, and only 7 has more combinations. I juiced up my odds behind my pass line bet on my hunch. Mr. Hip Hop quickly grabbed the dice as soon as the Stick passed them to him, and tossed them down the felt.

“8! Front line winner!” shouted the Stick. Nice! Just as I expected! The table put a stack of chips in front of me, red and green. He kept rolling, and I kept winning. After he crapped out, they passed them to a new player I hadn't seen roll, so I backed down my odds bets until I could see if he was hot. Later they passed the dice again to the well dressed black man and the far end of the table who had some good rolls, and I juiced my odds bets again. He was still hot! This was easy money tonight!

The dice got back to my beginner's luck partner, and he didn't disappoint either. He had a decent little roll, and my green $25 chips were growing still. I thumbed out $300 in chips representing my intial buy-in for the evening and placed them on the top chip rail were I wouldn't touch. I was definitely breaking even! The rack below I counted out about another $300. It was on!

A bald, black gentleman approached the table and came to rest between me and Mr. Hip Hop. Husky guy, intimidating. He started to inquire as to how to play the game, and it was obvious he was about as lit up as my sunburned golfing buddy. I tried to give him a couple pointers, but he didn't really seem to grasp, and also didn't seem that interested.

“I don't think he's gunna make no point!” he said. So, he bet the Don't Come. He obviously hadn't seen this guy's beginner's luck! He was making points! And I was raking it in.

Dice came to me again, but my roll was pretty quick. I crapped out after about 4, probably losing myself a small chunk. I really didn't want husky Mr. Don't Pass to throw, but, who knows? Maybe he's hot? But, when they passed the dice to him, and declined and passed them on to Mr. Hip Hop. I was greatly relieved. Mr. Hip Hop continued to roll hot much to my pleasure, and the displeasure of Mr. Don't Pass. He lost his money pretty quickly, and stumbled away from the table. It was a relief to us all, as he had a weird karma about him.

The hot rollers stayed hot, and I stuck with my system which was working quite well. New players would approach, and I'd back down my bets until I saw if they were hot. Some were, some weren't. I never really did have a hot roll again either, but that didn't matter. Good God! Look all these chips! I've got over a $1,000 in front of me! It might be time to go!

I decided to see if my “hot” rollers were cooling off, cautiously playing a few more rolls. It was getting to be about 1AM, and I was quite happy to be way, way ahead. As my hot shooters didn't have any more good rolls, and Mr. Hip Hop and left anyway, I decided to call it a night and color up. Cha-ching!

“Color coming in,” they said as they took my stacks of green, red, and white. I was quite excited. This was turning out way, way better than I'd ever imagined! They handed me a smaller stack with blacks and a purple $500. Wow, a purple $500! I'd never held one before! We have them in our poker tournaments at home, but not a REAL $500 chip. Cool.

In all, I pocketed about a grand, having lost a little bit on the last few rolls feeling out the table. I made my way back to the black jack tables to find my mom, and she was in good spirits as well.

“Do any good?” she asked. I flashed her my purple chip, along with some black $100 ones. “Woo hoo!'' she said. “I'm up too, almost $200.” I declined to play any black jack as I didn't care to give this money back.

It was a good night for the Boyd's at Sam Boyd's casino. Glad we could keep it in the family...