The Golden Nugget is the premier low stakes cash location in Las Vegas. Naturally, I love the Wynn and recommend it. Of course. Who would turn down perfect décor, Fiji water, and the city’s most attractive servers? And the Aria? It’s a beautiful place to play our game. Its comfortable chairs (when you can get one), four star lounginess, and dramatic table lighting seems to make every game and player feel important: you’re the star, playing 1/3 cap. Even the new Caesar’s room is a great improvement on the old conventioneer’s space (they could have handed out name badges) and I was happy to be in it for the Red Chip game.
However, like all of the Strip and new Vegas, these Great Casinos have left something behind in their desire to bring poker into the suite tourist attractions.
Most of us don’t care about this missing thing. Why should we, the poker community as a whole, care? After all, in many respects we are here, every June and July, to celebrate its loss. We gather in Vegas, each year at this time, in one sense, to formalize the end of the hustle and to mark the cleaned-up age of poker: the Tournament Years. The Television years. The Horrified by Scandals years. The Poker as Jigsaw Puzzle for Trustifarians years.
The Safe Space for Poker Players years.
Here in Old but still Tourist Vegas, a glimmer of the past exists and reminds us why we play and why there is any game at all.
Renovated and up to tourist snuff, the GN still has a sheen of that different kind of comfort, the one Americans wanted well into the post-war years. Where everything is a little bigger but still within reach. Where the same sort of food is cooked, just a little better, and where we aren’t, for once, in our own kitchen or that same dining room. Where we see the people we won’t see anywhere else or ever again but have not broken the bank to pretend we are something we are not.
Fremont itself is where all those who couldn’t afford the outlandishness and were too smart to buy a discounted peep of it. It’s where Irv and Joyce from Chicago come, where Uncle Bill and Aunt Suzy show up, where blue-collar Europeans arrive to spend their long vacation and see what it’s all about while still affording the three weeks in South Africa at the same time. It’s that and more… including where the outer rungs of Vegas, a snippet of the true Third World heart of our nation touches the bloom of success and the pollen of crooked aspiration. And if they are true tourists, the good kind, they might just wander north past an invisible boundary and see what lumber is propped up behind the tall facades (or perhaps, as we shall see, it may come directly to you.)
The Golden Nugget cools in the faint shadow of the American Dream.
The Strip, on the other hand, is something else entirely. It’s the hydra, the multi-mouthed consumerist horror, the monster in the mirror of the foolishly unsatisfied. It’s everything people complain about and salivate after simultaneously. You can’t get anywhere fast while everyone is selling you something you don’t want as hard as possible. Pop Star MILFs are taking their clothes off for television addicts in need of a bigger unreality. Six-hundred calorie coffee drinks to help get you between “Buffet of Buffets” Fluffered bottom-shelf rap spikes the air, eulogizing streets that have no name you’d want to remember, memories that never happened but which the performers are paid to forget. You can visit couture shops at City Center that actually charge more than they would in the cosmopolitan capitals that inspire them and give their beauty purpose. Faggy desserts, giant butterflies, and Willy Wonka flowerscapes scented with dementia compete to awe the begadgeted out of their Pokémon daze. You can get a “Kobe” beef hamburger for $55 and then attempt to debauch yourself, bathetically, in a Dayclub, whatever the hell that is. (I assume it’s not that classy and a lot of gas is secretly being passed, based on advertised liquor, food, and drug consumption.) And just where do all those hopeful harlots in crappy, gathered prom dresses come from? There is a special place in hell for the purveyors of bad fashion, and it would be just if it were called Henderson.
I didn’t come here for all that fuss.
The Poker Room at the Nugget is no stress. It’s luxurious, or more precisely, nearing luxurious, in all the ways that actually matter. The tables are absolutely giant, unlike the ones at home or anywhere else: sized for ten but run nine handed. The room is dark but individual tables are well lit, making each table is its own ecosystem, far from being a joke stuck between slot machines and blackjack at PH. You won’t get complimentary champagne here but the service is always prompt; I never get thirsty or lack anything. The floor is courteous and personable, as he has just enough to manage and not too much, with no level or different sections to capture or divert his attention; even as a short-timer he remembered me from night to night, comping me missed hours and setting up a separate game for my friends. Because the Nugget Poker room is not on Bravo, it is not overrun with the dull Backpack Kids and their snotty approach to a culture they partake of but never understand, tourists of their own nation.
However, none of that is really why the Nugget is the nuts. The reason is, we play affordable stakes as deep as we want. That’s right, no cap. We don’t wait for a fun, deep game… we just walk in and create one.
One more thing: your cash plays. And that, as the morons like to say, is poker.
Still, you look nonplussed. You’re not quite sure you want to hop on the The Deuce or really even give a deuce yet. Ok, you say, but Persuadeo, it’s all small man. I’m a 3/5 playyyaah. I can’t do one-two, bro!
Well, for one thing, one possible future of the pokerz is this: incredibly deep, if slightly smaller blind games. The reason is obvious, but I’ll explain some other time.
Then, what’s more, consider this: the sickest game I saw in Vegas was at the Nugget, an ante’d cash game with a mandatory 5x straddle. Yup, eighty dead pre, in a game listed a 5/5 and with seats available. There was so much cash on the table the only thing missing was a mirror and lines of coke. Well, except there wasn’t really room for such accoutrement.
We’ll also talk about all that later, because for now, I don’t want to give off the wrong idea. Our contemporary culture has so much in its favor – I’m not all gloom, not in the least. In fact, one of the many and best things you can enjoy now that you never would, back when cream cheese was something to look forward to, is the Majesty of Selection, and it would help make this trip marvelous.
And by that, I mean, among other things, like today’s television, trains, planes, and automobiles, is Whole Foods.
Whole Foods is the Jetsons. It is time travel. And no one could have imagined it so soon, this Paradise Near You.
Certainly not ChipXtractor, it turns out.
In any case, after another short session of Big O at the Rio, gathering more winning momentum, I make my first foray into the 5/5. I start by slowplaying QQ for a moderate pot, not letting my opponent off his button range, but then more effectively making 63hh sing (this exact hand will become a strange leitmotiv for the trip). Here I open from UTG, pick up a caller, and then see a small three bet from a thin older man in glasses. I examine his actions and his behavior, and deduce that from his sizing that he is not entirely sure what he is doing, or in other words, he feels like he has a hand that he should raise, that he must raise, but does not know why he, personally must raise it.
He’s conflicted. Now what hand is this? I don’t think he has the heart to do it with less than AQs. A pair of tens? A small range of hands indeed to invoke this feeling from this man in this room at this time.
Since I call most three bets (I don’t open to fold, silly), especially online, where I defend about 90% of my initial raises, I’m comfortable with the six and three of hearts. As it happens, I hit a great flop featuring a six.
That’s a pair, son.
The pre flop raiser now taps the table. When the PFR checks in a three bet pot, it’s David Lynch hour, weird time. All equity is incentivized to showdown… yet he declines both value and protection. Why so coy? He’s not checking to fold, obviously. I bet out one third pot, confusing him, and dragging along his entire range.
On a blank turn I check behind. I now rep air. I will pass on your “protection” bets, sir! I have something else in mind.
Which explains the river, another low blank. Thin Man now turns his hand into a bluff by betting in response to my line. I merge my range and ship everything in.
He announces ace high and folds. The table is extremely discontent and several players agree that it was a strangely played hand… I don’t think so. However, all that matters to me is that I got two streets out of ace high from a conservative player.
Nevertheless, it’s time to gather up the chips and to run and follow ChipXtractor, not exactly fresh from the airport and a quick run to the Rio, back to the new pad. It’s a long trip from Long Island; it takes dedication to drive for hours and know that the journey has only just begun. Fortunately, there is a palace of solace awaiting him (and I):
The Club de Soleil. What words could say more? Private room? Private bath? Full kitchen? Private patio? Free of charge? I don’t know, you tell me what you need to be happy in Vegas.
In the morning, fully refreshed, it’s go time, however. I find ChipXtractor already awake, taking inventory of the living space, and determined: go shopping time, it is. That kitchen, stocked with cooking gadgets and space to work, seems to call to ChipXtractor’s domestic needs: he wants groceries for our week at de Soleil. I happen to remember Whole Foods from my prep for last year’s Colossus, and in minutes we are following the GPS angel to the promised land.
From the moment we step into the cool cornucopia, ChipXtractor is in awe. He is not much of a shopper these days, it turns out. Married and childless, his wife takes care of him fully: he has apparently not seen the inside of a grocery store in years. We might have started off a little more slowly. Maybe find an Albertson's, or a minimart, or something more along the lines of Provisions, rather than Food, because, within twenty minutes, amazed at the Godly plenitude of quality and quantity that is WF, he has entire grocery cart full of food including:
A week of instant dinners,
A week of cold cuts,
Enough condiments for the whole Red Chip meetup
Several strains of organic crunchies,
A couple six packs of beer, and
Nifty napkins made from tree bark.
I don’t know exactly what people scavenge for on Long Island, but ChipXtractor seems to have lost control. Or maybe my empty refridgerator is a bad model for behavior.
However, it’s no matter. In fact, it's a good thing that he is in cuisine Disneyland. He’s on vacation and clearly enjoying himself, as he should. A whole week of poker, cigars, tv dinners, and, uh, popsicles from the low calorie umpaqua fruit or whatever they are, lay ahead for my amiable host.
However, we’re not through... because Chip discovers the Hot and Cold Foods bar, where for about $7 a pound you can partake of an infinity of enticing yet healthy prepared dishes. It is impressive, after all. In fact, it is, ironically, the real “Buffet of Buffets” in Las Vegas, and even stranger, considering this amazing chain's reputation, one of its best deals.
Is this the American Dream as well?
ChipXtractor slowly wanders the aisles in amazement. There's short ribs and barbeque chicken, a whole Indian section, and salad for a thousand epicurean rabbits. (Cold, crisp peas never looked so good or so green, seconds from stifling heat.) We have to go -the felt awaits- but Chip looks regretful for a moment, and then speaks, for the first time that I've heard, definitively:
“We’re coming back here.”
It’s a command.
Next! It’s past noon- Le Soto will see you now.